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Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Michael Harney was, by his own account, something of a hellraiser in his early years, but settled down soon after high school. Initially, he considered becoming a Catholic priest, but instead delved into social work and civil rights. He honed his focus on prison reform, but found that his studies focused more on theory than actual hands-on practice. Harney then discovered acting through a drama class, which provided him with the emotional experience he had been seeking in his previous career choices. He performed for two years with a repertory company, then returned to New York to hone his talents under acclaimed acting teachers William Esper and Phil Gushee for the next seven years. Harney worked tirelessly in Off-Broadway productions, frequently for no money while handling production, direction and even set-building duties. Frustrated by the lack of momentum in his performing career, he eventually took a teaching position with Gushee before opening his own drama school, the Michael Harney Acting Studio, which he ran for eight years. In 1993, his acting career was revived when he was cast him in a recurring role on "NYPD Blue." Over the course of six seasons, Harney played Mike Roberts, a detective whose turbulent relationship with an informant forced his ouster from the precinct. As a security consultant, Roberts continued to hover around morally questionable circumstances, but attempted to make right by informing Andy Sipowicz about a murder-for-hire plot that eventually led to Roberts' own death.
While enjoying the steady work on "Blue," Harney landed regular guest roles in television series, which prompted him to move to Los Angeles in 1995. Once there, he balanced small screen efforts with supporting roles in features like "Turbulence" (1997) and "Erin Brockovich" (2000). He then reunited with "NYPD Blue" co-creator David Milch for the acclaimed HBO drama "Deadwood," playing Steve Fields, a virulent racist whose unchecked alcoholism eventually leads to his downfall. Roles in features like "Captivity" (2007) and "Ocean's Thirteen" (2007) preceded another recurring turn on the short-lived "Persons Unknown" (NBC 2010), a mystery series concerning a group of strangers stranded in a ghost town. From there, Harney segued into a recurring turn as another troubled police officer on "Weeds." His performance as Detective Mitch Ouellette, a recovering alcoholic used by Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) and her sons as a connection to the New York Police Department, served as an audition for series creator Jenji Kohan's next series, "Orange is the New Black." Harney was cast as Sam Healy, a world-weary guard at the show's primary setting, a women's correctional facility. Initially viewed as a hard-nosed figure, Healy proves to be a more sympathetic figure to the inmates, offering advice to newcomer Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) as well as warnings about involvement with some of her fellow cons with lesbian inclinations.
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