If you want to talk about stacked casts, look no further than the hollowed halls of Welton Academy in Dead Poets Society.
Released in 1989, the Robin Williams-led drama focused on John Keating’s (Williams) English class at the fictional boarding school, as the boys in his class are inspired through poetry to be emotionally vulnerable and be unique. Scoring 4 Academy Award nominations and receiving critical acclaim, the coming-of-age flick has been an often overlooked entry in many of its cast’s filmography.
However, thanks to everyone accidentally confusing the title of this film with Taylor Swift’s upcoming album, Dead Poets Society is slowly making its way back into pop culture once again, and just in time for its 35th anniversary. While this film was no small role for Williams, many members of its cast have gone on to create mighty careers of their own thanks to their time in the film. 35 years later, here’s where your favorite actors from the film are now in their lives.
Ethan Hawke – Todd Anderson
While Dead Poets Society was not Hawke’s first foray into film, it was the role that made him the household name he is today. Starring as a newcomer to Welton Academy, Hawke’s performance as Todd showed us how strong of a dramatic actor Hawke is, something he still is constantly demonstrating today.
Riding that success into the 90s, Hawke went on to star in hits such as Reality Bites, Gattaca and Great Expectations. Arguably Hawke is best known for his collaborations with director Richard Linklater, starring in his Before trilogy of films as well as Boyhood. More recently, Hawke got his evil side on appearing in both The Black Phone and Moon Knight as the antagonist for both projects.
Robert Sean Leonard – Neil Perry
It’s hard to top a role as heartbreaking as Neil’s story in Dead Poets Society, which is why you probably know Leonard better for his TV and theater work post-DPS. After starring in a variety of dramas over the 90s, Leonard’s next big break came as Dr. James Wilson, the “one true friend” of Dr. Gregory House on House. Considering House’s character is based on Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Wilson was often compared as the Watson to House’s Holmes, making him a memorable character throughout the show’s 8 year run.
Since House‘s conclusion in 2012, Leonard has made a few recurring appearances in shows like Falling Skies and The Gilded Age, but also turned to focusing on theater roles. Leonard played Atticus Finch in a production of To Kill a Mockingbird at London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in 2013, as well as starring in the 2017 Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George.
Josh Charles – Knox Overstreet
You can’t beat a start like Charles had in his career. Starring as one of the council members on The Corny Collins Show in Hairspray in his debut role, Charles then went on to play one of Neil’s best friends in Dead Poets Society. Though Charles continued to star in a variety of films over the years, he found larger success on TV, starring in both Sports Night and The Good Wife in large supporting roles.
Gale Hansen – Charlie Dalton
Hansen took a step back from acting in the late 90s, with Dead Poets Society arguably being his largest acting project. However, Hansen is still in the film industry in a behind-the-scenes role, now working as part of the Vendetta Group, helping with development of various projects by their talent.
Dylan Kussman – Richard Cameron
While Dead Poets Society still remains Kussman’s largest role, he’s still contributed to major projects like X2, One Tree Hill, and Jack Reacher. Kussman has even gotten behind the camera, directing, writing, and producing his own webseries The Steps, and co-writing The Mummy in 2017.
Allelon Ruggiero – Stephen Meeks
Getting his break in Dead Poets Society, Ruggiero took on a variety of smaller roles following his time at Welton Academy while also creating his own short films. Though he took a break from acting in 2004, Ruggiero has since turned his focus towards the aerial arts, opening an aerial and circus arts studio with his wife in 2011. He even directed an aerial version of the classic ballet Cirque du Giselle in 2019 for the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
James Waterston – Gerald Pitts
Starring in Oppenheimer before it was cool, Waterson actually did make his debut in the 1980 UK series that shares its name with Nolan’s epic film, starring as Oppenheimer’s son Peter. Though of course most people know Waterston for his role as one of Neil’s friends in Dead Poets Society. Since his time in the film, Waterston has focused mostly on TV roles, getting guest spots on shows like ER, Chicago Fire, Six Feet Under, and multiple Law & Order properties.
Norman Lloyd – Dr. Nolan
With a career spanning over 90 years, Lloyd arguably was one of the most well-versed actors of all time. Having credits in radio, film, TV, and theater, Lloyd’s career was already memorable long before he took on the role of Welton Academy’s strict headmaster in Dead Poets Society. Of course, Lloyd was already in his 70s by the time the film premiered in 1989, so his roles were less frequent after. His final acting role would go on to be a small part in 2015’s Trainwreck. Lloyd passed away at age 106 in 2021.
Kurtwood Smith – Mr. Perry
Who knew you could actually hate Red Forman? Long before he was the smart-mouthed father on That ’70s Show, Smith was playing Neil’s strict, demanding father in Dead Poets Society. Of course, we know how well that went over for him in the film, but thankfully for Smith, we’d remember a different parental role of his. Especially more so with the revival of his ’70s Show in That ’90s Show on Netflix in 2023.
Robin Williams – John Keating
Oh captain, our captain, forever. Beloved by so many for such a variety of comedic roles, many forget how Williams managed to tug on our heartstrings in the first dramatic role of his career playing new English teacher John Keating. When Williams unexpectedly passed away in 2014, many were quick to remember his famous quote from Dead Poets Society: “Carpe diem, seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”