David Russell Strathairn was born on January 26, 1949 in San Francisco, California. He is the son of Mary Frances (Frazier), a nurse, and Thomas Scott Strathairn, Jr., a physician. He has two siblings, Tom and Anne. His ancestry includes English, Scottish, Irish, Portuguese, Native Hawaiian, and one sixteenth Chinese (the latter three from his paternal grandmother). Strathairn attended Williams College, where he demonstrated great interest in the theater, and first befriended John Sayles, with whom he would later frequently collaborate. Strathairn graduated college and traveled to Florida to visit with his grandfather, but the grandfather passed away while Strathairn was en route. Strathairn, finding himself freshly-arrived and without friends in Florida, decided instead to join the Ringling Brothers Clown College and subsequently worked as a clown for six months in a traveling circus. Relocating to New York State, he spent several years hitchhiking across America to work in local theaters during the summers. During one of these summers Strathairn reunited with Sayles, and this eventually resulted in his role in the highly regarded Return of the Secaucus Seven (1979), Sayles directorial debut. Thereafter Strathairn developed an extensive resume of supporting roles, which became increasingly substantial as his stature in the industry grew; notable films include Lovesick (1983), Silkwood (1983), L.A.