WTF Happened to Peter Weller?

Connie Queline

WTF Happened to Peter Weller?


The ever-articulate and principled Peter Weller has told us a lot about ourselves in his roles as an actor and director. Learning more about this gifted storyteller and true Renaissance man can tell us even more. But Weller hasn’t been seen in a major motion picture since 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, which ended a long silver screen hiatus. Is the man’s relative absence from the silver screen a product of demand, or might it be more down to his preference? Should his career be brought back into the mainstream spotlight like he was Murphy returning from the afterlife? Or is he busy doing different, more interesting things than being a badass in front of a camera? Let’s find out as we ask ourselves, WTF happened to Peter Weller? 

But first, let’s get a better feel for why the man has been so missed by starting at the beginning.

Peter Frederick Weller was born to Dorothy Jean and Frederick Bradford Weller on June 24, 1947, in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. His mother was a third-generation jazz pianist and introduced him to the music of legendary jazz player Miles Davis, who would become Weller’s “one and only real hero” and, later, Weller’s friend. 

Peter Weller’s father, Frederick, served in Korea and Vietnam as an Army helicopter pilot, later serving as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s personal helicopter pilot from 1965 to 1968 before becoming a lawyer and judge. With these examples to live up to, is it any wonder Peter Weller has never been content to be “just” an actor? 

After years of the nomadic lifestyle dictated by military service, the family settled in Texas. Peter Weller graduated from Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio in 1965 and attended the University of North Texas, initially for music while playing trumpet in a school band. Later, he switched to the drama program and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in theatre in 1969 but maintained a passion for playing jazz. Before graduating, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and appeared on Broadway in Sticks and Bones in March 1972. He also played in The Merchant of Venice, Full Circle, and Summer Brave, among other stage shows. 

Weller would appear in TV movies before making his theatrical film debut in 1979’s Butch and Sundance: The Early Days. He operated under legendary director Sidney Lumet in the 1980 film Just Tell Me What You Want, to be followed by the 1982 family relationship drama Shoot the Moon, before landing the lead in the 1983 horror Of Unknown Origin. Weller’s performance, which earned him the Best Actor award at the Paris International Film Festival, carried the film into what is essentially a one-man show. 

While Weller would go on to be best known for RoboCop, it isn’t the only lead role from the mid-80s that is essential viewing. 1984’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension features Weller’s charismatic, multi-faceted performance as the titular character. Buckaroo Banzai, much like Peter Weller himself, is a renaissance man, an expert in brain surgery, ninjutsu, gunfighting, physics, and engineering and a talented musician. Weller’s experience in this movie and a bit of prodding from Woody Allen led to him playing in a jazz band with costar Jeff Goldblum, who would later refer to Weller as “enormously talented, cool and great.” Peter Weller would form his own jazz quintet, “Fly Naked” in 1998 and continue to perform with them for over 25 years. 

Of the movie, Weller would say, “I think because you can’t pin it down, that is what the appeal is. People are attracted to the big question mark.” And the movie does raise a lot more questions than answers. But past all the camp, craziness, and sci-fi mumbo jumbo, Buckaroo Banzai does what the best superhero stories do: inspires you to aspire and leverage your gigs for the greater good. 

The character’s enduring appeal is showcased by being featured in the 2011 novel Ready Player One and the 2018 movie of the same name. Unfortunately, the sequel teased at the end of the original film, Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League, never saw the light of day due to the lack of box-office success for the original. 

Later, in 1984, Peter Weller starred in Firstborn alongside young up-and-comers Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr. He also starred in the 1985 crime drama A Killing Affair

Then came what Weller would call his “contribution to cinema” in 1987’s RoboCop. He turned down a role in King Kong Lives to play in it, which was an excellent decision, in hindsight. His portrayal of Alex Murphy and RoboCop earned him a nomination for a Saturn Award for Best Actor. 

Peter Weller’s commitment and dedication to the RoboCop character garnered its iconic status. His genuine integrity in and out of the suit resonated with audiences. With makeup and prosthetics, it took him eight hours to get into costume before filming could begin each day. Weller’s movement, presence and performance are so powerful that he can draw sympathy, even through the thick armour. He leveraged his captivating voice to express authority and bring gravitas to the character. 

Weller’s obsessive dedication rubbed some of the cast and crew on the set of RoboCopthe wrong way. His dedication to the character had him insist on being referred to only by his character names of “Murphy” and “Robo” while on set, and he would refuse to remove the helmet so he could stay in the character’s mindset. Weller has since said it would have been impossible to endure the gruelling physical strain of playing the role without his manner of method disassociation. And even though some may not have understood Weller’s methods, master filmmaker Paul Verhoeven said that Weller was wonderful to work with despite being in an extremely uncomfortable suit. There was praise for Weller’s professionalism on the set of RoboCop, as well. Co-star Nancy Allen recounted, “Because of how good he is at this job, that made it really easy for me.” You certainly can’t argue with the result. This beautifully violent satire was a certifiable hit and has grown into classic status since its release. 

The 80s Horror Memories docu-series continues its journey through 1987 with a look at Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop

Weller would go on to star with Sam Elliot in the 1988 over-the-top crime drama Shakedown. The lead performances were well-received. He would follow that up by leading a great ensemble cast in 1989’s Leviathan, which has been wrongfully labelled an Alien knockoff but under the sea. Weller is so cool and easily fits into this underwater world of metal, fire and blood. 

Peter Weller reprised his most famous role in the 1990 sequel RoboCop2. Circumstances and schedules led to a new director and writing team, and Weller clashed with the new faces over creative choices. Considering how poorly the sequel was received, he may be right. Weller understood what made this original work, and it was the Verhoevian sense of humour and social commentary that the sequel could not muster. RoboCop 2 falls into many of the typical sequel pitfalls, rehashing aspects of the original without the same cohesiveness and depth. 

Weller would opt out of 1993’s RoboCop 3 due to his poor experiences on RoboCop 2 and fatigue with the role, probably because the script was even worse this third time. He would instead lobby for the lead role in Naked Lunch by writing a letter to director David Cronenberg. It would go on to be one of Peter Weller’s favorite roles. Weller’s typical engaging and measured performance anchored a movie whose source material had been deemed “unfilmable.” That’s right, this is a controversial movie, but Weller makes it all believable and our puny brains to process and pretend to understand. His work earned him a Genie Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. 

After appearing in the action buddy comedy Fifty/Fifty in 1992, Peter Weller first stepped into the director’s chair for the Showtime Short Film Partners in 1993. Impressively for a debut, it was nominated for Best Short Film Oscar. Weller would come to call directing “much more interesting to do, much more satisfying to tell the whole story,” which goes some distance toward explaining how he has spent much of his career. 

After 1994’s The New Age and 1995’s Screamers, Weller worked under director Woody Allen in 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite, and we all know it takes a talented actor to spit some of that fast-paced Woody dialogue. After the 1998 crime drama Top of the World and in 1999’s Diplomatic Seige, his next acclaimed performance was in Ivans XTC in 2000, for which he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male. 

In the early 2000s, Peter Weller transitioned to working primarily on television, notably acting in and directing episodes of Odyssey 5 from 2002-2003 and appearing in Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005. Being a lover of learning and history, Mr. Weller hosted Engineering an Empire for the History Channel from 2005 to 2007 and has appeared in multiple other programs for the network. In 2006, he wonderfully played Christopher Henderson during Season 5 of 24. After taking a slight break from television, he made a memorable one-episode appearance in the show Fringe in 2010. This role is notable for the parallels to his famous RoboCop character, with Weller portraying a man who is part machine, this time by his own hand, longing to be reconnected to his wife. 

In Dexter Season 5 in 2010, Weller played a cop again, this time Stan Liddy, the corrupt antagonist to the titular anti-hero Dexter. He was part of an ensemble that was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. 

He then seemed to really find his place in the director’s chair, bringing us some of the best television in recent memory. Peter directed eleven episodes of Sons of Anarchy from seasons 4-7, starting in 2011, and appeared in eleven episodes in seasons 6 and 7 as another corrupt former police officer and final primary antagonist for the series. Weller effectively conveyed his characters’s development from minor threats to major players. Weller appeared in an episode of Hawaii Five-0in 2013 and would go on to direct 15 episodes from 2013-2020. He also directed 5 and appeared in 7 episodes of Longmire from 2012-2017, plus eight episodes of The Last Ship from 2015-2018. He would also. direct and appear in MacGyver and direct five episodes of Magnum P.I. from 2018-2021. 

In 2012, Peter Weller lent his commanding voice to the titular character for the animated feature Batman: The Dark Knight Return, based on comic books by RoboCop2 writer Frank Miller. Weller was nominated for three Behind the Voice Actors Awards for the role. 

Peter Weller returned to major motion pictures with 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness. In it, he portrayed the antagonist Starfleet Admiral Alexander Marcus. He displayed a commanding ruthlessness and great chemistry opposite the story’s protagonists. Weller’s performance is a big part of what made the movie so successful and loved by critics and audiences alike. 

In 2022, Weller appeared in the Netflix horror anthology Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. It was in the episode The Viewing, and he is terrifying, beautifully creepy and hypnotic; it totally fits with the nightmarish style of this show. He would reunite with Kiefer Sutherland in Rabbit Hole in 2023 while also voicing the character of Dr. Stern for the Marvel television series Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur in 2024. 

Overall, Weller’s television career has proven his versatility, consistency, and ability to bring intensity and depth to every character he portrayed. He also proved himself a talented and collaborative director with the ability and experience to get the best from his cast and crew. 

Peter Weller also lent his voice to video games, including Call of Duty and the 2017 VR game Wilson’s Heart. He was the voice of RoboCop in 2014’s Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, 2019’s Mortal Kombat 11, and 2023’s Robocop: Rogue City

As of early 2024, Weller is set to appear in the Thai movie Bang, which is in post-production. 

Peter Weller has never been content to be just an actor and director. He has long been outspoken about political and social issues, never strictly aligning with any political party. He is especially passionate about education funding. He made TIME magazine’s list of 10 “Wicked Smart Actors” in 2012. He’s a multi-linguist, fluent in French, Italian, and English. In addition to his education at UNT and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he earned a master’s in Roman and Renaissance Art from Syracuse University’s Florence, Italy Campus in 2004 and a Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance Art History from UCLA in 2014. That’s right, Robocop is actually RoboDoc or RoboPhD! Dr. Weller has served as an adjunct professor for Syracuse University and a guest lecturer at numerous other institutions, all while providing a scholarship fund to art history students at Syracuse in honour of his parents. 

So, WTF happened to Peter Weller? He’s dedicated his time to learning, teaching, playing music, raising a son and making plenty of appearances behind and in front of the camera for television. 

Peter Weller’s film and television characters, especially Robocop and even Buckaroo, have enduring cultural legacies, which is a sign of a transformative actor. Weller could have and perhaps should have, been an even bigger star, but I’m not sure he ever really wanted to be; almost like he is too good for that. He’s an artist who is hungry for knowledge and creative experimentation. Possessing near-superhuman drive, energy, and talent, Weller, more than most actors, exercised his various passions and talents, so his impact was far-reaching and long-lasting but wide-ranging. With his versatile and influential contributions to film, television, music, and academia, Peter Weller has proven himself to be an actor who can transform himself and the culture around him. In his words: “My career was always full of risks one way or another, and that’s how I like it.” So nobody should care WTF happened to Peter Weller, cuz he’s doing just fine. 

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