Fred Melamed (born May 13, 1956) is an American actor and writer. He is best known for portraying Sy Ableman in A Serious Man, Bruce Ben-Bacharach in Lady Dynamite, Sam Soto in In a World..., and for appearing in seven films directed by Woody Allen.
Melamed was born in New York City, New York. His biological mother is actress/director Nancy Zala and his biological father, British psychoanalyst Stan Silverstone, was a relative of the prominent Adler acting family, including Luther and Stella Adler. He is the adopted son of Louis, a New York television producer, and Syma (Krichefsky) Melamed, a sometime actress and housewife. As a child, he attended the Hunter College Elementary School, a primary school for gifted children, and Riverdale Country School.
His father worked with TV pioneer Nat Hiken on such shows as Car 54, Where Are You? and The Phil Silvers Show (aka Sgt. Bilko). When he was sixteen, his family had financial difficulties, and was forced to move to Hollywood, Florida. Melamed has said that he was raised in a non-believer Jewish family who never went to synagogue, except to attend a cousin's bar mitzvah. When he was asked if he wanted to attend Hebrew school, he said no, and thus had no religious training. However, he credits his non-religious upbringing as helping him to develop a belief in God later in life, as he had no "forced dogma to overcome."
He received his theatrical training at Hampshire College and the Yale School of Drama. At Yale, he was a Samuel F. B. Morse College Graduate Fellow. He was also a nominee for the Irene Ryan Award, a prize conferred upon the most promising young actors in the United States. While still at Yale, he was an instructor at the well-known performing arts camp, Stagedoor Manor. After his training, he appeared on stage with several resident theatre companies, including The Guthrie Theater, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Yale Repertory Theater, and on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning Amadeus. Following Amadeus, Melamed entered what he called "a period of personal darkness", during which he effectively stopped acting on stage. At the same time, with an insider's understanding of the industry and assistance from his agent, he became established as a voice actor, and continued to do film work.
Melamed's voice became a familiar presence on television, serving as the sound of the Olympics, Mercedes Benz, CBS Sports, USA Network, the Super Bowl, and numerous commercials and television programs. He became known within the industry as a voice actor, appearing in the Grand Theft Auto series, and dubbing several actors' entire performances in films. But it was for his portrayal of "sensitive" villain Sy Ableman, in Joel and Ethan Coen's 2009 film, A Serious Man, which was nominated for Best Picture at the 2010 Academy Awards, that he became most widely known. About that character, Film Confessional said, "Sy Ableman is as great a contemporary movie villain as The Joker, Hans Landa, or Anton Chigurh.... The character Fred Melamed contrives is the year's most brilliant force of destruction."
For his performance in A Serious Man, Melamed, along with the Coen Brothers, and the film's Ensemble and Casting Directors won Film Independent's Independent Spirit Robert Altman Award. New York magazine listed Melamed's work as among the Best Performances of the Decade, and Empire called Sy Ableman "One of The Best Coen Bros. Characters of All Time". Several leading U.S. critics, including A. O. Scott of The New York Times, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, and Roger Ebert all said his performance was worthy of an Academy Award nomination.
In addition, Melamed turns up prolifically in Woody Allen films. He has appeared in more Allen movies than any other actor besides Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow (and Allen himself). Melamed is featured in Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days, Another Woman, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Shadows and Fog, Husbands and Wives, and Hollywood Ending. He has also played significant supporting roles in Suspect, The Good Mother, The Mission, The Pickup Artist, and other films.
On television, Melamed stars with Maria Bamford in the Netflix comedy Lady Dynamite, on FX's Emmy Award-winning Fargo, Hulu's Golden Globe Award-nominated Casual, the Fox comedy New Girl, and Verizon Go90's sports send-up Now We're Talking. He is a present or past recurring guest star on USA Network's Benched, Showtime's House of Lies, HBO's Girls, Childrens Hospital, Blunt Talk, FX's Married, and Trial & Error. In previous seasons, he played Larry David's smug psychiatrist, Dr. Arthur Thurgood, on Curb Your Enthusiasm, tough-guy jurist Judge Alan Karpman on The Good Wife, and played himself in the CBS situation comedy The Crazy Ones with Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar. In 2017, he appeared as a special guest star in the acclaimed Fargo episode "The Law of Non-Contradiction". He also appeared in 2 episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine as author, DC Parlov.
Melamed's slate of upcoming films includes the Sundance film Lemon, a collaboration with Brett Gelman and Janicza Bravo, Brawl in Cell Block 99 opposite Vince Vaughn, Sean McGinly's Silver Lake, which he stars in with Martin Starr, and Dragged Across Concrete. Melamed recently starred as Sam in Lake Bell's In a World..., winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival, opposite Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk, and re-teamed with the Coen brothers and co-stars George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, and Ralph Fiennes in Hail, Caesar!. He starred previously in Get On Up, a bio-pic about the life of James Brown, and opposite Elliott Gould, as auteur/director Bob Wilson, in Fred Won't Move Out, a film about the decline of a stubborn patriarch and his family. Other recent films include The Dictator (2012), with Sacha Baron Cohen and Sir Ben Kingsley, where Melamed appears in a cameo as the Director of the dictator's Nuclear Weapons Program, and Some Kind of Beautiful, where Melamed plays a villain, opposite Pierce Brosnan and Jessica Alba. Melamed has also voiced cult-leader Cris Formage in the Grand Theft Auto video game series.
On Broadway in 2011, after a long hiatus from the theatre, Melamed originated the roles of The Father in Ethan Coen's Talking Cure, and Thomas Moran in Elaine May's George Is Dead, two of the one-act plays that comprised Relatively Speaking. Subsequently, Melamed took on the role of Vanya in the Guild Hall production of Uncle Vanya, about which The New York Times said he gave "... an excellent ... multi-layered performance ... Mr. Melamed easily inhabits the comic, awkward lover, but also brings out Vanya's vast loneliness ...".
As a writer, he has produced screenplays including Girl of the Perfume River, A Jones for Gash, The Asshat Project, and is currently at work on a long-form, television version of The Preservationist, a fictional drama inspired by the case of Melamed's college friend, Edward Forbes Smiley III, a renowned cartographic expert and dealer, who admitted to having been the most brazen and prolific map thief of all time.
Melamed lives with his wife and twin sons in Los Angeles. Both of the Melamed children were born with autism and he and his wife have been involved in advocacy for persons living with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families.