Born: September 1, 1948; Died: March 21, 2014.

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James Rebhorn, who has died of skin cancer aged 65, was an actor whose face will be familiar to just about anyone who has sat down and watched a Hollywood movie over the last quarter century or so.

Tall, thin, balding, with rather severe features, he played unsympathetic, often duplicitous authority figures in dozens of films, during an acting career that stretched across five decades.

On television, he was Claire Danes's father in Homeland (2011-13), one of the most talked-about drama series of recent years. And back in 1998 he was the district attorney who prosecuted Jerry Seinfeld and his friends and had them all sent off to jail for failing to intervene in a robbery in the final instalment of the classic sitcom series Seinfeld.

He rarely got star billing, but he shared the screen with many of the biggest stars of his generation, ­including Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman (1992) and Carlito's Way (1993), Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct (1992) and The Game (1997), Will Smith in Independence Day (1996) and Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents (2000).

The son of an engineer, James Robert Rebhorn was born in Philadelphia in 1948 and grew up mainly in Anderson, Indiana. His original ­intention was to become a Lutheran minister and he studied political science and theatre arts at the Lutheran university Wittenberg in Springfield, Ohio.

He acted at university and began to have second thoughts about becoming a minister, although he continued to attend church regularly throughout his life. "Whenever I go out of town, the first thing I do is reach for a Yellow Pages so I can find where the Lutheran church is, and a laundromat," he said in one interview.

After graduating from Wittenberg, he studied acting at Columbia ­University in New York, although his intention at this point was to become a teacher. Of course many of his con­temporaries did become professional actors, which led to him getting offers of acting jobs. One thing led to another and before long he found a few acting jobs had evolved into a career.

He was a distinctive presence on screen and appeared in numerous television commercials, including adverts for Coca-Cola, Budweiser and McDonald's. In the early 1980s he had recurring roles in several American soap operas, playing abusive fathers in two different soaps.

By the middle of the decade he was beginning to get supporting roles in more prestigious projects and he played a doctor in the real-life thriller Silkwood (1983), with Meryl Streep, and a vigilante in Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog (1991). He frequently played lawyers and politicians. "Film and television, though creative, tend to be very uncreative when it comes to casting," he said.

"They generally want to hire you based on the last thing they saw you in. It is very difficult to break out and do roles that are out of that type."

He also continued to act in theatre, where he found he got a wider range of roles.

Frank Mathison on Homeland was one of his more sympathetic characters. Claire Danes plays Carrie Mathison, a brilliant CIA agent, with some serious personal issues. Both she and her father have bipolar disorder. Rebhorn appeared in all three seasons of the show.

He is survived by his wife Rebecca Linn, a psychologist, and their two daughters.