Cotter Smith began his acting career in New York in 1978, studying first with Stella Adler and later at The Actors Studio.
His many New York theater credits include Broadway productions of the new American play Next Fall, which received a 2010 Tony Award nomination for Best New Play; Wendy Wasserstein's An American Daughter; and Lanford Wilson's Burn This, as the first replacement for John Malkovich. Off Broadway shows include Michael Weller’s Side Effects with Joely Richardson for the MCC Theater; KIN at Playwrights Horizons; Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize winning How I learned to Drive with Molly Ringwald for the Vineyard Theatre, where he also appeared in The Dying Gaul by Craig Lucas; Charles Fuller's Pulitzer Prize winning A Soldier's Play with Denzel Washington and Samuel Jackson for the Negro Ensemble Company; and Athol Fugard's The Blood Knot with Danny Glover at the Roundabout. He spent ten years as a member of the Circle Repertory Company in New York, working exclusively on the premiere productions of new American plays. He also starred with Judd Hirsch in the National Tour of the Tony Award winning play Art.
He is a founding member of the Matrix Theatre Company in Los Angeles, where he has appeared in Anton Chekhov's The Sea Gull, Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, Samuel Beckett's Endgame, Caryl Churchill's Mad Forest, Allan Bennett's Habeus Corpus and George M. Cohan's The Tavern. Other Los Angeles performances include Romeo And Juliet, Love Letters and Raft of the Medusa, as well as the West Coast premieres of A Soldier's Play and How I learned to Drive at the Mark Taper Forum. He has
received four DramaLogue Awards and two Ovation nominations, been nominated four times by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, and received their Outstanding Lead Performance Award for The Tavern.
His television and film work ranges from his debut in 1982 as Robert Kennedy in the mini-series Blood Feud, to his role as the President in the 20th Century Fox film, X2: X-Men United. He was recently seen in Barry Levinson’s HBO film You Don't KNow Jack, as the prosecutor attempting to convict Dr. Kevorkian, portrayed by Al Pacino. He received a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the MethodFest Film Festival for the independent feature Lunatics, Lovers and Poets.
Over the years he has appeared in over fifty television shows, from his regular roles on the ABC series Equal Justice and Night Stalker to his recurring roles on Judging Amy, Tru Calling, Orleans and Courthouse. His numerous guest star appearances span from the early days of Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere to the more recent Brothers and Sisters and White Collar.