Steve Zahn was born in Marshall, Minnesota, to Zelda, who worked at a YMCA, and Carleton Edward Zahn, a Lutheran pastor. His father is of German and Swedish descent and his mother is of German ancestry. Zahn's career kicked off in his native Minnesota when he crashed the audition of a local stage production of "Biloxi Blues" and won the lead role. Next trained at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA; then moved to New York City where he won a role touring for 13 months in national company ofTommy Tune-directed version of "Bye Bye Birdie". Back in New York, he played oppositeEthan Hawkein "Sophistry" at Playwright's Horizon, whereBen Stillernoticed him and cast him and Hawke inReality Bites(1994).