Robert Knepper was born in Fremont, Ohio to a veterinarian parent. Knepper grew up in Maumee, Ohio near Toledo. Knepper was inspired to love acting since he had seen his mother worked in the props department for the community theater. He participated in the community theater and high school productions. After Knepper graduated from Maumee High School in 1977, he studied drama at Northwestern University but he left and went to New York City, where he continued to work in theater. Knepper started his television and film career in 1986 with The Paper Chase and That's Life!.