TV viewers may recognize versatile actress Christine Baranski as boozy and bitter Maryann Thorpe from the sitcom “Cybill” (1995-1998), where she harvested an Emmy Award and three Emmy nominations. Baranski later received accolades after taking the role of Katherine Archer in the drama comedy The Birdcage (1996, won a Screen Actors Guild Award), Dr. Nora in an episode of “Frasier” (1999, earned an Emmy nomination) and reporter Mary Sunshine in Chicago (2002, took home another Screen Actors Guild Award).
On stage, Baranski swept up two Tony Awards and two Drama Desk Awards. She charmed audiences with her roles in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Real Thing” (1984), “Rumors,” and “Lips Together, Teeth Apart” (1991).
Baranski is married to actor Matthew Cowles, with whom she has two daughters, Lily and Isabelle. The actress chooses to raise her children without television because of the sexual content and violence often shown on screen.
Joined in Auntie Mame
Childhood and Family:
Of Polish descent, Christine Jane Baranski was born on May 2, 1952, in Buffalo, New York, to Virginia and Lucien Baranski (editor of a Polish newspaper). Thanks to the influence of her actor grandparents, Christine loved acting and starred in “Auntie Mame” while studying in high school. She later embarked on an acting career soon after graduating from New York’s The Juilliard School. In her first two screen works, Christine was billed as Chris Charney.
On October 15, 1983, Christine married actor Matthew Cowles, who was famous for his role in the daytime soap “All My Children” (as Billy Clyde Tuggle). The happy couple has two daughters, Lily Cowles (born in 1985) and Isabelle Cowles (born in 1987).
The Real Thing
In her late teens, Christine Baranski made her entrance in the acting world with a minor role in the comedy movie Who’s Minding the Mint (1967, unaccredited) and an episode of “The Brady Bunch” (1970). As a member of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, Baranski took part in several plays, including a Baltimore production of “She Stoops to Conquer” (1976).
After playing Miriam Grasser in the TV drama When Every Day Was the Fourth of July (1978), Baranski acquired a more significant role in Playing for Time (1980, TV). The same year, she also made her Broadway debut in “Hide and Seek,” which was followed by a movie debut in the comedy Soup for One (1982).
A year later, Baranski won an Obie award for her beautiful performance in a staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Adding to the critical success, the actress shared the stage with Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close in Mike Nichols’ revival of Tom Stoppard’s comedy “The Real Thing” (1984) and won her first Tony and Drama Desk award for Best Supporting Actress. Also in 1984, Baranski was seen in the workshop version of “Sunday in the Park with George.” The rising actress was then cast on screen as the nymphomaniac in Lovesick (1983), played maid Maxine in Louis Malle’s comedy movie Crackers (1984) and appeared in an episode of “The Equalizer” (1985).
Following her Broadway gig, she replaced Judith Ivey in David Rabe’s “Hurlyburly” (1985) and carried out the role of Bunny Flingus in the acclaimed revival of John Guare’s comedy-drama “The House of Blue Leaves” (1986), a role she recreated in the TV version of the play a year later. 1989 saw the performer pick up her second Tony for her featured role in Neil Simon’s comedy “Rumors.”
After being seen in Reversal of Fortune (1990, as Andrea Reynolds), Baranski once more showcased her talent in the play “Lips Together, Teeth Apart” (1991) and won another Drama Desk award for her supporting turn as a neurotic suburbanite. However, her performance in the musical “Nick and Nora” (1991) could not help the doomed show.
Detouring to the comedy genre, Baranski was involved in the sequel Addams Family Values (1993, also performed “Kum ba yah”), as camp counselor Becky Martin-Granger. She also presented a comical turn as snooty sister-in-law Connie Chasseur in the drama comedy The Ref (1994).
Baranski’s fame instantly shot up after creator Chuck Lorre cast her to play Maryann Thorpe, the gin-swilling, dagger-tongued best friend of the main character in the sitcom “Cybill” (1995-1998), starring Cybill Shepherd. Later, her witty portrayal was awarded an Emmy, a Screen Actors Guild, an American Comedy and a Q award for Best Supporting Actress. In addition, Baranski collected three Emmy, two Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild nomination.
Besides her award-winning sitcom gig, the actress also won a Screen Actors Guild for Best Performance by a Cast for her impressive role as Katherine Archer in the drama comedy The Birdcage (1996). As a stage thespian, Baranski enchanted her audiences in the Encores presentation of “Promises, Promises” (1997) and the L.A.’s Reprise concert production of “Sweeney Todd” (1999).
Baranski, who acted with Warren Beatty in his political comedy Bulworth (1998), was praised for her fine guest performance as the titular radio host in the “Dr. Nora” episode of the acclaimed sitcom “Frasier” (1999) and earned an Emmy and an American Comedy award nomination. The executive producer of the CBS fall sitcom “Welcome to New York” (2000, also acted) was also entertaining as Martha May Whovier in the screen adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000).
After reprising her role in the Kennedy Center production of “Sweeney Todd” (2002), Baranski was cast as reporter Mary Sunshine in the movie version of Chicago (2002, also sang “We Both Reached For The Gun”) and received a Screen Actors Guild and a Broadcast Film Critics Association award, as well as a Phoenix Film Critics Society award nomination. She next appeared in the NBC sitcom “Happy Family” (2003, starred as Annie Brennan), Welcome to Mooseport (2004), the TV seasonal film Recipe for a Perfect Christmas (2005) and the drama Bonneville (2006, starred as Francine).
Returning to the stage, in June 2006, Baranski starred in the Kennedy Center revival of Jerry Herman’s “Mame.” She will also join several stage stars in Christopher Ashley’s revival of Paul Rudnick’s “Regrets Only,” premiering in October 2006 at the New York City Center. On screen, Baranski will take part in such TV comedies as Inseparable (2006) and Spellbound (2006), as well as in the motion picture East Broadway (2006), which is an Asian-American version of the Cinderella story.
- Screen Actors Guild: Outstanding Performance by the Cast of a Theatrical Motion Picture, Chicago, 2003
- Broadcast Film Critics Association: Best Acting Ensemble, Chicago, 2003
- Screen Actors Guild: Outstanding Performance by a Cast, The Birdcage, 1997
- American Comedy: Funniest Supporting Female Performer in a TV Series, “Cybill,” 1996
- Screen Actors Guild: Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series, “Cybill,” 1996
- Viewers for Quality Television: Q Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Quality Comedy Series, “Cybill,” 1996
- Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, “Cybill,” 1995
- Drama Desk: Best Supporting Actress in a Play, “Lips Together, Teeth Apart,” 1992
- Tony: Best Featured Actress in a Play, “Rumors,” 1989
- Tony: Best Featured Actress in a Play, “The Real Thing,” 1984
- Drama Desk: Best Supporting Actress in a Play, “The Real Thing,” 1984
- Obie: Performance, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” 1983