Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle
“As an actor, I want to blur everything, fact and fantasy. That’s why I want to keep my real life private. That way you come with as few expectations and as little known as possible, so you can believe what you are seeing.” Jennifer Jason Leigh
One of the leading talents of her generation, who has been named a post-modern Meryl Streep, Hollywood-born actress Jennifer Jason Leigh has drawn high critical acclaim and a cult following for her outstanding work in the cinematic industry although she is not a major “household name.” Initially coming to prominence as Casey Powell in the television film The Best Little Girl in the World (1981) and for playing innocent Stacy Hamilton in the hit Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Leigh further launched her triumphant career during the 1990s with a string of remarkable performances. She was seen as a self-destructive streetwalker in Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) and the sweet, brain-dead waif in George Armitage’s Miami Blues (1990). The roles won her a New York Film Critics Circle and a Boston Society of Film Critics award. She was also seen as narcotics cop Kristen Cates in Rush (1991), the psychotic roommate of Bridget Fonda in Single White Female (1992, netted a MTV Movie award), a phone-sex operator in Short Cuts (1993, took home a Golden Globe and a Venice Film Festival award), an acclaimed journalist in The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Kathy Bates’ disturbed daughter in Dolores Claiborne (1995), a brainy hijacker in Kansas City (1996), a plain-Jane heroine in Washington Square (1997), the favorite daughter of a molesting father in A Thousand Acres (1997) and a sexy game designer in eXistenZ (1999). During 1994-95, Leigh, who was once named one of Salon magazine’s “Best Actors in Hollywood,” also received vast recognition for her spectacular performance as Dorothy Parker in Alan Rudolph’s Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994, received a National Society of Film Critics and a Chicago Film Critics Association award), and an aspirant singer-turned-drug-addict in Georgia (1995), in which she was handed a New York Film Critics and a Montreal Film Festival award. In more recent times, she was awarded a Tokyo International Film Festival award for her stunning performance in The King is Alive (2000) and in 2005, she netted a Genie award for her bright supporting turn in Childstar (2004).
Leigh‘s other memorable projects include The Jacket (2005), Easter Sunday (2005), Rag Tale (2005) and Lymelife (2005). Fans should not miss her appearances in the forthcoming America (2006) and the Untitled Noah Baumbach Project (2007), starring Nicole Kidman.
As for her private life, one of Harper’s Bazaar Magazine “10 Most Beautiful Women in America” (1989), Jennifer Jason Leigh is married to her boyfriend of four years, Academy Award-nominated independent film writer-director Noah Baumbach. Before the marriage, she was linked to Eric Stoltz (lived together for five years in the 80s), Bruno Kirby and Jason Patric.
Childhood and Family:
Born Jennifer Lee Morrow, on February 5, 1962, in Hollywood, California, Jennifer Jason Leigh is the daughter of Blackboard Jungle actor Vic Marrow (Born in 1929, died in a controversial helicopter accident while filming Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1982) and Barbara Turner, a Polish screenwriter, actress and producer. Her parents divorced when Jennifer was only two years old. Her mom later married director Reza Badiyi, but that marriage also ended in divorce. Jennifer has an older sister named Carrie Ann Morrow, a drug counselor (born in 1958), and is half-sister to Mina Badie, an actress who was born in 1970.
Of Russian descent, Jennifer launched her acting career at age nine when she landed a non-speaking part in the movie Death of a Stranger. She was trained by Lee Strasberg in a summer acting workshop five years later, as well as attended Stagedoor Manor, an acting camp for teens in New York’s Catskill region. Receiving her Screen Actors membership at age 16, Jennifer decided to drop out of Pacific Palisades High School six weeks before graduation to pursue acting. In September 2005, over the Labor Day weekend, the Hollywood native married her filmmaker-boyfriend Noah Baumbach (born in 1969).
The offspring of Hollywood celebrity parents who was trained at the Lee Strasberg Institute and Stagedoor Manor, Jennifer Jason Leigh was exposed to the world of cinema as a child. Working on her first film at age nine with an unaccredited part in the 1973-released film Death of a Stranger, Leigh earned her Screen Actors Guild membership in 1977 after making a guest appearance in an episode of “Baretta.” She soon landed a bigger part in the made-for-TV movie The Young Runaways in the following year. More roles in television films followed, like Angel City (1980), I Think I’m Having a Baby (1981) and The Killing of Randy Webster (1981), but it was the ABC film The Best Little Girl in the World (1981) that won Leigh her first notice as Casey Powell, a teen girl who suffers from anorexia. The same year, she landed her first speaking part on the wide-screen in the low-budget horror flick Eyes of a Stranger.
Leigh won even more attention in the following year with her breakthrough performance as Stacy Hamilton in Amy Heckerling’s popular high-school comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). The hit film helped launch Leigh’s career, as well as several other then-nameless stars, including Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz and Phoebe Cates.
After the critical-acclaimed movie, the actress continued taking on roles in both TV and film. She was seen in such movies as Easy Money (1983), Grandview, U.S.A. (1984), Flesh & Blood (1985), The Hitcher (1986), The Men’s Club (1986), Under Cover (1987), Sister, Sister (1987), Heart of Midnight (1988) and The Big Picture (1989), and television films like The First Time (1982), Girls of the White Orchid (1983) and Picnic (1986). In 1990, Leigh won a New York Film Critics Circle and a Boston Society of Film Critics award for Best Supporting Actress for her outstanding acting as gang-raped hooker Tralala in the 1989 courageous drama Last Exit to Brooklyn, opposite Stephen Lang, and sweet, brain-dead orphan Susie Waggoner in Miami Blues (1990, starring Alec Baldwin), a crime-thriller directed by George Armitage.
During the 90s, the versatile young actress concentrated on film work although she still managed to appear on the small screen with appearances in the television movies Buried Alive (1990), Thanks of a Grateful Nation (1998) and CBS’ The Love Letter (1998, rejoined Campbell Scott). She also did voice-overs in such show as “Spawn,” “King of the Hill,” “Hercules,” and “Superman.” On the silver screen, Leigh was cast in the Ron Howard blockbuster Backdraft (1991), Crooked Hearts (1991), The Prom (1992) and gave a memorable turn as drug-addicted undercover cop Kristen Cates in Rush (1991). She gained further recognition for portraying Bridget Fonda’s psychotic roommate in Barbet Schroeder’s Single White Female (1992), in which she took home a 1993 MTV Movie award for Best Villain. In 1993 she scored another success with her fine supporting turn as bothered young mother/phone-sex operator Lois Kaiser in the Robert Altman-helmed Short Cuts, for which she was handed a Golden Globe and a Venice Film Festival for Best Ensemble Cast.
Following another memorable performance in the Coen brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), where she was cast as an award-winning journalist who secretly romances the new president of a company, Leigh once again drew accolades when director Alan Rudolph had her star alongside Campbell Scott in the biography film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994). As Dorothy Parker, Leigh was so impressive that she netted a National Society of Film Critics and a Chicago Film Critics Association for Best Actress. In addition, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. In 1995, Leigh’s strong portrayal of a drug-addicted singer wannabe in Georgia won the Year’s Best Actress from the New York Film Critics and the Montreal Film Festival. In the drama film, which was written by her mother and heavily based on her sister’s battle with drug addiction and self-image, Leigh also served as a co-producer and sang.
Her significant performances in the 1990s included Kathy Bates’ troubled daughter Selena in the Stephen King chiller Dolores Claiborne (1995), sharp-witted hijacker Blondie O’Hara in Altman’s jazz tribute Kansas City (1996), Anney Boatwright in Anjelica Huston’s directorial debut Bastard Out of Carolina (1996), a plain-Jane heroine falling for an attractive gold digger in the film version of Henry James’ Washington Square (1997) and computer game designer Allegra Geller in the David Cronenberg fantastic sci-fi drama eXistenZ (1999), with Jude Law. In the 1997 drama A Thousand Acres, where she costarred with Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer, Leigh won a Verona Love Screens Film Festival for Best Actress due to her brilliant portrayal of Caroline Cook, the daughter of a molesting father (played by family friend Jason Robards).
In 2000, Leigh once again proved she was a talented actress by picking up a Best Actress at the Tokyo International Film Festival for her bravura performance in The King Is Alive (2000). Next up, she starred in Skipped Parts (2000) with Brad Renfro, was featured in The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) and The Quickie (2001), played Tom Hanks’ doomed wife in Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition (2002), Meg Ryan’s viciously murdered sister in the Jane Campion-directed In the Cut (2003), was cast as Christian Bale’s hooker girlfriend in The Machinist (2004) and appeared in Todd Solondz’s Palindromes (2004). She also won a Genie for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for her role on Childstar (2004). In 2001, she teamed up with Scottish actor Alan Cumming to write, direct and produce The Anniversary Party, where she also starred alongside real-life Hollywood friends Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Beals, John C. Reilly and Parker Posey. For her effort in this well-received ensemble comedy, Leigh and Cumming received a nomination at the National Board of Review for Excellence in Filmmaking, and Independent Spirit nominations for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay.
2005 saw Leigh appear as Dr. Beth Lorenson, opposite Adrien Brody and Kris Kristofferson, in The Jacket (2005), a mother in Easter Sunday (2005), Mary Josephine ‘MJ’ Morton in Rag Tale (2005) and Brenda Bartlett in Lymelife (2005). She is also scheduled to play roles in the upcoming America (2006) and an Untitled Noah Baumbach Project (2007, also starring Nicole Kidman).
Also a trained-stage actress, Jennifer Jason Leigh, who made her debut appearance in a 1972 play “Man of Destiny,” recently announced her departure from Abigail’s Party Off-Broadway to work with husband Noah Bumbauch in his forthcoming film. She has also appeared in such plays as the Off Broadway “Sunshine” (1989), “Cabaret” (1998, with Alan Cumming) and “Proof” (2000).