Known for portraying complex and mature women in films, two-time Oscar and Golden Globe nominated American actress Mary McDonnell hit movie stardom as the strong-willed Stands With A Fist in the Kevin Costner megahit “Dances With Wolves” (1990), from which she took home her first Academy Award and Golden Globe nomination. She picked up her next nominations after starring as soap opera star May-Alice Culhane in John Sayles' “Passion Fish” (1992). Other film credits include Lawrence Kasdan's “Grand Canyon” (1991) and “Mumford” (1999), “Independence Day” (1996), the cult hit “Donnie Darko” (2001, as Donnie's mother), “Nola” (2003) and “Crazy Like a Fox” (2004). On the small screen, McDonnell is popular for playing President Laura Roslin in the science fiction series “Battlestar Galactica” (2004-2009), a role that brought her a 2009 Saturn nomination. She also played Laura in the TV mini series “Battlestar Galactica” (2003) and the TV film special “Battlestar Galactica: Razor” (2007). McDonnell earned an Emmy nomination for her guest role in “ER” (2001-2002). She also played regular roles in the short-lived series “E/R” (1984-1985), “High Society” (1995-1996) and “Ryan Caulfield: Year One” (1999), and recurring roles in “That's Life” (2000-2002) and “Grey's Anatomy” (2008-2009). Her TV film credits include “O Pioneers” (1991), “The American Clock” (1993), “12 Angry Men” (1997), “The Locket” (2002) and “Mrs. Harris” (2005).
A celebrated stage performer, McDonnell won an Obie award for her work in “Still Life” (1981). She also starred in Broadway plays such as “Execution of Justice” (1986), “The Heidi Chronicles” (1990) and “Summer and Smoke” (1996).
McDonnell and her actor-husband, Randle Mell, have two children. The couple appeared together in the 1991 film “Grand Canyon.” They have also taught acting classes together.
McDonnell is a lifelong fan of Vanessa Redgrave. She cites “24,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “The West Wing” and “Brothers & Sisters” as some of her favorite TV shows.
Childhood and Family:
Born on April 28, 1952, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Mary Eileen McDonnell grew up in Ithaca, New York. She graduated from State University of New York at Fredonia. A former cheerleader and synchronized swimmer, she began acting while in college and spent time studying acting in Manchester, England, as an exchange student. Mary has one brother and three sisters.
Mary is married to actor Randle Mell (born on December 28, 1951), whom she met in 1986. They have a daughter named Olivia (born in 1987) and a son named Michael (born in 1993). Mary, who started teaching drama classes at Vassar College’s summer theater, often teaches at the New York Stage and Film Company.
Mary and her family currently live in Los Angeles.
Dances With Wolves
Mary McDonnell made her New York stage debut at age 26 in Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize-winning “Buried Child” (1978). However, it was her performance in Emily Mann's “Still Life” (1981) that won her first notice and an Obie Award. Although McDonnell quickly switched to television with appearances in the CBS soap opera “As the World Turns” (1980), playing Claudia Colfax, and the ABC film “Money on the Side” (1982), she also appeared in Sidney Lumet's film “Garbo Talks” (1984). She returned to the stage during the early 1980s and began a long and productive partnership with the Long Wharf Theatre Company. In 1986, she debuted on Broadway in the role of Mary Ann White in “Execution of Justice,” a production directed and written by Emily Mann.
McDonnell landed her first regular role in the short-lived comedy series “E/R” (1984-1985). In the series, she played Eve Sheridan, the no-nonsense hospital administrator and former wife of quirky doctor Howard Sheinfeld (played by Elliott Gould). Her first major film role arrived when she was cast as Elma Radnor in John Sayles' “Matewan” (1987), for which she costarred with Chris Cooper and James Earl Jones. The next year, she played Paula Warsaw in “Tiger Warsaw,” an independent film starred Patrick Swayze.
A noted stage actress, McDonnell amassed a lot of recognition on screen when she was chosen by director/star Kevin Costner to play Stands With A Fist in his blockbuster hit “Dances With Wolves” (1990). For her good acting job, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and a Golden Globe for the same category. She also replaced Joan Allen as Heidi Holland in the Wendy Wasserstein Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play “The Heidi Chronicles.” She would return to Broadway six year later in a revival of Tennessee Williams' “Summer and Smoke,” in which she starred as Alma Winemiller.
After “Dances With Wolves,” McDonnell's screen career took off. She was cast as the suffering wife of Kevin Kline in Lawrence Kasdan's drama “Grand Canyon” (1991), which also starred Danny Glover, Steve Martin, Mary-Louise Parker and her real-life husband, Randle
Mell, appeared along side Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, David Strathairn and Dan Aykroyd in Phil Alden Robinson's forgettable thriller “Sneakers” (1992), portrayed Nick Nolte's wife in the basketball film “Blue Chips” (1994), which was directed by William Friedkin and written by Ron Shelton, and portrayed First Lady Marilyn Whitmore in Roland Emmerich's acclaimed science fiction epic “Independence Day” (1996). However, McDonnell did not net an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role until she was reunited with John Sayles in “Passion Fish” (1992), which is about a successful soap opera star who rediscovers herself after a car accident leaves her paralyzed. The role of May-Alice Culhane also won her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama.
McDonnell also had worthy roles on the small screen. She reprised her stage role as the stubborn daughter of 19th-century immigrants in a PBS televised broadcast of the play “O Pioneers” (1991), played Rose Baumler in the TNT TV film version of Arthur Miller’s “The American Clock” (1993), and starred in the Showtime film “Woman Undone” (1996), with Randy Quaid, Sam Elliott and Benjamin Bratt. She revisited series TV as a regular in the short-lived CBS comedy “High Society” (1995-1996), playing Dorothy 'Dott' Emerson.
From 1997 to 1999, McDonnell appeared in Lawrence Kasdan's “Mumford” (1999) and as a judge in the Golden Globe winning Showtime film “12 Angry Men” (1997), which was directed by William Friedkin. She then starred as Sybil Goldrich, a woman with breast cancer, in the Lifetime dramatic film “Two Voices” (also 1997), teamed up with Donald Sutherland and Matthew Fox for the CBS original movie “Behind the Mask” (1999), and portrayed William Russ' wife in CBS' “Replacing Dad” (filmed in 1997, released in 1999). She attempted to return to series TV with the Fox drama “Ryan Caulfield: Year One” (1999), but the series had a short life.
In the new millennium, McDonnell could be seen in the TV films “A Father's Choice” (2000), “For All Time” (2000) and “Chestnut Hill” (2001), and in two episodes of “That's Life” (2000-2002, as Jules O'Grady). In 2001, she began her five-episodic arc in the NBC hit medical series “ER” and was nominated for a 2002 Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her portrayal of Eleanor Carter. It was also that year that McDonnell landed the famed role of Rose, Donnie’s mother, in “Donnie Darko” (2001), which was directed and written by Richard Kelly and starred Jake Gyllenhaal. The psychological thriller film was a flop at the box office, but collected a devoted fan base. She recalled, “When I got the script, I'd read ten pages then walk around the house, the top floor of my house; I don't have a big house. And when I finished it, I started crying and I thought, ‘Damn, I have to do another film for no money!’ And I told Randall (her husband) I had to do it and he said, ‘Are you sure?’ I had to leave while we were on vacation. I had to leave my family at the lake, but I had to do the film.”
McDonnell next appeared as Sister Theodore in a 2002 episode of “Touched by an Angel” called “Minute by Minute,” played Helen Staples in the Hallmark Hall of Fame television feature “The Locket” (2002), opposite Vanessa Redgrave, Chad Willett, and Marguerite Moreau, and returned to feature films in Alan Hruska's romantic comedy “Nola” (2003). She was then cast as Laura Roslin in the high rated two-part miniseries “Battlestar Galactica” (SciFi Channel, 2003), which costarred Edward James Olmos. She went on to reprise her role in the TV series version “Battlestar Galactica,” which debuted on October 18, 2004, in the U.K. and on January 14, 2005, in the U.S. The series, which ended in March 2009, earned two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series, a Peabody Award and two Saturns for Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series. McDonnell received a 2009 Saturn nomination for Best Actress in Television for her work on the show. She also recreated her role of President Laura Roslin in the 2007 two-hour special “Battlestar Galactica: Razor.”
During her time on “Battlestar Galactica,” McDonnell also worked on other projects. She costarred with Roger Rees in the independent comedy “Crazy Like a Fox” (2004), for filmmaker Richard Squires, supported Annette Bening and Ben Kingsley in the Golden Globe nominated “Mrs. Harris” (2005, TV), and played the recurring role of Virginia Dixon in three episodes of “Grey's Anatomy” (2008-2009).
McDonnell will soon appear in the made-for-TV film “Killer Hair,” which is slated to be broadcasted on June 21, 2009. The comedy was directed by Jerry Ciccoritti and written by Elisa Bell.
Obie: “Still Life,” 1981