Academy Award-winning American actress Olympia Dukakis, a founding member of the Charles Playhouse in Boston and The Whole Theater Company in Montclair, New Jersey, had been credited for hundreds of stage plays before receiving critical acclaim for her supporting role as Cher’s mother in Norman Jewison's romantic comedy film Moonstruck (1987). She played Kirstie Alley's mother Rosie in the Look Who's Talking trilogy (1989, 1990 and 1993) and played Mrs. Anna Madrigal, the landlady who grows marijuana, in the controversial miniseries "Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City" (1993) and its sequels, "Armistead Maupin's More Tales of the City" (1998) and "Armistead Maupin's Further Tales of the City" (2001).
The 76-year-old actress, whose Oscar statue was stolen from her home in 1989, recently costarred with Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent in Sarah Polley's directorial debut, Away From Her. She also played Adam Brody’s ailing grandmother in Jon Kasdan’s (son of Lawrence Kasdan) newly-released film, In the Land of Women, which also stars Meg Ryan. Next, she will act opposite Shirley MacLaine in the upcoming film Poor Things.
Childhood and Family:
Daughter of Greek immigrants Constantine and Alexandra Dukakis, Olympia Dukakis was born on June 20, 1931, in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her brother is actor Apollo Dukakis and her cousin is Michael Dukakis, former governor of Massachusetts and former Democratic candidate for the US Presidency in 1988.
Dukakis attended Arlington High School in Arlington, Massachusetts, where she is a member of the Arlington High School Hall of Fame. She received two degrees from Boston University, a BA in 1953 and an MFA (theater arts) in 1957.
On December 5, 1962, Dukakis married Yugoslav-American actor Louis Zorich, with whom she co-founded The Whole Theatre Company in Montclair, New Jersey, and ran the company for 15 years (1973-1988). The happily married couple has two sons, Peter Zorich (co-founded a line of food products called "Famous Fixins") and Stefan Zorich, and a daughter named Christina Zorich.
Stage and Screen Veteran
While working as a physical therapist, Olympia Dukakis, a founding member of the Charles Playhouse in Boston, Massachusetts, appeared in a number of stage productions and made her off-Broadway debut in "The Breaking Wall" in 1960. She began affiliation with the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1961 and was in Michael Redgrave's successful 1962 Broadway adaptation of Henry James' 1888 novella, "The Aspern Papers," starring Wendy Hiller and Maurice Evans.
Dukakis made her feature film debut with an unaccredited role as a patient in a mental institution in writer-director Robert Rossen's Lilith (1964; starring Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg and Peter Fonda), which was based on a novel by J. R. Salamanca, and followed it up with a starring role in that same year’s film, Twice a Man, an independent film by writer-director Gregory J. Markopoulos.
From 1967 to 1970, Dukakis taught acting at New York University and later returned to teaching acting again at NYU from 1974 to 1983. She also co-founded and served as the artistic director of The Whole Theater Company in Montclair, New Jersey, which she ran from 1973 until 1988.
During that time, Dukakis made her TV-movie debut in Nicky's World (1974), which centers on a close-knit Greek family. She then appeared regularly as Dr. Barbara Moreno (1983) on the NBC soap opera starring Mary Stuart, "Search for Tomorrow." She also enjoyed an overnight success when she won an Oscar’s Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Cher’s mother, Rose Castorini, in Norman Jewison's critically-acclaimed 1987 romantic comedy Moonstruck.
Following her breakout performance in Moonstruck, Dukakis went on to play Kirstie Alley's mother in writer-director Amy Heckerling's commercially successful romantic comedy Look Who's Talking (1989; also starring John Travolta). She later returned in its two sequels: Look Who's Talking Too (1990) and Look Who's Talking Now (1993).
In 1989, Olympia had a featured role in Herbert Ross' successful adaptation of Robert Harling's 1987 off-Broadway play, Steel Magnolias (also starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine and Daryl Hannah), which was based on a true incident of Harling's mother and sister, and played an aging actress desperate for a comeback in A&E’s movie The Last Act Is a Solo (1991). She also delivered an Emmy-nominated supporting performance as the snooty mother of a retarded woman (played by Chloe Webb) on the ABC movie Lucky Day (1991) and played matriarch Dolly Sinatra in the CBS Golden Globe-winning biographical miniseries "Sinatra" (1992).
Next, Dukakis starred as a Jewish widow, opposite Ellen Burstyn and Diane Ladd, in Bill Duke's film version of Ivan Menchell's comedic play, The Cemetery Club (1993) and played the lead role of Mrs. Anna Madrigal, the landlady who grows marijuana, in PBS’ controversial miniseries "Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City" (1993), based on the book “A Man I Dreamt Up” by Armistead Maupin. She later reprised her role in the two sequels on Showtime, "Armistead Maupin's More Tales of the City" (1998), which earned her an Emmy nomination, and "Armistead Maupin's Further Tales of the City" (2001).
After appearing as a cameo playing the mother of a transsexual in Christopher Ashley's gay romantic comedy movie inspired by Paul Rudnick's play, Jeffrey (1995; starring Steven Weber), she played the tough principal who mentors Richard Dreyfuss' music teacher in Stephen Herek's Oscar-nominated musical drama Mr. Holland's Opus (also in 1995). She also returned to the stage as "Hecuba" in a translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker in 1995, and in the off-Broadway production of "The Hope Zone" in 1996.
Dukakis spent the rest of the 1990s in Glenn Gordon Caron's romantic comedy Picture Perfect, as Jennifer Aniston's mother, in the CBS’ star-studded miniseries about the France young heroine "Joan of Arc," which gave her a third Emmy nomination for her cameo appearance as Mother Babette, and in the stage production "The Lear Project," in which she undertook the role of Queen Lear. She also made a London stage debut in a one-person show about a Holocaust survivor, "Rose." The show, written by Martin Sherman, later opened on Broadway in spring 2000.
The new millennium saw Dukakis play an alcoholic trumpeter, opposite Judi Dench, in HBO’s Golden Globe-winning movie, The Last of the Blonde Bombshells. She then headlined Timberlake Wertenbaker's stage play "Credible Witness" in London and published her national bestselling autobiography “Ask Me Again Tomorrow: A Life in Progress” (2003). She was also cast opposite John Goodman and Ed Asner in the CBS 12-episode sitcom "Center of the Universe" (2004-2005) and played Peter Falk’s wife of 46 years in Raymond De Felitta's The Thing About My Folks (2005), written and costarred in by Paul Reiser.
Alongside Chloe Sevigny and Sandra Oh, Dukakis portrayed Catholic nuns trying to care for HIV victims in Africa in writer-director Thom Fitzgerald's dramatic film, 3 Needles (2005). The next year, her film Away From Her, the feature-length directorial debut of Canadian actor Sarah Polley, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. In the film, based on Alice Munro's short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," she co-starred as Marian, alongside Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. The film later was seen at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
“I’m really proud of the movie ‘Away From Her,’ which stars Julie Christie as a woman coming down with Alzheimer’s. It was directed by Sarah Polley, the young actress, and it’s really a terrific film. And, no, I don’t play an Alzheimer’s patient in this one.” Olympia Dukakis
Dukakis’ latest film, In the Land of Women, a film directed and written by first-timer Jon Kasdan (son of Big Chill director Lawrence Kasdan), was screened at the Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2006, and premiered April 20, 2007. In the film, which stars Adam Brody and Meg Ryan, she portrayed Brody’s ailing grandmother who is slipping into senility. On working with the first-time filmmaker, she revealed, “Jonathan Kasdan was nervous starting out, but he’s an intelligent, funny, charming guy and he has a family tradition of great moviemaking. I really enjoyed working with him. He made the set an inclusive place where everyone felt free to make suggestions. Most of all, he’d written a good script and that trumps everything else.”
About her role in the film, she explained, “My mother had Alzheimer’s, so I was up on it. My character is both funny and sad, and that’s very typical of people with the condition. In a few seconds, they can go from terribly amusing to completely exasperating.”
Currently, Dukakis is on set filming her upcoming project, Poor Things, a true event-inspired film in which she will act opposite Shirley MacLaine.
“Never. I like to work. I really like it. It’s always a challenge and I believe it keeps me young. For a good role, I’m always ready to pack my things and show up when and where I’m needed.” Olympia Dukakis (when asked about retiring)