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One of the most steadily working actresses on both coasts, Mary-Louise Parker enjoyed a Tony-winning career with Broadway dramas like "Prelude to a Kiss" and "Proof" before winning over television audiences as the subversive suburban centerpiece of Showtime's dark comedy, "Weeds" (2005-2012). Parker also made several successful forays into feature films with "Fried Green Tomatoes" (1991), "Grand Canyon" (1991), "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994), "The Client" (1994) and "Boys on the Side" (1995). But it was on the small screen that she made her greatest impact, thanks to spending several seasons in recurring fashion as political activist Amy Gardner on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006). During that time, she earned multiple awards - including an Emmy and Golden Globe - for her supporting turn as the Valium-addicted wife of a closeted Mormon in the critically acclaimed miniseries "Angels in America" (HBO, 2003). Forever shifting gears between film and the stage acting that was her primary passion, Parker appeared in the comedy "Saved!" (2004) at the time she gave birth to her son fathered by actor Billy Crudup, who famously broke things off with her during her pregnancy. Meanwhile, she landed the role of...
One of the most steadily working actresses on both coasts, Mary-Louise Parker enjoyed a Tony-winning career with Broadway dramas like "Prelude to a Kiss" and "Proof" before winning over television audiences as the subversive suburban centerpiece of Showtime's dark comedy, "Weeds" (2005-2012). Parker also made several successful forays into feature films with "Fried Green Tomatoes" (1991), "Grand Canyon" (1991), "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994), "The Client" (1994) and "Boys on the Side" (1995). But it was on the small screen that she made her greatest impact, thanks to spending several seasons in recurring fashion as political activist Amy Gardner on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006). During that time, she earned multiple awards - including an Emmy and Golden Globe - for her supporting turn as the Valium-addicted wife of a closeted Mormon in the critically acclaimed miniseries "Angels in America" (HBO, 2003). Forever shifting gears between film and the stage acting that was her primary passion, Parker appeared in the comedy "Saved!" (2004) at the time she gave birth to her son fathered by actor Billy Crudup, who famously broke things off with her during her pregnancy. Meanwhile, she landed the role of Nancy Botwin, a widowed mother who resorts to selling marijuana to make ends meet on "Weeds," which also led to her on-again, off-again affair with her show's dead husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan. With roles in varied projects like "The Spiderwick Chronicles" (2008) and "Red" (2010), Parker maintained her status as a talented performer very much in demand.
Born on Aug. 2, 1964 in Fort Jackson, SC, her father's career in the U.S. Army led the family to such far-flung places as Thailand, France, Germany, and the wilds of Texas. Parker was an extremely shy girl, but came to life whenever she was onstage in dance recitals and plays; her comfort inhabiting other personas led her to an acting career early on. For college, she returned to her native South and attended the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, where she became friends with future successes Peter Hedges, the director of "Dan in Real Life" (2007) and other features, and Joe Mantello, who would become a multiple Tony-winning director. After graduating in the spring of 1986, she moved to New York City and within a few months, had landed her first professional gig in "Night of the Iguana" at a theater in nearby Stamford, CT. Along with Hedges and Mantello and K. Todd Freeman, Parker co-founded The Edge Theater, with which she made her off-off-Broadway debut, appearing in half a dozen productions.
An early stint on the ABC soap "Ryan's Hope" (ABC, 1975-1989) helped finance her love of live theater, beginning her lifelong pattern of alternating impassioned New York stage roles with heady TV and film dramas. Parker made her film debut as an abused girlfriend in "Signs of Life" (1989) and that same year began a long-term working relationship with playwright Craig Lucas, appearing in a film adaptation of his "Longtime Companion" (1989), portraying the best friend of a gay man dealing with the AIDS crisis in one of the first films to address the controversial topic. A year later, Parker made it to Broadway and earned a Theater World Award and a Tony nomination for the challenging role of a young bride who accidentally swaps souls with an old man in Lucas' "Prelude to a Kiss." The breakout performance and Parker's compelling ability to combine smarts and sophistication with emotional vulnerability won the eye of film directors and Parker was soon on her way.
Famed writer-director Lawrence Kasdan cast her as a lonely secretary infatuated with her employer (Kevin Kline) in "Grand Canyon" (1991), but it was her breakthrough as an abused wife empowered by her friendship with a female cafe owner (Mary Stuart Masterson) in "Fried Green Tomatoes" (1991) that really drew attention to her facility for complex characterizations. Never away from the theater for long, Parker hit the boards to play a woman driven to madness by the birth of a deformed child in "Babylon Gardens" (1991), as well as essayed an ambitious and scheming actress in John Patrick Shanley's black comedy "Four Dogs and a Bone" (1993). On the big screen, the romantic comedy "Mr. Wonderful" (1993) starring Matt Dillon failed to do the thespian justice, but a meatier role as a 1930s intellectual bohemian in Woody Allen's hilarious and underrated "Bullets over Broadway" (1994) was a delight. Proving that there was a place for the skills of a seasoned stage actress in popular Hollywood movies, Parker delivered a series of sad and delightful revelations in "Boys on the Side" (1995), her emotionally compelling turn as a young woman with AIDS, easily eclipsing that of co-stars Whoopi Goldberg and Drew Barrymore. Reuniting with writer Craig Lucas, Parker played a paraplegic deaf mute in a screen adaptation of his smart comedy "Reckless" (1995) before scoring on the small screen as 1950s pop singer Phyllis McGuire and mafia moll in HBO's biopic, "Sugartime" (1995).
At the peak of her film career in the mid- to early-1990s, Parker gave a series of powerhouse stage performances as well, beginning with her portrayal of aspiring and troubled saloon singer Cherie in a revival of "Bus Stop," starring opposite Billy Crudup, with whom she would begin a long-term relationship. The following year she picked up an OBIE for her captivating chronicle of a victim of child abuse in Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning "How I Learned to Drive" (1997), and in 1998 won critical kudos in Alan Ayckbourn's razor-sharp comedy "Communicating Doors" as a Cockney dominatrix who overhears a dying man's confession and attempts to save his victims by traveling back in time. After Parker's awkward but attractive secretary romanced Don Johnson in Roland Jaffe's comic thriller "Goodbye Lover" (1998), she was in top form as a flaky, tragic divorcee in the stylish yet quirky TV film "Anne Tyler's 'Saint Maybe'" (CBS, 1998). Several more TV films helped finance Parker's passion for the less lucrative stage, including "The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn" (CBS, 1999), in which she co-starred with no less than Sidney Poitier, and the Hallmark Hall of Fame production "Cupid & Cate" (CBS, 2000) with Peter Gallagher. Her big screen performance as the wonderfully high-strung cake maker with no sense of taste in the "The Five Senses" (2000) was sadly a limited release, though it was a critical pick at festivals internationally.
In 2001, Parker earned the biggest raves of her stage career for starring as an enigmatic, troubled young woman embroiled in a mathematical mystery in "Proof." The play ran for over a year and a half and earned the actress a Tony Award, as well as pretty much every other theater award in the Western world, including a Drama Desk, Obie and Lucille Lortel Award. Parker's high-profile accolades led to an offer from the "The West Wing" for a recurring role as women's rights advocate Amy Gardner. Not surprisingly, she was again applauded by critics, earning an Emmy nomination in 2002 for her role on the popular political drama. Parker next filmed the "Silence of the Lambs" prequel "Red Dragon" (2002) with Anthony Hopkins and Ed Norton before Mike Nichols cast her in HBO's acclaimed adaptation of the Tony-award-winning "Angels in America" (2003). It was a highlight of Parker's screen career, proving what the actress was capable of on film if given worthy material and a director who recognized her strengths.
On a personal note, her "Angels" efforts were honored with Emmy and Golden Globe Awards. At the Golden Globe ceremony, Parker, who had recently given birth, not only won a statue that night, but also America's sympathy. The press had recently jumped on the story that just as she was about to become a new mom, her seven-year relationship with the baby's father, actor Billy Crudup, had ended after he reportedly left his pregnant girlfriend to woo his much younger co-star, Claire Danes. To say Parker was a figure of admiration due to the class with which she conducted herself in light of a broken heart, was an understatement. Despite her new responsibilities as a single mother, Parker maintained a dizzying schedule, starting with a run of TV movies, including "The Best Thief in the World" (Showtime, 2004) and "Miracle Run" (Lifetime, 2004). In addition to her recurring role on "The West Wing," she appeared in a supporting role in the feature comedy, "Saved!" (2004), a timid Christian satire, and returned to Broadway in Craig Lucas' "Reckless," playing the role that had been Mia Farrow's in the 1995 screen adaptation.
But the best was yet to come as far as high profile exposure was concerned. After earning another lead actress Tony Award nomination for "Reckless," that fall, she was cast in her first lead television role on "Weeds" (Showtime, 2005-2012), a dark comedy about a widowed suburban mom who maintains her lifestyle after her husband's death by supplying her idyllic community with high-grade pot. The quirky, stylized show was a hit for the network and Parker, its anchor, recognized with multiple SAG, Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. She took home a Golden Globe in 2006 and was nominated the following year in addition to her nom for the television murder mystery "The Robber Bride" (Oxygen, 2007). In 2008, Parker was slated to appear off-Broadway at Playwright's Horizons in a new production entitled "Dead Man's Cell Phone," as well as continue her impressive work on the much beloved "Weeds," which earned her a fourth Golden Globe nomination and a third consecutive Emmy Award nomination, all in 2009.
The same year, she also played a part of the ensemble supporting cast of the dramedy "Solitary Man" (2009), starring Michael Douglas, and went on to have her first major role in a blockbuster with the action movie "Red" (2010), featuring Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren, among others. In 2012, "Weeds" concluded, and Parker moved on from her seven-year run on the show by filming notable parts in the supernatural buddy movie "R.I.P.D." and "Red 2," which both, oddly enough, debuted on the same summer day in 2013.
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