Jennifer Jason Leigh

Jennifer Jason Leigh

Infobox actor

imagesize =
birthname = Jennifer L. Morrow
birthdate = birth date and age|1962|2|5
birthplace = Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States
spouse = Noah Baumbach
awards = NYFCC Award for Best Supporting Actress
1990 "Last Exit to Brooklyn" and "Miami Blues"
NYFCC Award for Best Actress
1995 "Georgia"

Jennifer Jason Leigh (born February 5, 1962) is a Golden Globe-nominated and two-time NYFCC Award-winning American actress.

Her work has drawn high critical praise. "Salon" praised her as "one of America's best actors", Paul Verhoeven, who directed her in "Flesh & Blood", similarly claimed, "There is no greater actress working in America", and in 1994, "Vogue" claimed, "Leigh sets a standard that all future film actresses must attempt to match… (She has) an extraordinary range and power. The proof is in her diverse, courageous and mesmerizing body of work." She has already received three separate career tributes – at the Telluride Film Festival in 1993, a special award for her contribution to independent cinema from the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 2002, and a week-long retrospective showing of her film work held by the American Cinematheque at Los AngelesEgyptian Theatre in June 2001. In addition to these achievements, Leigh was selected as one of "America's 10 Most Beautiful Women" by "Harper's Bazaar" in 1989.


Early life & career

Jennifer Jason Leigh was born Jennifer L. Morrow in Hollywood, California, the daughter of "Combat!" actor Vic Morrow and "Pollock" screenwriter Barbara Turner. [cite web | url = | title = Jennifer Jason Leigh Biography (1962-) | work = | accessdate = 2008-02-13] Both of Leigh's parents were Jewish, although Leigh was raised mostly without religion. [cite news | title = Interfaith Celebrities: Santa’s Jewish Family, and Margot at the Wedding’s Near-Minyan | url = | date = 2007-11-22 | first = Nate | last = Bloom | publisher =] Leigh changed her last name, taking the middle name "Jason" in honor of a family friend, Academy Award-winning actor Jason Robards.

At the age of 14, she attended Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center in upstate New York and summer acting workshops given by Lee Strasberg. She received her Screen Actors Guild membership in an episode of the TV show "Baretta" when she was 16. An episode of "The Waltons" and several TV movies followed, including an unusually powerful portrayal of an anorexic teenager in "The Best Little Girl in the World", for which Leigh wasted away to convert|86|lb|kg under medical supervision. She made her screen debut as a blind, deaf, and mute rape victim in the 1980 slasher movie "Eyes of a Stranger". In 1982, she played a teenager who gets pregnant in Amy Heckerling's popular high-school comedy "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", which served as a launching pad for several then-unknown future stars besides Leigh, including Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, and Phoebe Cates.

Adult roles

As an adult, Leigh gravitated towards portraying fragile, damaged or neurotic characters. She was initially cast as victims – a virginal princess kidnapped and raped by mercenaries in "Flesh & Blood" (1985), an innocent waitress dismembered with a semi truck in "The Hitcher" (1986), and a young woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown in the seedy nightclub inherited from her uncle in "Heart of Midnight" (1989).

It wasn't until 1990 that Leigh made a significant career breakthrough when she was voted the year's Best Supporting Actress, by both the New York Film Critics Circle and the Boston Society of Film Critics for her portrayals of two very different prostitutes: first as the tough, emotionally numb sex worker Tralala in "Last Exit to Brooklyn", and then as the sweet waif whose dreams of suburban bliss are shattered by sociopathic ex-con Alec Baldwin in "Miami Blues". She then portrayed an undercover narcotics policewoman who becomes a junkie in the line of duty in "Rush" (1991), and one of her signature roles: Hedy, the psychotic “roommate from hell” in the thriller "Single White Female" (1992), in which she performs some sexual acts, including fellatio and masturbation. She then played a fast-talking, hard-as-nails reporter who has her heart melted by Tim Robbins in the Coen Brotherssurreal comic fantasy "The Hudsucker Proxy" (1994), and won many awards for her eccentrically-mannered portrayal of the writer and poetess Dorothy Parker in Alan Rudolph's "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" (1994). Some criticized Leigh's decision to deliver dialogue in a slurring, lock-jawed mumble, but her speech was an accurate impersonation of Dorothy Parker; she received a Golden Globe nomination and Best Actress awards from the National Society of Film Critics, Chicago Film Critics Association and Fort Lauderdale Film Critics.

Next up was the role that many critics, fans and even Leigh herself considers the best of her career: Sadie Flood, an angry, drug-addicted barroom rock singer living in the shadow of her successful older sister (played by Mare Winningham) in "Georgia" (1995). For the role Leigh dropped to convert|90|lb|kg and sang all the songs live, including a painful 8½-minute version of Van Morrison's "Take Me Back". Critic Peter Travers of "Rolling Stone" wrote that "(Leigh's) fierce, funny, exasperating and deeply affecting portrayal commands attention"; James Berardinelli claimed, "There are times when it's uncomfortable to watch this performance because it's so powerful", while Kenneth Turan of the "Los Angeles Times" said "Leigh’s exceptional performance tears you apart… we've never seen anything like it before." This time around she won Best Actress awards from the New York Film Critics Circle and Montreal World Film Festival, though not the expected Oscar nomination that still eludes her.

Other memorable Leigh roles of this era included a jaded phone sex operator who diapers her newborn baby while plying her trade in Robert Altman's Academy Award-nominated film "Short Cuts" (1993), Kathy Bates's tormented, pill-popping daughter in the Stephen King adaptation "Dolores Claiborne" (1995), a streetwise kidnapper in Altman's jazz tribute "Kansas City" (1996), a mousy 19th century spinster heiress courted by a gold-digger in "Washington Square" (1997), and a virtual-reality game designer hunted by terrorists in David Cronenberg's surreal "eXistenZ" (1999). In 2001 she joined forces with Scottish actor Alan Cumming to write, direct and produce a film together, shot in 19 days on digital video and starring real-life Hollywood friends like Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Beals, John C. Reilly, and Parker Posey. The result was "The Anniversary Party", a well-received ensemble comedy in the style of "The Big Chill" or "Peter's Friends". Leigh and Cumming jointly received a citation for Excellence in Filmmaking from the National Board of Review, and were nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay.

More recently Leigh has been cast in smaller character roles: as gangster Tom Hanks's doomed wife in Sam Mendes's "Road to Perdition" (2002), as Meg Ryan's brutally murdered sister in Jane Campion's "In the Cut" (2003), and as Christian Bale's sympathetic girlfriend (and again a prostitute) in the dark thriller "The Machinist" (2004) (causing Mick LaSalle of the "San Francisco Chronicle" to comment that "As the downtrodden, sexy, trusting and quietly funny prostitute, Leigh is, of course, in her element"). Her performance as a manipulative stage mother in "Childstar" won her a Genie Award in 2005.

Also a stage actress, Leigh took on the singing, dancing lead role of Sally Bowles in the popular musical "Cabaret" on Broadway from August 4, 1998 to February 28, 1999, and took over from Mary-Louise Parker in "Proof" from September 13, 2001 to June 30, 2002. Other theatrical appearances include "The Glass Menagerie", "Man of Destiny", "The Shadow Box", "Picnic", "Sunshine", and "Abigail's Party".

Other work

Leigh's "least" favorite role was as a normal girlfriend in the popular 1991 firefighting drama "Backdraft"; Hollywood legend has it that Leigh told director Ron Howard, "The only role I want to play in this film is the fire."

She filmed a role for Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999), but when Kubrick wanted to do re-shoots, she was unavailable and her entire part was redone with another actress. In 1997, she was featured in Faith No More's music video for "Last Cup of Sorrow".

She turned down roles in "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" (1989), "Pretty Woman" (1990), "Singles" (1992), "A League of Their Own" (1992), "The Stendhal Syndrome" (1996), "L.A. Confidential" (1997), "Boogie Nights" (1997), "The Brown Bunny" (2003), and narrowly missed out on Linda Hamilton's role in "The Terminator" (1984) and the Clarice Starling role in "Hannibal" (2001). She was one of several actresses considered by Jane Campion for the Holly Hunter role in "The Piano" (1993), but she was unable to meet with her because she was shooting "Rush" at the time. She auditioned for the Catwoman role in "Batman Returns" (1992), which went to Michelle Pfeiffer. She also turned down the role of Libby, which was eventually played by Cynthia Watros, on ABC's popular thriller series "Lost". [cite news | title = Ausiello on Cynthia Watros, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michelle Rodriguez | date = 2005-08-24 | first = Michael | last = Ausiello | publisher = TV Guide | url =]

Leigh is known for doing extensive method acting research in every role, including keeping diaries written in the character’s voice, and in the past has interviewed psychiatrists, mental patients, drug addicts, sexual abuse survivors, prostitutes and phone sex workers to prepare for her roles. [cite web | url = | title = Jennifer Jason Leigh Biography | publisher = Yahoo! Movies | accessdate = 2008-02-13]

Leigh was willing to perform oral sex with Vincent Gallo in the 2004 film "The Brown Bunny", however she said "it just didn't work out". [ [ JENNIFER JASON LEIGH - LEIGH WOULD NOT HAVE SHIED AWAY FROM BROWN BUNNY CONTROVERSY] Music, Film and Entertainment News, 2007/11/19] Eventually, Chloë Sevigny got the explicit role.

Personal life

When Leigh was twenty years old, her father was accidentally killed, when a helicopter stunt went wrong while shooting "" (1983). Leigh and her sister filed suit against Warner Brothers, John Landis, and Steven Spielberg. They settled out of court a year later and the terms of the settlement have never been made public.

At the time of her father's death, Leigh said she had not seen her father in three years or talked to him in two, having been estranged from him after her parents' divorce.

Leigh and her boyfriend of four years, Academy Award-nominated independent film writer-director Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale"), were married on September 3, 2005. [cite news | title = Jennifer Jason Leigh, Director Baumbach Wed | url =,,1110332,00.html | publisher = People | date = 2005-09-27 | first = Kelly | last = Carter] Baumbach directed "Margot at the Wedding" which starred Leigh opposite Nicole Kidman and Jack Black.The couple reside in New York City and Los Angeles.

She has been best friends with her "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "The Anniversary Party" co-star Phoebe Cates for over 25 years. Other close friends include Mare Winningham, Jennifer Beals, Alan Cumming, and John C. Reilly. Her stepfather is television director Reza Badiyi. [cite news | url = | title = Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh: From Co-Stars Turned Co-Directors, a Marriage Tale | publisher = New York Times | date = 2001-05-13]

According to various magazine interviews and her 1999 guest slot on the TV show "Inside the Actors Studio", Leigh is a fan of the photographer Nan Goldin, and the musicians Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Liz Phair, and Ella Fitzgerald. Her favorite films include "Scenes from a Marriage", "My Night at Maud's", "Dog Day Afternoon", "Forbidden Games" (aka "Jeux interdits"), "Naked", "Sweetie", "Born Free", and "The Fly.



Genie Awards, Canada
* 2005 Genie Award Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for "Childstar"

Tokyo International Film Festival, Japan
* 2001 Best Actress for "The King is Alive"

Montreal World Film Festival, Canada
* 1995 Best Actress for "Georgia"

New York Film Critics Circle, USA
* 1996 Best Actress for "Georgia"

National Society of Film Critics, USA
* 1995 Best Actress for "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle"

Chicago Film Critics Association, USA
* 1995 Best Actress for "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle"

Golden Globe Awards
* 1994 "Special Award" Best Ensemble Cast for "Short Cuts" (shared with the rest of the cast)

MTV Movie Awards
* 1993 MTV Movie Award Best Villain for "Single White Female"

Boston Society of Film Critics, USA
* 1991 Best Supporting Actress for "Last Exit to Brooklyn" and "Miami Blues"

New York Film Critics Circle, USA
* 1990 Best Supporting Actress for "Last Exit to Brooklyn" and "Miami Blues"

Further reading



External links

* [ In-depth interview at Museum of Moving Image in 1994]
* [ Margot at the Wedding]
* [ The Onion A.V. Club interview]

###@@@KEY@@@###succession box
title = NYFCC Award for Best Supporting Actress | years = 1990
for "Last Exit to Brooklyn" and "Miami Blues"
before= Lena Olin
for ""
after = Judy Davis
for "Naked Lunch" and "Barton Fink"
succession box
title = NYFCC Award for Best Actress
years = 1995
for" Georgia"
before= Linda Fiorentino
for "The Last Seduction
after = Emily Watson
for "Breaking the Waves"

NAME= Leigh, Jennifer Jason
DATE OF BIRTH= February 5, 1962
PLACE OF BIRTH=Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States

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