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Jennifer Jason Leigh (1962)

Jennifer Lee Morrow

Type :  


Jennifer Jason Leigh is an American film and stage actress, best known for her roles in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Single White Female, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Georgia and Short Cuts. She is also the co-writer and co-director of the film The Anniversary Party, made with fellow actor Alan Cumming.

Leigh is known for her emotionally raw and often sexually explicit portrayals of vulnerable and damaged women, and for her intensive method inspired research into her roles.


 early life
Leigh was born on 5 February 1962 in Hollywood, California. She is the daughter of actor Vic Morrow and screenwriter Barbara Turner. Leigh's birth name was Jennifer Leigh Morrow. She changed her surname early in her acting career, taking the middle name "Jason" in honor of the actor Jason Robards, a family friend. Leigh's parents were Jewish, of Russian descent on her father's side.

Leigh has an older sister, Carrie Ann Morrow, who was credited as a "technical advisor" in Georgia, and on whom the role of Sadie Flood was reputedly based. Leigh also has a half-sister actress Mina Badie, from her mother's marriage, who acted alongside Leigh in The Anniversary Party. The director Reza Badiyi was her mother's second husband and was at the time her step-father.

 Early work
Leigh worked in her first film at the age of nine, in a nonspeaking role for the film Death of a Stranger . At 14, she attended Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center in Loch Sheldrake, New York summer acting workshops given by Lee Strasberg and landed a role in the movie The Young Runaways . She received her Screen Actors Guild membership for an episode of the TV series Baretta when she was 16.

An episode of The Waltons and several TV movies followed, including a portrayal of an anorexic teenager in The Best Little Girl in the World, for which Leigh dropped to under medical supervision. She made her big screen debut playing a blind, deaf, and mute rape victim in the 1981 slasher film Eyes of a Stranger. In 1982, she played a teenager who gets pregnant in the Cameron Crowe- scripted high school comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which served as a launching pad for several of its young stars, including Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Phoebe Cates and Nicolas Cage. In 1983 Leigh had a small role in the Rodney Dangerfield movie Easy Money, playing the eldest of two daughters, who marries a man that Rodney disapproves of.

With the exception of Ridgemont High, Leigh's early film work consisted of playing fragile, damaged, or neurotic characters in low-budget horror or thriller genre films. She played a virginal princess kidnapped and raped by mercenaries in Flesh & Blood , an innocent waitress pursued by the psychotic title character in The Hitcher , and a young woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown in Heart of Midnight .

In 1990, 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: the tough streetwalker Tralala who submits to a brutal gang rape in Last Exit to Brooklyn, and Susie, a teenage prostitute who falls in love with ex-con Alec Baldwin in Miami Blues. Reviewers commented on Leigh's raw emotionality and apparent lack of vanity in her performances, especially in Last Exit which controversially featured prolonged scenes of sexual violence.

Leigh was then cast in her first mainstream Hollywood studio film, the firefighter drama Backdraft, in which she played a somewhat more conventional role as the girlfriend of lead actor William Baldwin. Leigh reportedly told director Ron Howard that she wished that she could be the fire because it had the film's best role. In subsequent interviews, Leigh has stated that the role is her least favorite performance: "In mainstream movies, the woman's role is mostly just to prove that the leading man is heterosexual. I'm not good at that, and I'm not interested in that."

Leigh found more success in the gritty crime drama Rush , in which she portrayed an undercover narcotics policewoman who becomes a junkie in the line of duty in and falls in love with her partner Jason Patric. Her next film Single White Female was a surprise box office success, bringing Leigh to her largest yet mainstream audience. As Hedy, the psychotic "roommate from hell" who steals flatmate Bridget Fonda's identity and boyfriend and commits murder with a stiletto heel, Leigh created a memorably vulnerable and frightening character, and was awarded the MTV Movie Award for Best Villain and nominated by the Chicago Film Critics Association for Best Actress.

In a change of pace from her "bad girl" roles, Leigh played the fast-talking reporter Amy Archer in the Coen Brothers’ comic homage to 1930s screwball comedy The Hudsucker Proxy , modeling her performance and speaking style on the early work of Katharine Hepburn. Leigh took her first lead role as the writer and critic Dorothy Parker in Alan Rudolph's film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle . Her performance was highly acclaimed, receiving a Golden Globe nomination and a Best Actress award from the National Society of Film Critics, as well as Best Actress awards from the Chicago Film Critics Association and Fort Lauderdale Film Critics.

Arguably Leigh's finest performance was in the role of Sadie Flood, an angry, drug-addicted rock singer living in the shadow of her successful older sister in Georgia . The film was written by Leigh's mother Barbara Turner, and was co-produced by Turner and Leigh. The story of intense sibling rivalry and the problems of drug addiction within a family are reputedly based on Leigh's sister Carrie (who is credited as "technical adviser" on the film) and her relationship with Leigh as the more successful sister. Turner, Leigh and Morrow have made no public comment as to whether the film is biographical. For the role, Leigh dropped to and sang all her songs live, including a rambling 8½-minute version of Van Morrison's "Take Me Back" performed as her character is under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Georgia was met with universal critical praise, with Leigh's performance hailed as one of the best of the year. 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." Leigh won a Best Actress award from the New York Film Critics Circle and another from the Montreal World Film Festival, as well as an Independent Spirit Award nomination. She was widely predicted to receive her first Academy Award nomination for the role, but controversially, was not nominated, although her co-star Winningham received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Throughout the 1990s, Leigh showcased her versatility working with a number of acclaimed independent film directors. In 1993, she joined the ensemble cast of Robert Altman's film Short Cuts, playing a phone-sex operator who diapers her newborn baby while talking to clients. Leigh reportedly interviewed phone sex operators as part of her research for the role, and wrote most of her own dialogue for the phone sex scenes.

She co-starred with Kathy Bates as a tormented, pill-popping woman hiding a history of childhood sexual abuse in the adaptation of Stephen King's novel Dolores Claiborne . Working again with Altman, a family friend, she played a streetwise kidnapper alongside Miranda Richardson in Altman's Jazz Era drama Kansas City . Taking another radical change of pace, she starred in Agnieszka Holland's version of the Henry James novel Washington Square , as a mousy 19th-century heiress courted by a gold-digger. In David Cronenberg's eXistenZ , she played a virtual reality game designer who becomes lost in her own creation. She had a brief role as a doomed gangster's wife in Sam Mendes's Road to Perdition , and co-starred as Meg Ryan's brutally murdered sister in Jane Campion's erotic thriller In the Cut . After a long period of avoiding prostitute roles, she played alongside Christian Bale as his prostitute girlfriend in the thriller The Machinist . Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle commented 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 Don McKellar's film Childstar won her a Genie Award in 2005.

In recent years, Leigh appeared in the 2008 ensemble film Synecdoche, New York and has acted in two films written and directed by her then-partner Noah Baumbach - Margot at the Wedding, co-starring Nicole Kidman, and Greenberg.

Leigh has 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 Angeles' Egyptian Theatre in 2001.

 Stage roles
In 1998, Leigh took on the lead role of Sally Bowles in Sam Mendes' Broadway revival of musical Cabaret on Broadway, succeeding Natasha Richardson who originated the role in Mendes' production. She succeeded Mary-Louise Parker in the lead role in Proof on Broadway in 2001. Her theatrical appearances include The Glass Menagerie, Man of Destiny, The Shadow Box, Picnic, Sunshine, and Abigail's Party. She is currently playing Bunny in the Broadway revival of House of Blue Leaves in New York City alongside Ben Stiller and Edie Falco.

 Co-writing and -directing
In 2001, she co-wrote and co-directed The Anniversary Party, an independently produced feature film about a recently reconciled married couple who assemble their friends at their Hollywood Hills house, ostensibly to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary. As the evening progresses, however, the party disintegrages into emotional confrontations and bitter arguments as the facade of their happy marriage crumbles. Leigh was reportedly inspired by her recent experience filming low-budget Dogme film The King Is Alive. Leigh and Cumming reputedly drew freely from their personal experiences in the writing of the film. Leigh plays an aging actress who makes jokes about her lack of Academy Award nominations, and who is fearful of losing her bisexual husband . The film was shot in 19 days on digital video, and co-starred the pair's real-life Hollywood friends including Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Beals, John C. Reilly and Parker Posey and also featured Leigh's sister Mina Badie. The film was well received and reviewed. 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.

 other work
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.

Leigh filmed a role in Stanley Kubrick's final film Eyes Wide Shut as a grieving patient of Tom Cruise, who declares her love for him after the death of her father. Kubrick wanted to re-shoot the scenes, but Leigh was unavailable due to scheduling conflicts with eXistenZ. Kubrick took the somewhat controversial step of cutting Leigh's scenes, and recasting and reshooting the role with Swedish actress Marie Richardson. Leigh has never commented publicly on the experience of working with Kubrick nor of being cut from the film.

Leigh has also spoken openly about a number of roles she unsuccessfully campaigned for, including the Linda Hamilton role in Sarah Connor in The Terminator, the Holly Hunter role in The Piano, and the role of Catwoman in Batman Returns. Leigh was originally cast as Vincent Gallo's girlfriend in his self-directed film The Brown Bunny, and was apparently prepared to perform oral sex on Gallo as the script required. Leigh subsequently commented that "it just didn't work out" and the role was eventually played by Chloë Sevigny.

In 1997, she was featured in Faith No More's music video for "Last Cup of Sorrow".

She was selected as one of "America's 10 Most Beautiful Women" by Harper's Bazaar magazine in 1989.

Leigh served as a jury member at the 2000 Venice Film Festival.

 personal life
In 1982, Leigh's father was accidentally killed when a helicopter stunt went wrong while shooting Twilight Zone: The Movie. Leigh and her sister filed a lawsuit for wrongful death against Warner Brothers, John Landis, and Steven Spielberg. They settled out of court a year later. The terms of the settlement have never been made public.

Leigh was involved in long term relationships with actor Eric Stoltz and film director Steven Shainberg. She has also been romantically linked to actors Robert Downey, Jr. and Kevin Spacey.

Leigh met independent film writer-director Noah Baumbach in 2001, while she was starring on Broadway in Proof. The couple married on September 2, 2005. Their son, Rohmer Emmanuel, was born on March 17, 2010. Leigh filed for divorce on November 15, 2010 in Los Angeles, citing irreconcilable differences. Leigh is seeking spousal support as well as primary custody of the couple's son, with visitation for Baumbach.

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