A professional actor since the age of nine, Jennifer Jason Leigh earned her Screen Actors Guild card at 16 and dropped out of high school to study at the Lee Strasberg Institute and star in seedy made-for-TV movies. Born to actor Vic Morrow and writer/actress Barbara Turner in Hollywood, CA, Jennifer picked up the middle name Jason from family friend Jason Robards Jr. Throughout her career, she has made a name for herself portraying helpless, damaged, or mentally unsound characters, often performing at a higher level than the material. Also known for extensively researching her roles, Leigh dropped down to less than 90 pounds for one of her first features as an anorexic teenager in the TV-movie The Best Little Girl in the World. Never one to shy away from touchy subject matter, her breakthrough role came in 1982 as the naïve high school girl who gets an abortion in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. After a decade of developing a repertoire of various troubled characters, she was nominated for two Critics Circle awards in 1990 for playing prostitutes in both Miami Blues and Last Exit to Brooklyn. She would continue to play vulnerable characters in dangerous situations as the rookie narcotics officer-turned-drug addict in Rush. This was followed by her notorious role as the psycho roommate Hedra who tries to steal the identity of her roommate (Bridget Fonda) in Single White Female. She played a phone sex worker in the ensemble film Short Cuts, her first of three projects involving director Robert Altman. Leigh occasionally stepped out of her down-and-out roles, and in 1994 she shined as Amy Archer in The Hudsucker Proxy. Her comic turn as a plucky undercover journalist was said to recall the work of legendary actresses like Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck. She delivered critically acclaimed performances in her next two films, with a Golden Globe nomination for Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and an Independent Spirit nomination for Georgia. After playing an angry daughter in Dolores Claiborne, a spitfire kidnapper in Kansas City, and a domestic violence survivor in Bastard out of Carolina, she took another dramatic turn toward a period film. In Agnieszka Holland's Washington Square, Leigh proved her range by portraying a shy, clumsy girl as she evolves into adulthood. She returned to more showy roles for two films dealing with Shakespeare's King Lear: A Thousand Acres with Jason Robards Jr. and the fourth Dogme 95 film, The King Is Alive. Not limiting herself to dramas, Leigh appeared as an isolated computer programmer in David Cronenberg's thriller eXistenZ and as an over-the-top mom in the comedy Skipped Parts. Around that time, she also appeared on-stage in Broadway and off-Broadway plays, most notably as dancer Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Testing out new ground in 2001, she and fellow Cabaret star Alan Cumming wrote, directed, and starred in the ensemble comedy The Anniversary Party, a digital video project inspired by Dogme 95. Continuing to evolve as a respected actress, she went on to work in the crime genre, first as a hitman's wife in Road to Perdition, and then in Jane Campion's thriller In the Cut. In the several years to come, Leigh would remain an active force on screen, appearing most memorably in films like Margot at the Wedding, Synecdoche, New York, and on the series Weeds.
by Andrea LeVasseur biography