Best known as the husky-voiced, no-nonsense Lt. Sally Solomon on the hit NBC fantasy sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001) -- a role she played, opposite heavyweights John Lithgow and Jane Curtin, for the entire six-year run of the series -- fair-haired Kristen Johnson parlayed her success from that effort into a handful of A-list cinematic releases, beginning in 1999. After 3rd Rock wrapped in spring 2001, Johnston's movie activity crescendoed dramatically, and she became ever-present as a character player in the supporting casts of Hollywood feature films.
Born January 20, 1967, in Washington, D.C., Johnston moved with her family to Wisconsin and attended high school in suburban Milwaukee, where prescient classmates voted her "Biggest Ham" and "Most Likely to be a Celebrity." Unusually tall for her age (6 ft. at age 13), with a booming, authoritative voice and an outsized personality, Johnston stood out from the crowd and reportedly struggled with self-doubt as a result; she later termed her height "incredibly distressing." The aspiring actress learned self-acceptance early on, however, as she attended NYU and studied drama there. For almost ten years, Johnston struggled as an up-and-coming actress, holding down assorted jobs and working on Broadway and off-Broadway productions, until an NBC executive noticed her and was instrumental in enlisting her as Sally on 3rd Rock.
Johnston doubled this up with a 1998 guest appearance as herself on The Larry Sanders Show, then debuted cinematically the following summer as Ivana Humpalot in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999). Johnston ascended to higher billing as Wilma Slaghoople, the wife of Fred Flintstone (a role she inherited from Elizabeth Perkins) in the family-friendly, effects-heavy Stone Age comedy The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000).
Although 3rd Rock from the Sun, as indicated, ended its original network run in mid-2001, Johnston took a couple of years off, resurfacing in 2003 with a guest appearance on the shortlived courtroom seriocomedy Queens Supreme (produced by Julia Roberts). Johnston followed this up with several additional big-screen turns over the next few years. These included a supporting role in William Tannen's all-star showbiz satire Nobody Knows Anything (2003); the part of Fran -- an envious friend of newly involved Caroleen Feeney -- in Hal Salwen's quirky indie romantic comedy Duane Incarnate; a brief supporting turn as Coach Divers in Paul Dinello's big-screen prequel to the wild television comedy series Strangers with Candy (2005); and Rhonda in Marc Lawrence's romantic comedy Music and Lyrics (2007), co-starring Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. Appearances on The New Adventures of Old Christine and Ugly Betty followed, and in 2009 Johnston began teaching acting classes at New York University. Two years later, she documented her struggles with addiction in her memoir Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster.
In addition to Johnston's film work, she acts in theatrical productions. Several of Johnston's higher-profiled stage productions include the Scott Elliott-directed revival of Clare Boothe Luce's play The Women (2001, alongside Rue McClanahan, Cynthia Nixon, and Jennifer Coolidge); the Mark Brokaw-directed 2004 production of Paula Vogel's one-act play The Baltimore Waltz (as Anna); and the 2006 John Crowley-directed production of John Kolvenbach's Love Song (as Joan).