Mare Winningham

Active - 1978 - 2021  |   Born - May 16, 1959 in Phoenix, Arizona, United States  |   Genres - Drama

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Mare Winningham is a critically acclaimed performer on stage, television, and occasionally feature films. She began her career performing a song on TV's notorious Gong Show. While playing Maria in a high school production of The Sound of Music, opposite classmate Kevin Spacey, Winningham was spotted by Hollywood agent Meyer Mishkin who landed her a role in the short-lived TV Western series The Young Pioneers in 1978. This led to her first TV movie, Special Olympics. For her role as an independent-minded farmer's daughter in 1980's Amber Waves, she won an Emmy. That year, Winningham made her feature-film debut starring opposite Paul Simon in Robert M. Young's One-Trick Pony. She fared better in her next film, Threshold (1981), where she played the recipient of an artificial heart. Winningham then went on to play a number of supporting roles and the occasional lead in a series of unremarkable films. She continues to fare much better on television, where she has appeared in popular films such as The Thorn Birds (1983) and Helen Keller: The Miracle Continues (1984). She was part of the ensemble in the Gen X touchstone St. Elmo's Fire in 1985 and went on to appear in Shy People, Miracle Mile, the Tom Hanks with a dog vehicle Turner and Hooch, and Wyatt Earp. She earned long-deserved award recognition in 1995 for playing a successful singer struggling with her drug-addicted sister in Georgia. Her work in that film garnered her an Oscar nomination Best Supporting Actress, and she won that award at that year's Independent Spirit Awards. She had a recurring role on the hit medical drama ER at the close of the '90s. As the 21st century began she maintained her status as a first-class character actress appearing in a variety of projects such as Snap Decision, The Adventures of Ociee Nash, and Dandelion. She enjoyed a recurring role on Grey's Anatomy, but she found even greater small screen success with back to back Emmy nominations for Best Supporting actress in a movie or miniseries in 2011 and 2012 with her work in Mildred Pierce and Hatfields & McCoys.

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  • Began acting on the stage with the Teenage Drama Workshop at California State University when she was 12.
  • Performed with the Los Angeles Free Shakespeare Company for two years, while still attending high school. 
  • First TV gig was playing the guitar while performing a Beatles tune on The Gong Show in 1976. 
  • Played lead role of Maria in her senior-class production of The Sound of Music, opposite Kevin Spacey's Captain Von Trapp; her performance was seen by Hollywood talent agent Meyer Mishkin, who was so impressed that he signed her as a client.
  • Learned American Sign Language for her role as Maggie, the daughter of deaf parents eager to make a life of her own, in the acclaimed TV-movie Love Is Never Silent (1985).
  • In 1992, released her first album, a collection of folk songs, entitled What Might Be.
  • Converted to Judaism in 2003.