Olympia Dukakis

Active - 1964 - 2021  |   Born - Jun 20, 1931 in Lowell, Massachusetts, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Comedy Drama, Romance

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Olympia Dukakis is one of those character actresses who infallibly lends a touch of class to whatever picture she's in. Despite her extraordinary dignity and class, she is able to make even the most outrageous character believable. Though she is well regarded in film, Dukakis has spent the bulk of her distinguished career on-stage as an actress and a director. She is also a highly respected drama teacher.

The daughter of Greek immigrants, Dukakis once worked as a physical therapist. Her interest in acting came after appearing in summer stock and then taking adult-ed classes in drama at Boston University, where she graduated with a master's in Fine Arts. After graduation, she began her theatrical career and then co-founded Boston's renowned Charles Playhouse. Dukakis made her film debut in director Robert Rossen's last film Lillith (1964). She continued to make sporadic and undistinguished appearances in movies though much of the '80s, but did not gain notice until 1987 when she won an Academy Award for playing Cher's Italian mother in Moonstruck. Since then, Dukakis has specialized in playing older women from different ethnic backgrounds or mothers. Subsequent film appearances include Steel Magnolias (1989), where she played the elegant widow Clairee Belcher, Mighty Aphrodite (1995), and Picture Perfect (1997).

In addition to her film and stage work -- she has appeared in over 100 plays -- Dukakis has also occasionally appeared on television in movies and mini-series. One of her most famous roles was that of the mysterious and kooky Annie Madrigal in the PBS adaptation of Armistad Maupin's Tales of the City (1993). Though the miniseries' gay themes led to considerable controversy, a sequel starring Dukakis was released in 1998. In addition to her Oscar win, she has earned Obie Awards, a New York and Los Angeles Critics Award, and a Golden Globe. As a drama teacher, Dukakis has worked at New York University and Yale. Her cousin, Michael Dukakis, was a presidential candidate for the Democratic party in 1988.

She co-starred with Juli Dench for The Last of the Blonde Bombshells in 2000, and took a leading role in 2001's Further Tales of the City. Though she remained busy throughout the early and mid-2000s, it wasn't until 2006 that she would enjoy critical success in the acclaimed drama Away From Her. In 2007 she co-starred in the comedy drama The Land of Women. In 2011 she appeared in The Misadventures of the Dunderheads and Cloudburst, and joined the cast of Joe Papp in Five Acts in 2012.

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  • Is the daughter of Greek immigrants.
  • Was a fencing champion in high school.
  • Has a degree in physical therapy; worked with polio patients in the 1950s. 
  • Has taught acting at universities including New York University, Columbia, and Yale; was named 2011 Master Teacher of the prestigious Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program.
  • Has appeared in over 125 regional-theater productions.
  • Founding member of the Charles Street Playhouse in Boston and the Whole Theatre in Montclair, NJ.
  • Her Oscar for Moonstruck was stolen from her New Jersey home, though she was allowed to buy a replacement statue from the Academy.