Mary McDonnell

Active - 1982 - 2011  |   Born - Apr 28, 1952 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy Drama, Science Fiction

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Renowned stage and screen actress Mary McDonnell graced East Coast stages for two decades before getting her major screen breakthrough in Dances with Wolves (1990). Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on April 28, 1952, McDonnell was raised in Ithaca, New York, and graduated from the State University of New York at Fredonia. After a few seasons in regional repertory, she established herself on Broadway with such successful 1980s plays as The Heidi Chronicles. She made her film debut in 1984's Garbo Talks; three years later, she was showered with critical adulation for her portrayal of mining town landlady Elma Radnor in director John Sayles' Matewan. Further adulation and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination followed for McDonnell's portrayal of Stands with a Fist, a white woman raised by the Lakota Sioux, in Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves (1990). One year later, she starred in the PBS "American Playhouse" dramatization of Willa Cather's O Pioneers!, and also did starring work as the wife of an immigration attorney (Kevin Kline) in Lawrence Kasdan's acclaimed Grand Canyon. Her film career has continued with roles in films big and small, ranging from Sayles' excellent Passion Fish (1992) to the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day to Kasdan's Mumford (1999), which cast McDonnell as a dissatisfied housewife with a mail order catalog obsession.

Movie Highlights

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  • Made her stage debut in 1978, appearing in Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Buried Child.
  • Was in the Portland Stage Company with Sarah Jessica Parker, and lived in the same apartment house.
  • Taught drama at Vassar College summer theater in the mid-1980s, and later at the New York Stage and Film Company.
  • Husband Randle Mell played a homeless man opposite her in the 1991 movie Grand Canyon.
  • Has worked twice with director John Sayles, on 1987's Matewan, her first major film role, and 1992's Passion Fish, for which she garnered an Oscar nomination.
  • Like George Clooney, she appeared on the short-lived CBS sitcom titled E/R before landing a role on the famous drama ER (as Noah Wyle's mother).
  • Has played both a First Lady (in Independence Day) and a President (in Battlestar Galactica).