Once called the "long-suffering girl next door," Mary-Louise Parker is one of the stage and screen's more trod-upon -- to say nothing of talented -- actresses. Too often confused with such actresses as Mary Stuart Masterson, Penelope Ann Miller, and Sarah Jessica Parker by virtue of her triple-barreled name, Parker is in a class of her own, capable of communicating an underlying strength and grit that saves her characters from being too easily classified as outright victims.
Born in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, on August 2, 1964, Parker is the youngest of several children. After graduating from the North Carolina School of the Arts, where she studied acting, she headed north, going to New York to pursue a stage career. Her work on the stage was fairly distinguished, and in 1990, Parker won a Theatre World Award and a Tony nomination for her performance in Prelude to a Kiss. That same year, she made her film debut, playing the only prominent female character in the AIDS drama Longtime Companion. The following year, her recognition increased thanks to prominent roles in Grand Canyon and Fried Green Tomatoes. Parker's portrayal of a long-suffering Southern woman in the latter film earned her particular notice and effectively made it possible for her to do steady film work throughout the remainder of the decade.
Parker subsequently divided her time between mainstream and independent films, popping up as a trailer park mom in The Client (1994), Eric Stoltz's long-suffering girlfriend in Naked in New York (1994), John Cusack's long-suffering girlfriend in Woody Allen's Bullets over Broadway (1994), and a woman suffering from AIDS in Boys on the Side (1995). Parker also continued to work on the stage and television, appearing in such made-for-TV movies as A Place for Annie (1994) and Saint Maybe (1998). 1999 saw her talent being put to use in a number of diverse films; among them were The Five Senses, in which Parker played a cake-maker who has lost her sense of taste, and Let the Devil Wear Black, in which she effectively returned to the long-suffering girlfriend arena as the Ophelia-like girlfriend of a young man who suspects that there is a murderous conspiracy behind his father's death.
Along with a recurring role on NBC's The West Wing, the new millennium found Parker delivering her trademark nuanced style in a wide variety of projects, playing opposite Ed Norton in Silence of the Lambs prequel Red Dragon, and appearing as the imperfect mother of Jena Malone in the religious satire Saved!.
Parker's undeniable acting talent was not relegated to low-profile roles and projects, however, as she accepted a part in the epic HBO mini series, Angels in America. Starring alongside greats such as Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, and Emma Thompson, Parker did far more than simply hold her own, earning both an Emmy and a Golden Globe award for her performance.
It wouldn't be long before she visited the award podium again. Parker picked up another Golden Globe in 2005 for her starring role in Showtime's series Weeds, in which she plays a suburban mother who becomes the neighborhood pot dealer in order to cope with the financial woes that follow her husband's death. Stacked against four of the stars of ratings juggernaut Desperate Housewives, it proved to be a true recognition of her talent and integrity. Parker worked with a star-studded cast including Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren to play the love interest of a former government assassin in the 2010 action thriller Red.