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A talented and charming actress once poised to join the ranks of Hollywood's most sought after leading ladies, Samantha Mathis found her early career nearly overshadowed by highly publicized romantic relationships with two of her leading men. A third generation performer, Mathis began acting in her early teens, landing early roles on television before the age of 20. Her breakout role in "Pump Up the Volume" (1990) also led to a brief, intense involvement with the film's star, Christian Slater. A later project, the romantic drama "This Thing Called Love" (1993) introduced her to River Phoenix, with who she would also enter into a relationship. Her personal life became even more public when she witnessed infamously Phoenix die of a sudden drug overdose on the streets of Hollywood in October of that year. Mathis attempted to drown her sorrows in work over the next few years with projects such as "Little Woman" (1994) and "Broken Arrow" (1996), until her mother's death from lung cancer prompted her to take a year-long sabbatical. Her eventual return found her turning up in supporting roles in a mix of film projects like "American Psycho" (2000), television events such as "Salem's Lot" (TNT, 2004), as...
A talented and charming actress once poised to join the ranks of Hollywood's most sought after leading ladies, Samantha Mathis found her early career nearly overshadowed by highly publicized romantic relationships with two of her leading men. A third generation performer, Mathis began acting in her early teens, landing early roles on television before the age of 20. Her breakout role in "Pump Up the Volume" (1990) also led to a brief, intense involvement with the film's star, Christian Slater. A later project, the romantic drama "This Thing Called Love" (1993) introduced her to River Phoenix, with who she would also enter into a relationship. Her personal life became even more public when she witnessed infamously Phoenix die of a sudden drug overdose on the streets of Hollywood in October of that year. Mathis attempted to drown her sorrows in work over the next few years with projects such as "Little Woman" (1994) and "Broken Arrow" (1996), until her mother's death from lung cancer prompted her to take a year-long sabbatical. Her eventual return found her turning up in supporting roles in a mix of film projects like "American Psycho" (2000), television events such as "Salem's Lot" (TNT, 2004), as well as stage performances on Broadway. Having witnessed first hand the potential pitfalls of sudden stardom, Mathis chose to focus on professional craft and personal fulfillment, rather than the short-sighted pursuit of celebrity.
Samantha Mathis was born on May 12, 1970 in Brooklyn, NY, to Bibi Besch, a successful character actress best known for her appearance as Dr. Carol Marcus, the estranged love interest of Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982). Besch, who divorced her husband when Samantha was two years old, chose to raise her daughter as a single parent in Los Angeles. Besch was initially less than supportive when Mathis - whose grandmother was noted Austrian stage actress Gusti Huber - announced at the age of 12 that she intended to follow in her relative's footsteps and pursue acting. Skeptical as to her daughter's full understanding about the demands of the work and firm commitment to the craft, Besch suggested that Mathis accompany her to an early morning set call on a film she was working on at the time. Undeterred, the aspiring young performer continued to follow her dream - now with her mother's full backing - and before long, was landing work in television commercials. Mathis' first professional role was in an advertisement for baby products alongside her mother.
Mathis' first substantial work as an actress came in the form of regular roles on a pair of short-lived television series while still in her teens. First came the family drama "Aaron's Way" (NBC, 1987-88), followed shortly thereafter by the vigilante action-adventure "Knightwatch" (ABC, 1988-89). Just as "Knightwatch" was ending its brief run, she made her feature film debut in the little-seen revenge thriller "Forbidden Sun" (1989), which starred Lauren Hutton. Her period of false starts came to an abrupt end when she landed her first high-profile film role in the disaffected youth drama "Pump Up the Volume" (1990), starring teen heartthrob Christian Slater. Although the film did only middling business at theaters, it was Mathis' romantic involvement with Slater during the filming of the production that garnered the young actress just as much, if not more, attention. Seemingly poised on the verge of breakout stardom, Mathis began racking up credits in quick succession over the next several years.
Notable appearances for Mathis included a rare chance to work with her mother again when she landed a role in the made-for-TV drama "Extreme Close Up" (NBC, 1990). She reteamed with her now ex-boyfriend Slater - albeit in voice only - for the animated, eco-friendly fantasy "FernGully: The Last Rainforest" (1992), in addition to a supporting turn in the Nora Ephron-directed family drama "This is My Life" (1992). She tried to breathe life into the role of Princess Daisy for "Super Mario Brothers" (1993), a live-action adaptation of the classic arcade game co-starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper. That same year, she co-starred in another film, "The Thing Called Love" (1993), a romantic comedy-drama about an aspiring country music singer (Mathis) directed by 1970s auteur Peter Bogdanovich, and co-starring Sandra Bullock, Dermot Mulroney and River Phoenix. While the little-seen film went on to earn the dubious distinction of being the lowest-grossing movie of 1993, it held a greater personal significance for Mathis, as it was during the production that she entered into a romantic relationship with her charming leading man.
Mathis' time with River Phoenix, as idyllic as it may have been, would come to a tragic end not long after it had begun. The actor had, in fact, been struggling with an addiction to heroin and other substances for over two years; a fact which upset his new girlfriend. On the evening of Oct. 30, 1993, Mathis, Phoenix and the actor's two younger siblings, Rain and Joaquin Phoenix, were enjoying a night out at the Sunset Strip music club The Viper Room, at the time co-owned by film star Johnny Depp. In direct contrast to his well-documented spiritual, vegan lifestyle, Phoenix consumed a dangerous drug cocktail of cocaine and heroin - a "speedball" - in the club bathroom. Before long, the actor became ill at the table and minutes later he was convulsing on the sidewalk outside the club, while Depp's band performed on stage. To the horror of Mathis, his siblings and other clubgoers, the talented 23-year-old actor died where he fell on the sidewalk that night. Instantly, Mathis found herself in a maelstrom of media coverage, often in the form of salacious speculation, focusing on Phoenix's untimely death by drugs. Shaken by the loss, the actress attempted to find a modicum of solace by throwing herself back into her work.
Mathis next appeared alongside one of her cinematic contemporaries, Winona Ryder, in the period drama "Little Woman" (1994), based on the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott. That same year, in an odd bit of Hollywood irony, Mathis' former companion Slater replaced Phoenix in the highly-anticipated adaptation of Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire" (1994), in a role originally intended for Phoenix, who was only a week away from starting filming. For his work, Slater graciously donated his entire salary to several of Phoenix's favorite charities. Thankful for a break from the unrelenting American media coverage of Phoenix's death, Mathis departed for the U.K. to film the romantic-drama "Jack & Sarah" (1995), and around the same time, began dating yet another actor, former "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009) star Noah Wyle in 1995. Working with a fierce intensity, she next landed a supporting role in the hit Rob Reiner-helmed romance "The American President" (1995) and was briefly reunited with Slater - onscreen only - in the action thriller "Broken Arrow" (1996).
In direct contrast to her success in "Broken Arrow," Mathis was dealt yet another devastating personal blow when her mother, Bibi Besch, died in 1996 after a battle with lung cancer. This time, instead of losing herself in her work, the she left the limelight altogether for a year while she processed her grief. Mathis next returned to film with a role opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt in indie drama "Sweet Jane" (1998), followed by a supporting role in the quickly-canceled science-fiction series "Harsh Realm" (Fox, 1999-2000). Never shy about taking on controversial projects, she appeared with Christian Bale in the bloody, darkly satirical slasher film "American Psycho" (2000), based on the Bret Easton Ellis' novel of the same name. On television, she made another attempt at joining the cast of an ongoing series with the legal drama "First Years" (NBC, 2001), although she enjoyed more success in the medium as a supporting player in the well-received fantasy miniseries "The Mists of Avalon" (TNT, 2001).
Mathis broadened her creative horizons with her Broadway debut opposite Chris O'Donnell in a revival of Arthur Miller's "The Man Who Had All the Luck" in 2002. She later briefly appeared opposite Thomas Jane in the comic book adaptation "The Punisher" (2004), a violent action-adventure, which also featured John Travolta. That same year, she took part in the second television adaptation of Stephen King's seminal vampire tale "Salem's Lot" (TNT, 2004), and later signed on for another King-inspired project with the mini-series "Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King" (TNT, 2006). After several stints on various TV endeavors, she worked with Kevin Costner in the supernatural thriller "The New Daughter" (2009), and returned to Broadway to appear with Jane Fonda and Colin Hanks in the Beethoven-infused drama "33 Variations" in 2009. Portrayed entirely as a voice via a cell phone, she played the wife of a man (Ryan Reynolds) interred alive at an undisclosed location in the claustrophobic thriller "Buried" (2010), and later appeared onscreen in a 2011 episode of Larry David's acerbic cable sitcom, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ).
By Bryce Coleman
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CAST: (feature film)
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"I'm not interested in being a hot flash and then gone, ...I look at actresses like Mary-Louise Parker. She's so talented, and you can see she's in it for the long haul."---Mathis
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