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Gena Rowlands

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Also Known As: Virginia Cathryn Rowlands Died:
Born: June 19, 1930 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Cambria, Wisconsin, USA Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

When actress Gena Rowlands arrived in Hollywood in the 1950s, she could easily have opted to take the Hollywood starlet route. But she shared a creative vision with filmmaker and husband John Cassavetes; preferring instead to use her stunning, camera-loving facial features and natural acting style in unglamorous roles in groundbreaking independent films that launched an entire movement. Devoted to the idea of unearthing complex human emotions rather than painting characters with a one-dimensional Hollywood brush, Rowlands was a key factor in Cassavetes' low budget, documentary-style dramas "Faces" (1968), "A Woman Under the Influence" (1974) and "Opening Night" (1977). Whether playing a suburban housewife or a successful entertainer, Rowlands took risks with unconventional characters who dared to look inwards and question the unfulfilled promises of the status quo. From her acclaimed, Oscar-nominated roles on the 1970s art house circuit, Rowlands spent her later career lending authenticity to more mainstream fare, with Golden Globe and Emmy-winning roles as eccentric mothers and middle-aged women in crisis in television movies and theatrical releases.The daughter of a state senator and a painter,...

When actress Gena Rowlands arrived in Hollywood in the 1950s, she could easily have opted to take the Hollywood starlet route. But she shared a creative vision with filmmaker and husband John Cassavetes; preferring instead to use her stunning, camera-loving facial features and natural acting style in unglamorous roles in groundbreaking independent films that launched an entire movement. Devoted to the idea of unearthing complex human emotions rather than painting characters with a one-dimensional Hollywood brush, Rowlands was a key factor in Cassavetes' low budget, documentary-style dramas "Faces" (1968), "A Woman Under the Influence" (1974) and "Opening Night" (1977). Whether playing a suburban housewife or a successful entertainer, Rowlands took risks with unconventional characters who dared to look inwards and question the unfulfilled promises of the status quo. From her acclaimed, Oscar-nominated roles on the 1970s art house circuit, Rowlands spent her later career lending authenticity to more mainstream fare, with Golden Globe and Emmy-winning roles as eccentric mothers and middle-aged women in crisis in television movies and theatrical releases.

The daughter of a state senator and a painter, Rowlands was born Virginia Cathryn Rowlands on June 19, 1930, and raised in Wisconsin. After attending the University of Wisconsin in the late 1940s, she moved to New York to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she made the acquaintance of the man she would marry - actor and filmmaker John Cassavetes. She began her professional career in summer stock productions at the Provincetown Playhouse in Massachusetts and hit Broadway in 1952 in the comedy, "The Seven Year Itch." She made television appearances on serialized dramas like "Studio One" (CBS, 1948-1958) and "Top Secret U.S.A." (1954). In 1956 and into 1957, she starred opposite cinema legend Edward G. Robinson in the Broadway production "The Middle of the Night." She was brought to Hollywood to make her film debut as Jose Ferrer's wife in "The High Cost of Loving" (1958), and the following year she had a small uncredited role in Cassavetes' directorial debut, "Shadows" (1959) - a film which has since been hailed as the birth of the independent cinema movement. Rowlands went on to a featured role as a deaf-mute in the hour-long police drama "87th Precinct" (NBC, 1961-62) and brought warmth to the Western "Lonely Are the Brave" (1962), starring Kirk Douglas.

In "A Child Is Waiting" (1963), Cassavetes' second feature and a troubled big studio production where the director struggled to incorporate his intimate, realistic approach with stars Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster, Rowlands played a supporting role as the emotionally distraught mother of a mentally challenged child. On the small screen, she landed a recurring role as a gold-digger set to marry elderly Martin Peyton for his fortune on the primetime soap "Peyton Place" (ABC, 1964-69). Rowland returned to film in "Tony Rome" (1967), a revival of the classic 1940s private detective picture starring Frank Sinatra and featuring Rowlands as a wealthy woman who hires him to find her missing daughter. The remainder of the 1960s and the decade of the 1970s, however, brought Rowlands the most acclaim and attention for her work in Cassavetes' impactful films. In the director's "Faces" (1968), another early classic of independent filmmaking, Rowlands was front and center as a prostitute in this film that explored a marital breakdown and the unsatisfying nature of the cookie-cutter American lifestyle that mainstream films blindly celebrated. Rowlands remained a critical favorite with her starring role as a professional woman disillusioned by love until she is romanced by a Jewish hippie (Seymour Cassel) in "Minnie and Moskowitz" (1971).

Perhaps Rowlands' and Cassavetes' finest movie collaboration and another significant filmmaking achievement was "A Woman Under the Influence" (1974), in which Rowlands portrayed a mentally unbalanced housewife whose husband (Peter Falk) eventually has her committed to a mental institution. While critics carped about the film's length, all praised the central performances, with Rowlands earning a Golden Globe Award and her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She earned a second Golden Globe nomination for "Opening Night" (1977), where she gave another bravura turn as a famous actress on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The film ran into distribution difficulties, though, and only played in L.A. on its initial run until 1991 when it finally received a wide release. The new art house film darling ventured into long form television movies in 1978 in the appropriately groundbreaking "A Question of Love" (ABC), portraying a lesbian fighting for custody of her children. She starred in William Friedkin's comic crime caper "The Brink's Job" in 1978 and gave another strong, nuanced performance as Bette Davis' estranged daughter in "Strangers: The Story of a Mother and a Daughter" (CBS, 1979), more than holding her own against the formidable Davis.

In another Academy Award-nominated leading performance, Rowlands played a tough gun moll who reluctantly becomes the protector of a child in Cassavetes' "Gloria" (1980). In her final film collaboration with her husband and one that was devoid of his trademark film techniques, "Love Streams" (1984), she and Cassavetes paired onscreen in another portrait of failed marriage. By the 1980s, Rowlands' respected career in emotional, reality-anchored films made her very much in-demand by more mainstream dramatic fare, and she was tapped to play the mother of AIDS patient Aidan Quinn in "An Early Frost" (NBC, 1985) and won an Emmy for her portrait of a former First Lady coping with addiction in "The Betty Ford Story" (ABC, 1987). She lent a patrician and strong, yet not domineering, screen presence in Paul Schrader's "Light of Day" (1987), where she played Michael J. Fox's dying mother, and was well-cast in Woody Allen's "Another Woman" (1988) as a middle-aged woman facing a series of crises. In 1989, Cassavetes died from cirrhosis of the liver. The following year, indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch's paid homage to Rowlands' significant role in avant-garde cinema by casting her in a segment of "Night on Earth" (1991), where she played a film executive who thinks she may have "discovered" a fresh young talent in cab driver Winona Ryder.

Rowlands took home another Emmy Award in 1991 for playing a wealthy widow who befriends a homeless woman in "Face of a Stranger" (CBS, 1991), and a Golden Globe nomination for 1992's "Crazy in Love" (TNT) where she essayed one of three generations of women living on an island in the Pacific Northwest. A 1995 performance as Julia Roberts' genteel mother in Lasse Hallstrom's "Something to Talk About" earned critical kudos, and the same year, Rowlands played a flamboyant singer whose visit enlivens her nephew's life in Terence Davies' little-seen "The Neon Bible" (1995). Son Nick followed in his father's footsteps, casting his mother in the lead as a woman beginning a new life after her husband's death in his directorial debut "Unhook the Stars" (1996). The following year, she made a cameo appearance in her son's "She's So Lovely" (1997), which was scripted by her late husband. Rowlands remained busy in Hollywood throughout the remainder of the 1990s, supporting as eccentric moms and betrayed spouses in hit-or-miss titles including "Hope Floats" (1998) starring Sandra Bullock and the ensemble "Playing by Heart" (1998).

Rowlands picked up a fourth Emmy nomination for her turn as a Southern widow who takes in a bi-racial grandchild in the above-average "The Color of Love: Jacey's Story" (CBS, 2000). In 2001, she received an Emmy nomination for Best Lead Actress for her starring role as an overbearing mother in the domestic drama, "Wild Iris," which featured Laura Linney as the daughter with whom she has a fractured relationship. Rowlands further explored troubled mother/daughter relationships, winning an Emmy for the cable film "Hysterical Blindness" (HBO, 2002) where Uma Thurman co-starred as her flamboyant young adult daughter. After taking a supporting turn in the sub-par erotic thriller "Taking Lives" (2004) starring Angelina Jolie, Rowlands reunited with son Nick and delivered one of her finer performances of the era in "The Notebook" (2004), playing an Alzheimer's-ravaged woman and superbly delivering both heartbreak and elation in her scenes opposite James Garner as the man who stood by her side over the decades. Still the go-to actress for warts-and-all domestic dramas, she played the eccentric wife of a speechless invalid (John Hurt) in the horror dud "The Skeleton Key" (2005), starring Kate Hudson as a young hospice worker sent to their isolated and haunted plantation to care for the husband.

In 2006, Rowlands scripted and co-starred with Ben Gazzara in a segment of the celebrated "Paris, Je T'Aime" and the following year, starred in the filmmaking debut of daughter Z Cassavetes in the comic romance, "Broken English" (2007). The same year, she was singled out for her Emmy and SAG-nominated lead performance in the otherwise overwrought Lifetime telepic, "What if God Were the Sun?" (2007). In 2009, she was in contention for an Emmy Award again, this time in the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series category for her turn as a compulsive woman who becomes surrogate mother to the neurotic main character (Tony Shalhoub) on "Monk" (USA Network, 2002- ).

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
3.
 Olive (2011)
5.
 Broken English (2007)
6.
 Persepolis (2007)
7.
 Skeleton Key, The (2005) Cast
8.
 Notebook, The (2004) Allie Calhoun
9.
 Taking Lives (2004) Mrs Asher
10.
 Incredible Mrs. Ritchie, The (2003) Mrs Evelyn Ritchie
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Born and raised in Wisconsin
:
Won scholarship to study at Jarvis Repertory Theatre in Washington, DC
1950:
Moved to NYC to attend AADA
1951:
Was mistress of ceremonies in "All About Love" at the Versailles Night Club Theatre in Manhattan
:
Worked off-Broadway at the Provincetown Playhouse and in stock
1952:
Made Broadway debut as understudy for the role of The Girl in "The Seven Year Itch"; later assumed part
1953:
Appeared in off-Broadway production of "Dangerous Corner"
1954:
Made debut as TV regular on the syndicated series "Top Secret USA"
1956:
Starred on Broadway in "Middle of the Night" with Edward G. Robinson
1958:
Film acting debut, "The High Cost of Loving"
1961:
Played regular role on "87th Precinct" (NBC)
1962:
First collaboration with Cassavetes as director, "A Child Is Waiting"
1967:
Featured as Adrienne Van Leyden on ABC nighttime soap opera "Peyton Place"
1968:
Won acclaim for her role in Cassavetes' "Faces"
1974:
Starred opposite Peter Falk in Cassavetes' "A Woman Under the Influence"; earned Best Actress Oscar nomination
1977:
Offered a nuanced turn as a troubled actress in "Opening Night"; film only released for Oscar consideration in L.A.; screened at the New York Film Festival in 1988; released theatrically in 1991
1978:
First TV-movie, played lesbian fighting for custody of her children in "A Question of Love" (ABC)
1979:
Teamed with Bette Davis, playing Davis' estranged daughter in the CBS drama "Strangers: The Story of a Mother and a Daughter"
1980:
Picked up second Best Actress Oscar nomination as a gun moll in "Gloria"
1982:
Acted opposite Cassavetes in Paul Mazursky's "Tempest," a loose re-working of Shakespeare's play
1984:
Last feature collaboration with Cassavetes, "Love Streams"
1986:
Cast as the mother of an AIDS-stricken lawyer in "An Early Frost"; received first Emmy nomination
1987:
Won an Emmy for her portrayal of the former First Lady in the ABC biopic "The Betty Ford Story"
1988:
Starred in Woody Allen's "Another Woman" as sheltered woman forced to confront her life choices
1991:
Picked up second Emmy Award as a Manhattan socialite who befriends a homeless woman in the CBS TV-movie "Face of a Stranger"
1991:
Played a cab passenger driven by Winona Ryder in Jim Jarmusch's "Night on Earth"
1995:
Cast as Julia Roberts' mother in "Something to Talk About"
1995:
Delivered a fine turn as the eccentric Southern aunt of a young boy in "The Neon Bible"
1996:
Directed by son Nick Cassavetes in "Unhook the Stars"; won critical praise as a widow who befriends her neighbor's son
1997:
Again directed by son in "She's So Lovely," a previously un-produced screenplay by John Cassavetes
1998:
Starred as Sandra Bullock's mother in "Hope Floats"
1998:
Had featured role in "The Mighty"
1998:
Co-starred with Diane Lane in the TV version of the stage play "Grace & Glorie" (CBS)
1998:
Appeared in the ensemble drama "Playing by Heart"
2000:
Earned fourth career Emmy nomination playing a Southern grandmother in "The Color of Love: Jacey's Story" (CBS)
2000:
Played Brooke Shields' overbearing mother in the independent film "The Weekend"
2002:
Acted in "Hysterical Blindness" (HBO); screened at Sundance; received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress
2004:
Cast in the thriller "Taking Lives"
2004:
Starred opposite James Garner in "The Notebook," directed by son Nick Cassavetes
2005:
Starred opposite Kate Hudson in the supernatural thriller the "Skeleton Key"
2007:
Portrayed a terminally ill woman in the Lifetime original movie "What if God Were the Sun?"; earned Emmy and SAG nominations for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie
2007:
Co-starred in daughter Zoe Cassavetes' directorial debut "Broken English"
2009:
Earned an Emmy nomination for her guest starring role as a moderately compulsive surrogate mother to the main character on an episode of "Monk" (USA Network)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

University of Wisconsin: Madison , Wisconsin - 1947 - 1950
American Academy of Dramatic Arts: New York , New York - 1950 - 1951

Notes

"I'd never worked with Gena so it was a golden opportunity. We've both had a similar pattern of experiences as actors." --"Playing by Heart" co-star Sean Connery to The Boston Globe, January 17, 1999.

"I think now that I look back on it, the key was we were both so obsessed about wanting the same thing. We also just had a natural chemistry between the two of us, which was so apparent at the beginning and lasted until the end. . . . No one believed in me more as an artist than my husband did."---Rowlands on her marriage to John Cassavetes to Cindy Pearlman of The Chicago SunTimes January 21, 1999

"I love independent filmmaking. I don't agree with a lot of it, but that's not the point. People in independent film have a passion; they're not in it for the money. I'm very proud that John [Cassavetes] had a part in it."---Gena Rowlands quoted in Premiere's "Women in Hollywood" issue, 1999.

"Glamour was NEVER my game. I just HATE that thing about beauty. There's always someone out there better looking or worse looking. Beauty and glamour are not real things. To depend on them is very hard on anyone, but particularly hard for attractive girls." --Rowlands quoted in W, May 1998.

"Their personalities are not alike. John's much more volatile and all over the place - noisier too. Nick is a bit quieter. He handles everything with humour. But one thing I notice is that they both adore actors and have the utmost patience with them. I was happy to see that and, believe me, it's not always the case.

"The main difference is that there was no improvisation in Nick's film. One day I didn't get one of the lines quite right. It would have passed in most places. But Nick is very precise about language. John, on the other hand, dictated his scripts. He very seldom wrote them down. He had a writing secretary who was with him for many years. It always amazed me. He had the most formidable memory I have ever encountered."---Rowlands on the differences between being directed by her husband and her son, to the London Times July 7, 1997

"I don't see how anyone has the patience to direct anything. I know it's a question of temperament but to me it would be torture. People ask you questions all day long, and not particularly interesting ones.

"The art director is saying, 'Do you think that the colour of this suit is all right?', and the photographer is saying, 'I think we should gel the windows', and an actor is saying, 'I don't want to wear make-up.' These are questions that would make me want to shoot myself in the head. Not creative, wonderful questions about your character. So you have to have extreme love and patience, and I don't have that." --Rowlands to the London Times, July 3, 1997.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
John Cassavetes. Director, actor. Married from March 19, 1958 until his death on February 3, 1989.
companion:
Robert Forrest.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Edwin Merwin Rowlands. Banker, senator. Was Wisconsin State Senator.
mother:
Mary Allen Rowlands. Painter, actor. Appeared in "Minnie and Moskowitz" and other films; died on May 28, 1999 at age 94.
brother:
David Rowlands. Physician.
son:
Nicholas Cassavetes. Actor, director. Born on May 21, 1959 in NYC.
daughter:
Alexandra Cassavetes. Songwriter. Born on September 21, 1965 in California.
daughter:
Zoe Cassavetes. Actor, filmmaker, model. Born on June 29, 1970 in California.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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