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Mercedes Ruehl

Mercedes Ruehl

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Also Known As: Mercedes J Ruehl Died:
Born: February 28, 1948 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Queens, New York, USA Profession: actor, waitress

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Like many who achieve "overnight success," Mercedes Ruehl had spent many years honing her craft on stage and in small roles in film and TV before breaking through in 1988 with two high profile parts. The New York native spent a somewhat peripatetic childhood, moving frequently until her FBI agent father and teacher mother finally settled in Silver Spring, Maryland. After returning to New York to attend college, Ruehl settled in Manhattan and studied acting with Uta Hagen while supporting herself with the usual battery of odd jobs (e.g., waitressing). She landed her first film role (a bit part as a policewoman) in 1979's "The Warriors". Ruehl went on to spend the next two years as a company member of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, acting in such works as "Medea" and "Much Ado About Nothing."By 1985, she was making inroads, guesting on the ABC police drama "Our Family Honor" and winning notice for her stage performances in "Coming of Age in SoHo" and "The Marriage of Bette and Boo" (both at the New York Shakespeare Festival's The Public Theater). Ruehl's career kicked into high gear in 1988 when she delivered two scene-stealing film performances. While she had only a small amount of screen...

Like many who achieve "overnight success," Mercedes Ruehl had spent many years honing her craft on stage and in small roles in film and TV before breaking through in 1988 with two high profile parts. The New York native spent a somewhat peripatetic childhood, moving frequently until her FBI agent father and teacher mother finally settled in Silver Spring, Maryland. After returning to New York to attend college, Ruehl settled in Manhattan and studied acting with Uta Hagen while supporting herself with the usual battery of odd jobs (e.g., waitressing). She landed her first film role (a bit part as a policewoman) in 1979's "The Warriors". Ruehl went on to spend the next two years as a company member of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, acting in such works as "Medea" and "Much Ado About Nothing."

By 1985, she was making inroads, guesting on the ABC police drama "Our Family Honor" and winning notice for her stage performances in "Coming of Age in SoHo" and "The Marriage of Bette and Boo" (both at the New York Shakespeare Festival's The Public Theater). Ruehl's career kicked into high gear in 1988 when she delivered two scene-stealing film performances. While she had only a small amount of screen time in "Big", as the mother of Josh, the little boy who wishes he were adult and morphs into Tom Hanks, the actress made an impression. Far more memorable, however, was her Mafia wife Connie Russo in "Married to the Mob". Her Connie was a terrific comic creation, part scorned wife and part avenger, convinced that her husband (Dean Stockwell) had taken as his mistress the wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) of a murdered colleague.

Although Ruehl was on the verge of movie stardom, good roles were difficult to land and she returned to the stage creating the part of an attorney attempting to protect a family-run business from takeover in the Off-Broadway play "Other People's Money" (1989). In 1991, she landed one of the best roles of her career as a woman with a slight mentally handicap who attempts to break free from her domineering mother in Neil Simon's Pulitzer-winning "Lost in Yonkers". Despite the presence of such powerful co-stars as Irene Worth and Kevin Spacey, Ruehl shone and earned rave reviews and numerous accolades, including a Tony Award. That same year, she had her best screen role (to date) as Jeff Bridges' long-suffering girlfriend in "The Fisher King", a part that netted her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Despite the numerous awards to her credit, Ruehl was unable to find suitable follow-up projects, which pointed to the dearth of well-written material for actresses of a certain age. She recreated her stage triumph to less acclaim in the muted film version of "Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers" (1993) and found some acceptance in back-to-back Broadway revivals of "The Shadow Box" (in 1994) and "The Rose Tattoo" (1995). After a stellar turn as the tenacious prosecutor in the based-on-fact HBO movie "Indictment: The McMartin Trial" (1995), Ruehl joined the cast of the hit NBC sitcom "Frasier" in the recurring role of station manager Kate Costas who was began as a nemesis of Kelsey Grammer's title character before becoming his paramour. She returned to the big screen as a dying Italian woman whose one desire is to be buried in her family's cemetery plot in "For Roseanna" (1997), but the role hardly tapped her talents. Ruehl was miscast as the harridan mother of the troubled model "Gia" in that 1998 HBO biopic. She fared better partnered onscreen with Brian Cox as an unhappily married couple who unwittingly take in a serial killer as a boarder in "The Minus Man" (1999). Ruehl shone as the matriarch of a large Hispanic family preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving in the Sundance-screened "What's Cooking?" (2000) before earning praise as an adoptee who discovers her Native American roots in the CBS "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation "The Lost Child" (also 2000).

Though Ruehl continued to appear in feature films-albeit smaller independents-she began to have a stronger presence on television as the 20th century gave way to the new millennium. After appearing in "The Amati Girls" (2001) and the video-released "More Dogs Than Bones" (2001), she starred in the made-for-TV movie, "Guilt By Association" (Court TV, 2002), a real-life story about a woman who breaks off the relationship with her boyfriend after discovering he's a drug dealer, only to wind up in prison herself because of draconian mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Ruehl's talents were then wasted in a supporting role as the resilient wife of an FBI agent aiding the hunt for a notorious mobster in "Bad Apple" (TNT, 2004). In "Mom at Sixteen" (Lifetime, 2005), she played a domineering mother who forces her teenaged daughter to hide her pregnancy in order to pass off the child as her own. After costarring in "A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story" (Lifetime, 2006), playing the mother-turned-activist of a transgender teenager murdered by three young men, Ruehl made an appearance in the season three opener of "Entourage" (HBO, 2004- ) as the neurotic mother of star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) who's too afraid to leave the comfort of Queens, NY to attend the premiere of her son's blockbuster superhero movie directed by James Cameron.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
 Loving Leah (2009)
4.
 Mom at Sixteen (2005)
5.
 Bad Apple (2004) Loraine Gibbons
6.
7.
 Spooky House (2002) Boss
8.
 Amati Girls, The (2001) Grace
9.
 Lost Child, The (2000) Rebecca Miller
10.
 What's Cooking? (2000) Elizabeth Avila
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Worked as waitress while studying acting; performed in workshops and occasional Off-Off-Broadway showcases
:
Went on year-long tour of high schools and colleges with "Come Blow Your Horn" and "The Miracle Worker"
1979:
Film debut, "The Warriors" as a poicewoman
1980:
Joined the company acting in repertory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts
1983:
Appeared in Off-Off-Broadway revival of "June Moon" in NYC
1985:
Guest starred in an episode of the ABC police drama "Our Family Honor"
1985:
Had featured role in "Coming of Age in SoHo" at the New York Shakespeare Festival's Public Theater
1985:
Was a member of the ensemble of Christopher Durang's award-winning stage comedy "The Marriage of Bette and Boo"
1986:
Broadway debut in "I'm Not Rappaport"
1987:
Made guest appearance on the CBS sitcom "Kate and Allie"
1988:
Portrayed Josh's mom in the comedy "Big"
1988:
Breakthrough screen role as Mafia wife Connie Russo in "Married to the Mob"
1989:
Co-starred in the Off-Broadway play "Other People's Money"
1991:
First starring role on Broadway, "Lost in Yonkers"; won Tony Award
1991:
Co-starred with Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams in "The Fisher King"; received Academy Award for performance
1993:
Recreated award-winning stage role in the film version of Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers"
1994:
Returned to Broadway in revival of the Pulitzer-winning drama "The Shadow Box"
1994:
Had featured role in "On Hope"; JoBeth Williams' Oscar-nominated short film (aired on Showtime)
1995:
Cast as Serafina opposite Anthony LaPaglia's Mangiacavallo in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tattoo"
1995:
Portrayed a deputy district attorney prosecuting a case of alleged child abuse in the based-on-fact HBO drama "Indictment: The McMartin Trial"
1995:
Played recurring role of Kate Costas, the new station boss, on the NBC sitcom "Frasier"
1997:
Portrayed the ailing wife of an Italian man who wants to be buried in her family's cemetery plot in the comedy "For Roseanna"
1997:
Co-starred in the Showtime adaptation of Israel Horovitz's play "North Shore Fish"
1998:
Portrayed Kathleen Carangi, the mother of the titular model, "Gia" (HBO)
1999:
With Brian Cox, played an unhappily married couple who unwittingly take in a serial killer as a boarder in "The Minus Man"
2000:
Cast as the matriarch of an Hispanic family preparing for Thanksgiving in "What's Cooking?"; premiered at Sundance
2000:
Played a sympathetic psychiatrist in the fact-based "The Mary Kay Letourneau Story: All-American Girl" (USA Network)
2000:
Delivered a strong turn as an adoptee who discovers her Native American roots in the CBS "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production "The Lost Child"
2001:
Headlined the cast of the independent feature "The Amati Girls"
2001:
Starred in the ABC miniseries "Widows"
2001:
Acted onstage opposite Patrick Stewart in a stage production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at the Guthrie Theatre
2002:
Had lead in Court TV's first made-for-television movie, "Guilt by Association"
2002:
Starred opposite Bill Pullman in the Broadway production of Edward Albee's play "The Goat, or, Who Is Sylvia?"
2004:
Featured in the Canadian film, "Zeyda and the Hitman"
2006:
Guest-starred as Vincent Chase's (Adrian Grenier) mom in an episode of "Entourage" (HBO)
2008:
Cast in the world premiere of Edward Albee's "Occupant" at Signature Theatre Company
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

College of New Rochelle: New Rochelle , New York -

Notes

"Film requires very intense and short terms of concentration. In theater, once you step on stage, nobody can stop you. The director can't make you redo it his way, the writer can't say, 'Stop that's not the right word I wrote.'"---Ruehl to Venice, June 2005.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
David Geiser. Artist.

Family close complete family listing

son:
Christopher. Gave up for adoption when she was 28; reunited in the late 1990s when he turned 21; godfather of Jake.
son:
Jake Xavier Ruehl Geiser. Adopted in 1997.

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