skip navigation
Marcia Gay Harden

Marcia Gay Harden

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)

Also Known As: Died:
Born: August 14, 1959 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: La Jolla, California, USA Profession: actor, dancer, caterer, baby sitter, waitress

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Academy Award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden took home an Oscar statuette for her portrayal of artist Lee Krasner in the biopic "Pollock" (2000), although by then the raven-haired actress â¿¿ who often drew comparisons to screen goddess Ava Gardner â¿¿ had already earned a solid reputation on Broadway. She began her career playing the gun-toting moll Verna Bernbaum in the Coen Brothers' ode to 1930s gangsters films, "Miller's Crossing" (1990) prior to earning Tony nominations for performances in stage productions that included Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" in 1993. Following her "Pollock" win, Harden became an in-demand central player in acclaimed dramas like "Space Cowboys" (2000), "Mystic River" (2003) and "Into the Wild" (2007), although such genre fare as the adaptation of the Stephen King novella "The Mist" (2007) also proved easily within the versatile actressâ¿¿ wheelhouse. Whether the script called for a devoted wife, glamorous movie star, or religious zealot, Hardenâ¿¿s name was frequently at the top of casting agentsâ¿¿ wish lists, maintaining her status as one of filmâ¿¿s busiest supporting actresses, who was willing to venture into TV for the right role. Marcia Gay Harden was...

Academy Award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden took home an Oscar statuette for her portrayal of artist Lee Krasner in the biopic "Pollock" (2000), although by then the raven-haired actress â¿¿ who often drew comparisons to screen goddess Ava Gardner â¿¿ had already earned a solid reputation on Broadway. She began her career playing the gun-toting moll Verna Bernbaum in the Coen Brothers' ode to 1930s gangsters films, "Miller's Crossing" (1990) prior to earning Tony nominations for performances in stage productions that included Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" in 1993. Following her "Pollock" win, Harden became an in-demand central player in acclaimed dramas like "Space Cowboys" (2000), "Mystic River" (2003) and "Into the Wild" (2007), although such genre fare as the adaptation of the Stephen King novella "The Mist" (2007) also proved easily within the versatile actressâ¿¿ wheelhouse. Whether the script called for a devoted wife, glamorous movie star, or religious zealot, Hardenâ¿¿s name was frequently at the top of casting agentsâ¿¿ wish lists, maintaining her status as one of filmâ¿¿s busiest supporting actresses, who was willing to venture into TV for the right role.

Marcia Gay Harden was born on Aug. 14, 1959, one of five children born to a U.S. Naval captain and his homemaker wife. Harden spent a peripatetic childhood, changing her identity all the time; she would later admit that she even pretended to be a boy for a time while living in Japan. Intending to enter diplomatic service, Harden changed her plans while the family was living in Greece. She was overcome during a visit to the historic Parthenon, and while standing at the foot of the ancient stage, she suddenly became determined to join the legacy of thousands of years of dramatic arts. Shortly thereafter, she began attending college in Munich, Germany, appearing onstage in rather heavy material for a newcomer, including works by Albee and Chekhov. Upon the family's return to the United States, she transferred to the University of Texas in Austin, where she earned a BA in Theater Arts in 1983. In the Washington D.C. area, she became active in regional Theater and earned Helen Hayes awards in 1984 and 1985 for productions of "Crimes of the Heart" and "The Miss Firecracker Contest."

Having experienced some success in Washington, Harden moved to Manhattan and had some luck landing small TV and independent film roles. With a desire to strengthen her craft even further, she applied to the masters program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and won a full scholarship. During a school production, Harden caught the eye of a casting director who introduced her to the Coen Brothers. The budding filmmaking brothers selected her over contenders Demi Moore and Jennifer Jason Leigh to play the sultry, husky-voiced Verna in their gangster drama "Miller's Crossing." One of the Coen Brothers' earliest efforts, the stylized film had its detractors, but Harden did gain notice as a "Promising New Actor of 1990" in John Willis' Screen World. Harden was tapped for back-to-back TV thrillers before 1991's "Late for Dinner," in which she successfully portrayed a woman who aged from her twenties to her fifties, demonstrating the flair for character work that would become her hallmark.

Harden's classic Hollywood looks helped round out a successful embodiment of Hollywood beauty Ava Gardner in the biographical miniseries "Sinatra" (CBS, 1992) before the relative newcomer joined a bevy of Oscar-winning actresses, including Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates in "Used People" (1992), playing a grieving, neurotic, Hollywood-obsessed mother who reenacts celebrated performances of famous leading ladies. Harden went on to receive excellent notices for her leading role in "Crush" (1992), in which she essayed a careless American who ingratiates herself into the lives and beds of a writer and his grown daughter. The directorial debut from Alison Maclean was nominated for the Palm D'Or at Cannes.

Onstage, Harden headlined a 1992 Chicago production of Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth" and acted alongside Paul McCrane and Frank Whaley in the Off-Broadway play "The Years" in 1993. Later that year, she earned a Tony nomination for her portrait of a fragile Mormon wife who develops an addiction to Valium as her marriage crumbles in Tony Kushner's landmark epic "Angels in America." Harden segued to supporting Ed Harris and Beverly D'Angelo in Sam Shepard's "Simpatico," produced at The Public Theatre in 1994.

Returning to the big screen, Harden received excellent reviews for her portrayal of the timid wife of a local businessman who blossoms when she begins working at "The Spitfire Grill" (1996), but her talents were subsequently underused when she was cast opposite the manic Robin Williams in "Flubber" (1997). A turn as the brittle daughter of a wealthy man (Anthony Hopkins) in "Meet Joe Black" (1998) helped Harden break through to a new level of Hollywood drama, and in 2000, she lent an intelligence and sultriness to her role of a NASA engineer romanced by over-the-hill astronaut Tommy Lee Jones in "Space Cowboys" (2000). Later in the year, Harden was suddenly in the spotlight for her portrayal of painter Lee Krasner in "Pollock" (2000), Ed Harris' labor-of-love biopic of the tempestuous artist. Sporting a thick Brooklyn accent and forceful screen presence, Harden perfectly matched director-star Harris' portrayal of the tortured title artist. Harden was the surprise winner of that year's Best Supporting Actress Academy Award, and her stunning burgundy satin dress was the talk of fashion commentators who generally voted her best on the red carpet.

Her post-Oscar choices demonstrated a maverick sensibility, with Harden taking the New York stage alongside Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, Kevin Kline, John Goodman and Natalie Portman in Mike Nichols' production of "The Seagull." She made her first foray into series TV with "The Education of Max Bickford" (CBS, 2001-02), co-starring with Richard Dreyfuss as a former student and lover turned professorial rival. She shone opposite Patrick Stewart in the acclaimed Old West retelling of Shakespeare's "King Lear," "King of Texas" (TNT, 2002). In indie writer-director John Sayles' "Casa de los Babys" (2003), Harden delivered a rich and unsentimental performance as part of a group of six American women traveling to South America to adopt babies. As the Ugly American in an otherwise sympathetic ensemble, Harden dug under the abrasive surface to suggest childhood traumas that had hardened her character and would do likewise to her offspring if she was not able to receive a child. Harden then reunited with Clint Eastwood for one of the director's most accomplished and acclaimed films, "Mystic River" (2003), playing Celeste, the lost soul wife of Dave (Tim Robbins), one of three childhood friends caught up in a murder that threatens to unravel their entire lives. Her harrowing performance was one of the film's best, and earned her a second Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress.

The actress also had a well-measured role opposite Julia Roberts in "Mona Lisa Smile" (2003) as a prim instructor of deportment, grooming, and table setting in the repressive 1950s environment of Wellesley College, but was less well-served by the script in the middling Ray Romano-Gene Hackman comedy "Welcome to Mooseport" (2004) as the long-suffering, overly doting aide to Hackman's former U.S. President. In the admired indie "P.S." (2004), Harden played the best friend of a woman (Laura Linney) who believes her new 20-year-old beau (Topher Grace) is an identical ringer - including his name - for the deceased boy she loved when she was 20. Like many before her, the Oscar-winning actress endured a run of subpar material with the Lifetime movie "She's Too Young" (2004) and Richard Linklater's remake of "The Bad News Bears" (2005) before a guest run on "Law and Order: SVU" (NBC, 1999- ) earned her an Emmy nomination.

Harden followed up her TV success with an impressive string of independent dramas. She was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for "American Gun" (2005), an IFC film exploring several stories of gun use and misuse among high school students. In "The Dead Girl" (2006), Harden played a grieving mother who uncovers the real depth of her daughter's troubles following the girl's death. Likewise, Harden played the mother of a deceased teen watched by her limbo-trapped son in the moderate box office hit "The Invisible" (2007). In Sean Penn's film adaptation of "Into the Wild" (2007) she again found herself coming to grips with the loss of a child, one who first reinvented his identity on the road before eventually dying alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Harden delivered a strong supporting performance in "The Hoax," Lasse Hallstrom's depiction of author Clifford Irving, who gained notoriety following the discovery that his "authorized" biography of Howard Hughes was actually a work of fiction. Harden portrayed the author's conflicted wife before rounding out the year in the ensemble cast of "The Mist" (2007), based on a Stephen King novella about a group of small-town citizens holed up inside a supermarket while the town is terrorized by deadly creatures.

A more lighthearted role in Drew Barrymore's directorial debut "Whip It" (2009) reminded viewers of Harden's gift for comedy, while Tony Kaye's high school drama "Detachment" (2011) and "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You" (2011) continued her string of authority-figure roles. In 2013 Harden returned to television with her role as high-powered New York attorney Rebecca Halliday on HBO's "The Newsroom" (2012-14). The show reunited Harden with Jeff Daniels, who played acerbic news anchor Will McAvoy on the Aaron Sorkin-penned series about the various personalities on a bustling cable news show. Harden previously starred alongside Daniels on Broadway in a 2009 production of Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage." Harden also took on another TV role, as the tightly-wound first ex-wife of a newly remarried lawyer (Bradley Whitford) in the sitcom "Trophy Wife" (ABC 2013-14), playing a comic spin on her familiar ice-queen persona. Harden next worked for the first time with Woody Allen in the comedy "Magic in the Moonlight" (2014) and co-starred opposite Lily Tomlin in the comedy-drama "Grandma" (2015). The same year, Harden portrayed the adoptive mother of Christian Grey in "50 Shades of Grey" (2015) and joined the cast of "How To Get Away With Murder" (ABC 2014- ) as psychologist Dr. Hannah Keating.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Grandma (2015)
3.
 Librarian, The (2015)
4.
 You're Not You (2014)
5.
 Elsa and Fred (2014)
7.
 Parkland (2013)
8.
 Get a Job (2013)
9.
 Cat in Paris, A (2012)
10.
 If I Were You (2012)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Developed interest in theater while living in Greece by attending plays at the Herodus Atticus, an old theater near the base of the Parthenon
:
Began acting on Munich stages while a university student in Germany, performing in plays by Albee and Chekhov
1987:
Appeared in "In the Lion's Den," an unsold pilot presented on "CBS Summer Playhouse"
1990:
Had title role in Rebecca Miller's short "Florence," playing an empathetic woman who develops amnesia
1992:
Portrayed screen siren Ava Gardner in CBS miniseries biography "Sinatra"
1993:
Acted in off-Broadway play "The Years" alongside Frank Whaley and Paul McCrane
1994:
Starred opposite Ed Harris and Beverly D'Angelo in Sam Shepard's play "Simpatico"
1995:
Delivered a monologue about the death of her character's mother in "Talking With" (PBS), directed by Kathy Bates
1996:
Offered supporting turn as an abused wife in "The Spitfire Grill"
1997:
Played an FBI agent in HBO docudrama "Path to Paradise: The Untold Story of the World Trade Center Bombing"
1997:
Co-starred opposite Robin Williams in "Flubber"
1998:
Portrayed a single woman who decides to have a child with her gay best friend until she meets a man she thinks may be Mr. Right in "Labor of Love" (Lifetime)
1998:
Appeared as one of Anthony Hopkins' daughters in "Meet Joe Black"
1999:
Played Susan Silverman, the girlfriend of private eye Spenser (Joe Mantegna) in "Small Vices" (A&E)
2000:
Reprised Susan Silverman in sequel "Thin Air: A Spenser Mystery" (A&E)
2000:
Had featured role as a NASA engineer romanced by astronaut Tommy Lee Jones in "Space Cowboys"
2001:
Co-starred as a woman who asks a writer friend (Judy Davis) to help her locate her missing husband in "Gaudi Afternoon"
2001:
Acted in New York Shakespeare Festival summer production of "The Seagull," staged in Central Park by Mike Nichols
2001:
Again reprised Susan Silverman in A&E's "Walking Shadow"
2001:
Co-starred with Richard Dreyfuss in "The Education of Max Bickford" (CBS)
2003:
Appeared opposite Julia Roberts in "Mona Lisa Smile"
2004:
Played Gene Hackman's former girlfriend in comedy "Welcome to Mooseport"
2004:
Cast opposite Laura Linney and Topher Grace in "P.S."
2005:
Cast opposite Billy Bob Thornton in remake of "Bad News Bears"
2005:
Landed recurring role as undercover agent Dana Lewis on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC)
2006:
Played a Laura Bush-esque first lady opposite Dennis Quaid in Paul Weitz's political satire "American Dreamz"
2006:
Portrayed a devastated mother of a Columbine-type killer in "American Gun"
2007:
Co-starred in Alison Eastwood's directorial debut "Rails and Ties"
2009:
Joined cast of "Damages" (FX) for second season
2009:
Returned to the stage for Broadway production of Yasmina Reza¿s "God of Carnage"
2009:
Co-starred with Anna Paquin in CBS TV movie "The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler"
2009:
Played Ellen Page's overbearing mother in Drew Barrymore's directorial debut "Whip It"
2010:
Cast in multi-episode arc on USA Network's "Royal Pains" as Dr. Elizabeth Blair, a surgeon and board member of Hamptons Heritage Hospital
2013:
Appeared on "The Newsroom" as the high-powered New York attorney, Rebecca Halliday
2013:
Co-starred in sitcom "Trophy Wife" with Malin Ackerman and Bradley Whitford
2014:
Co-starred in Woody Allen's "Magic in the Moonlight"
2014:
Played recurring role in ABC legal drama "How To Get Away With Murder"
2015:
Co-starred opposite Lily Tomlin in "Grandma"
2015:
Played Christian Grey's adoptive mother in the film adaptation of "50 Shades of Grey"
2015:
Landed a recurring role on "Code Black"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

University of Maryland: Baltimore , Maryland -
New York University: New York , New York -
Surratsville Senior High School: Clinton , Maryland - 1976
University of Texas at Austin: Austin , Texas - 1983

Notes

Harden was trained in various circus skills including the trapeze, tightrope and juggling.

Harden was nominated for two Helen Hayes awards as leading actress for the productions of "Crimes of the Heart" and "The Miss Firecracker Contest".

"Until people get to know me, they see a dark, hard, sensuous bitch." --Marcia Gay Harden to David Richards in The New York Times, November 4, 1992.

"You know, I swore that if I ever won an Oscar, that I would say thank you to all the waiters and waitresses who used to cover my shift for me so I could run downtown on the subway and audition. I wish I'd said something to the waiters." --Harden in the press room after winning her Best Supporting Actress Oscar, as reported by Amy Reiter in "Nothing Personal" at Salon (www.salon.com), March 27, 2001.

On December 15, 2003, Harden's young nephew and niece were killed in a tragic fire. The deaths occurred when the Queens, New York apartment, owned by her former sister-in-law, went up in flames after a burning candle set a sofa on fire. Her ex-sister-in-law also later died from injuries received in the fire.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Thaddaeus D Scheel. Prop man. Met during filming of "The Spitfire Grill".

Family close complete family listing

father:
Thaddeus Harden. U.S. Naval Captain.
brother:
Thaddeus Harden.
daughter:
Eulala Grace Harden Scheel. Aka Eulala Scheel. Born in September 1998.
mother:
Beverly Bushfield Harden.
son:
Hudson Harden Scheel. Born April 22, 2004.
daughter:
Julitta Dee Harden Scheel. Born April 22, 2004.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute