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A versatile and appealing performer who excelled in both film and on television, actress Kathy Baker first made her presence known on the stage in several Sam Shepard productions before making her screen debut in "The Right Stuff" (1983). Baker earned widespread acclaim for her gritty performance in "Street Smart" (1987) before tackling a challenging part in the recovery drama "Clean and Sober" (1988). She turned to a more comedic role as a flirtatious housewife in "Edward Scissorhands" (1990) and eventually found her way onto television with a regular role as a small town doctor and wife to the sheriff on David E. Kelley's quirky drama "Picket Fences" (CBS, 1992-96). From there, Baker jumped back and forth between television and film, landing recurring roles on shows like "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004) and "Medium" (NBC/CBS, 2005-2011), while showing up in movies like "The Cider House Rules" (1999), "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her" (2001) and "Cold Mountain" (2003). She excelled in a number of small screen movies, earning award recognition for performances in "Door to Door" (2002), while delivering a quality turn in the critically acclaimed TV movie "Too Big to Fail" (HBO, 2011), all...
A versatile and appealing performer who excelled in both film and on television, actress Kathy Baker first made her presence known on the stage in several Sam Shepard productions before making her screen debut in "The Right Stuff" (1983). Baker earned widespread acclaim for her gritty performance in "Street Smart" (1987) before tackling a challenging part in the recovery drama "Clean and Sober" (1988). She turned to a more comedic role as a flirtatious housewife in "Edward Scissorhands" (1990) and eventually found her way onto television with a regular role as a small town doctor and wife to the sheriff on David E. Kelley's quirky drama "Picket Fences" (CBS, 1992-96). From there, Baker jumped back and forth between television and film, landing recurring roles on shows like "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004) and "Medium" (NBC/CBS, 2005-2011), while showing up in movies like "The Cider House Rules" (1999), "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her" (2001) and "Cold Mountain" (2003). She excelled in a number of small screen movies, earning award recognition for performances in "Door to Door" (2002), while delivering a quality turn in the critically acclaimed TV movie "Too Big to Fail" (HBO, 2011), all of which underscored the fact that Baker was one of the most talented character actresses working in the business.
Born on June 8, 1950 in Midland, TX, Baker was raised a Quaker in New Mexico by her father, John, a geologist who once taught at the University of Paris, and her French-born mother, Lany. Having discovered acting at age 10 with the Albuquerque Children's Theatre, Baker attended the California Institute of the Arts in 1970, only to drop out after a year to study French at the University of California at Berkeley. Following this alternate path, she earned Le Grande Diplome studying haute cuisine at Paris' famed Cordon Bleu before returning to the United States to work as a pastry chef in San Francisco. But her desire to perform never abated and eventually she tried out at the Magic Theatre, which led to a starring role in their production of "The Man Who Killed the Buddha." Her performance impressed audience member, Sam Shepard, who subsequently cast Baker opposite Ed Harris in the San Francisco premiere of "Fool For Love" (1982), which later went on to a celebrated off-Broadway run in 1983 that earned the actress an OBIE Award. Also that year, Baker made her feature debut playing the wife of Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) in the Oscar-nominated epic about the American space race, "The Right Stuff" (1983), which co-starred Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager.
A few years later, audiences found Baker a steadier presence on screens both large and small, with the actress taking on her first starring role in the thriller "My Sister's Keeper" (1986). But it was her performance as a tough but charming prostitute in "Street Smart" (1987) opposite Christopher Reeve and Morgan Freeman that garnered the up-and-coming actress considerable attention and allowed her to showcase her considerable magnetism. Baker's career hit a further upswing with a powerful cameo as a woman whose seemingly perfect teenage son (Alan Boyce) inexplicably commits suicide in the teen tearjerker "Permanent Record" (1988). In the recovery drama "Clean and Sober" (1988), she took a role initially intended for a twenty-something Hollywood starlet and wowed audiences with her less obvious allure, playing a woman with whom Michael Keaton becomes smitten with while trying to kick his drug habit. The following year she solidified her reputation as an exceptional performer with a co-starring turn in "Jacknife" (1989), adding a realistic longing to her character, a schoolteacher who puts her own life on hold to look after her alcoholic Vietnam veteran brother (Ed Harris) and finds herself the object of the affections of a fellow vet (Robert De Niro) re-entering his life.
Not often considered for comedic roles due to the long-suffering world-weariness she often evinced in dramatic fare, Baker nonetheless proved a wise choice for the part of Joyce in Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands" (1990), stealing nearly every scene that featured her flirty, ambrosia salad-toting housewife opposite Johnny Depp's tortured, but unusually helpful titular character. She stayed busy on the big screen, with turns in "Article 99" (1992) and "Jennifer 8" (1992) before reuniting with De Niro in the comedy "Mad Dog and Glory" (1993). Although film was the medium that launched her career, television brought Baker her greatest fame and acclaim. With very few previous small screen credits, the actress was cast as Dr. Jill Brock on the David E. Kelley CBS drama "Picket Fences" (1992-96). A somewhat quirky show - more in the tradition of "Northern Exposure" than "Twin Peaks" - "Picket Fences" failed to capture a very large audience, but its overwhelming critical acclaim kept the award-winning show on the air for a decent four-season run. Portraying the unfalteringly professional and unapologetically maternal Dr. Brock earned Baker three Emmy Awards, two Golden Globes and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
After a brief hiatus from features due to "Picket Fences," Baker returned to play the sister-in-law of a man (Peter Gallagher) having difficulty getting over his late wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) in "To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday" (1996). The following year, she had a pivotal role as the strong and sensitive matriarch of a family with a secret in the period drama "Inventing the Abbotts," starring Liv Tyler, Joaquin Phoenix and Billy Crudup. She next was featured in the anthology series "Gun" (ABC, 1997), before playing a community activist working to lessen the rising influence of white supremacists in the fact-based television movie "Not In This Town" (USA Network, 1997). Following a turn in the original cable movie "Weapons of Mass Distraction" (HBO, 1997), Baker delivered an emotionally affecting performance as a survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing who must deal with the resulting psychological turmoil in "Oklahoma City: A Survivor's Story" (Lifetime, 1998). She next landed a morally challenging, recurring role as a woman accused of murdering a baby on David E. Kelley's legal drama "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004) before playing the embattled head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in the pilot-turned-two hour movie "ATF" (ABC, 1999).
An accomplished player who was uniquely able to bring added dimension to her portrayals, Baker elevated the sentimental holiday TV movie "A Season for Miracles" (CBS, 1999) with her multifaceted portrayal of a social worker whose ideas do not always jibe with an easy happy ending. She returned to the big screen with a supporting role in Lasse Hallstrom's Oscar-nominated feature "The Cider House Rules" (1999) and added spark to her dual role as a pampered soap opera star/plain shopkeeper in the impressive children's fantasy film "Ratz" (Showtime, 2000). The same cable network premiered "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her" (2001), which debuted at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. In this episodic romantic drama, Baker essayed a single mother and children's book author who finds love with a dwarf (Danny Woodburn). Meanwhile, the actress picked up back-to-back Emmy nods in 2000 and 2001 for her guest turns on "Touched by an Angel" (CBS, 1994-2003) and "Boston Public" (ABC, 2000-04), respectively. Following a supporting turn in the thriller "The Glass House" (2001), Baker appeared opposite star and director Robert Duvall in "Assassination Tango" (2002) before earning an Emmy nomination for her performance as a reclusive alcoholic who helps a down-and-out salesman (William H. Macy) in "Door to Door" (TNT, 2002).
In "Cold Mountain" (2003), Baker was a kindly neighbor who, along with her husband (James Gammon), helps a city woman (Nicole Kidman) adjust to her lonely life on the farm. After an appearance in the ensemble cast of Rodrigo García's "Nine Lives" (2005), which consisted of vignettes offering glimpses into the lives of nine women, she landed the recurring role as Joe's mother, who is able to communicate with his psychic wife (Patricia Arquette), on the long-running procedural "Medium" (NBC/CBS, 2005-2011). She next had a supporting role opposite Sean Penn and Kate Winslet in the rather dull adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's seminal novel "All the King's Men" (2006), before playing a matriarchal yoga enthusiast in the more well-received romantic drama "The Jane Austen Book Club" (2007). Following a recurring role on the short-lived drama "Saving Grace" (TNT, 2007-2010), Baker appeared in episodes of such popular shows as "Law & Order: SVU" (NBC, 1999- ), "Gilmore Girls" (The WB/The CW, 2000-07) and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC/USA, 2001-2011). She went on to play Wendy Paulson, wife of former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (William Hurt), in the acclaimed cable movie "Too Big to Fail" (HBO, 2011), which chronicled the people and events of the 2008 financial meltdown that nearly destroyed the global economy.
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CAST: (feature film)
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"'Jacknife' could have just been this buddy movie about a Vietnam vet coming back to find another one, but when you throw a woman into a movie, well, well, well. I loved 'Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown'. Movies should always have women in them to shake things up. Not just to tag along with the guys. Not this lover/wife/mother baloney. I mean all kinds of women.
"When I first saw the script for 'Clean and Sober' it looked like 'Flashdance' to me. The woman's part calls for a 'beautiful blonde' working in a steel mill. Twenty-five-years old. I auditioned anyway." --Kathy Baker quoted in The New York Times, March 5, 1989.
Baker on abandoning acting school in the early 1970s: "I was brought up in a very polite household and I didn't feel happy doing that violent, '70s kind of 'Oh, Calcutta' theater.
We were all told that we would have to be completely naked on stage, have blood thrown all over us. Genet came to visit us with a play, and in it a guy was naked, hanging from chains and everybody threw blood all over him. That's admirable. That's kamikaze acting, but I wasn't going to do it with Joe Blow or Fred Normal in acting class on a Thursday afternoon." --quoted in The New York Times, March 5, 1989.
Sam Shepard on Kathy Baker: "To me the main characteristic about her is that she'll sort of go right off the cliff for you. In 'Fool For Love', there was a lot of emotional territory that was scary. It was very volatile and physical, and she was up against an actor [Ed Harris] who was equally as unpredictable. The two of them wound up with all kinds of bruises on their bodies." --quoted in Premiere, April 1989.
"I do start dressing like the character. I can't go to the set wearing something that isn't similar to the character. I could never wear a pair of jeans to the set of 'Jacknife'. I don't think I wore a dress for six months while I was doing 'Clean and Sober.'" --Baker to Premiere, April 1989.
"People just want to watch her. She doesn't have that kind of classic beauty. She has something inside of her that makes men find her so sexy. When Kathy was getting the job of 'Clean and Sober', I remember the director telling me, 'She's concerned that she's not physically attractive enough.' And I thought, 'She doesn't have anything to worry about there.'"--co-star Michael Keaton on Kathy Baker, quoted in The New York Times, March 31, 1997.
Baker on the network's dismissal of the critically acclaimed "Picket Fences": "It was like no matter how many good report cards we brought home, Mommy and Daddy were still never happy." --quoted in ^The New York Times, March 31, 1997.
"I'm at the point im my career where life's too short, I want to work with people I enjoy hanging out with." --quoted in the New York Post, April 14, 1997.
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