Character actress Phyllis Somerville worked primarily on stage for the first half of her four-decade career before her appearance in the Oscar-nominated "Little Children" (2006) transformed her into a much-sought-after performer in film and television. Cast frequently as motherly figures with a wrinkle of complexity to their makeup, Somerville began acting on screen in the early '80s, but did not find her breakout role until "Children," which cast her as the mother of Jackie Earle Haley's accused sexual predator. Her enormously sympathetic turn won critical praise and brought her to the attention of filmmakers ranging from David Fincher, who cast her in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008) and his "House of Cards" (Netflix, 2013- ) remake, as well as Chan-wook Park ("Stoker," 2013). Though a latecomer to widespread fame, Phyllis Somerville's inherent talent underscored her status as one of the more dependable players in any age range.
Born in Iowa City, Iowa in 1944, Phyllis Somerville's father was a Methodist minister whose appreciation for the arts provided her with an introduction to the theater at an early age through college stage productions and touring companies. She began her own acting career in Washington, D.C. in the 1970s, eventually working her way to Broadway in 1974 with the nostalgic musical "Over Here!" which also featured fellow up-and-coming performers John Travolta and Marilu Henner among its cast. Somerville would remain a theater mainstay until 1981, when she made her screen debut with a minor role in the comedy "Arthur." She would then return to the stage in a variety of productions, including Marsha Norman's acclaimed "'Night, Mother" on Broadway in 1983, before launching her film and television acting career in the mid-1990s. Small roles in features and guest appearances on episodic series comprised the majority of her work, most notably a 1996 episode of "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005) as Kim Delaney's mother, who is accused of murdering her abusive husband.
After two decades as a working screen actress, Somerville finally gained her breakout role as Jackie Earle Haley's beloved mother in Todd Field's "Little Children." Though Haley earned the lion's share of the critical praise, as well as an Oscar nomination for his performance, many media observers also singled out Somerville's turn as a mother whose love for her son surpassed any misgivings about the path of his life. The success of the film led to increased work for the actress, including David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which brought her a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. From 2010 to 2013, she played Marlene, the elderly neighbor and confidante to Laura Linney's cancer patient in "The Big C" (Showtime). Somerville also enjoyed showcase roles in such high profile projects as Chan-wook Park's thriller "Stoker" (2013) and "House of Cards," playing another matronly figure, this time the mother of a U.S. Representative (Corey Stoll) nearly brought down by the series' scheming anti-hero, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey).
Cast (Feature Film)
Broadway debut in "Over Here!"
First screen appearance in "Arthur"
Breakout film role in "Little Children"
First collaboration with David Fincher on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Played Laura Linney's neighbor on "The Big C"
Played Nicole Kidman's ill-fated housekeeper in Chan-wook Park's "Stoker"
Guest appearance in episode of Fincher's "House of Cards"