Family & Companions
Though she suffered from a few disappointments early in her career, actress Robin Tunney held fast to her drive and determination to become a well-established film and television performer. After making her start in several local productions in her native Chicago, Tunney moved west to Los Angeles, where she began working almost immediately, though in less-than-ideal fare like "Encino Man" (1992). But a few years later, she was capturing attention with a breakthrough performance as a suicidal teen in "Empire Records" (1995), which led to higher-profile roles in "The Craft" (1996) and "The End of Days" (1999). While appearing in blockbuster films, Tunney had her biggest impact on the small screen, landing a prominent starring gig on the first season of "Prison Break" (Fox, 2005-09), which she followed with a leading role on the hit crime procedural "The Mentalist" (CBS, 2008-15). While not a household name, Tunney nonetheless earned a reputation as a capable actress who managed to build a viable career despite her early setbacks.
Born on June 19, 1972 in Chicago, IL, Tunney was raised on the south side as the youngest of four children by her car salesman father, who emigrated from Ireland, and her bartender mother. After watching "Grease" (1978) innumerable times as a young girl, Tunney knew that she wanted to be an actress. The road, however, was far from smooth. When she was eight, Tunney auditioned for "Annie" alongside her 11-year-old sister, Susan, and was faced with bitter disappointment when her sibling received a callback and she did not. But Tunney remained undeterred, even at such a young age. She landed television commercials and performed on the stage. Meanwhile, her athletic ambitions ended with a knee injury during her freshman year at St. Ignatius College Prepatory High School. After her junior year, Tunney tired of the highly-competitive school and transferred to Carl Sandburg High School in Palos Heights, where, during her senior year, she won a contest to have a meet-and-greet dinner with director John Waters.
The result of her meeting with Waters was an audition for a part in "Blue Sky" (1994), directed by Tony Richardson. But the opportunity quickly turned to embarrassment when Tunney ran from the room crying, unable to say her lines. All was not lost, however, following her high school graduation. When she was 18, Tunney moved to Los Angeles in full pursuit of an acting career, even sacrificing her initial plans to go to college. With money made from being a waitress and local theater credits like "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" and "Bus Stop" tucked under her cap, Tunney drove west and managed to get her career going, thanks to already having an agent. Almost immediately, she landed a role on the CBS Schoolbreak Special "But He Loves Me" (1991) and on an episode of the family drama "Life Goes On" (ABC, 1989-1993). She made her television movie debut in "Perry Mason: The Case of the Reckless Romeo" (NBC, 1992), which she followed with a recurring role on the short-lived drama "Class of '96" (Fox, 1993). In her first regular series role, she played a manicurist on the equally short-lived sitcom, "Cutters" (CBS, 1993).
Despite the initial setbacks, Tunney had her career on a forward-moving track. Following her feature debut in the woeful comedy "Encino Man" (1992), she won praise for her performance as Kathleen Kennedy in the two-part miniseries, "JFK: Reckless Youth" (ABC, 1993). She garnered critical notice for her turn as a suicidal youth in Allen Moyle's ensemble drama "Empire Records" (1995), which she followed with her first leading role in Andrew Fleming's supernatural "The Craft" (1996), playing a newcomer to a Catholic school who bonds with three other outcasts. She went on to win critical accolades for her performance as a woman with Tourette's syndrome in "Niagara, Niagara" (1997), a performance that earned her the Best Actress-Cuppa Volpe at the 1997 Venice Film Festival, a 1999 Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Female Lead, and the heart of director Bob Fosse, whom she married later that year. Following a leading turn in the off-kilter drama "Julian Po" (1997), Tunney raised her profile after being tapped to co-star alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the apocalyptic action thriller "End of Days" (1999), playing a woman who enlists the help of a down-and-out bodyguard (Schwarzenegger) after being targeted by Satan himself (Gabriel Byrne).
After the visually arresting action flick, "Vertical Limit" (2000) and the limp sci-fi thriller "Supernova" (2000), Tunney ditched big payday roles in rather mediocre studio pictures for more challenging fare. She appeared opposite Nick Nolte in director Alan Rudolph's period piece "Investigating Sex" (2001), playing one of a pair of stenographers employed to engage in frank sexual discussions with a group of 1920s bohemians and their mentor (Nolte). She also gave a tour de force performance as a romantically confused woman placed under house arrest in the difficult, but uneven comic thriller "Cherish" (2002), and had a supporting role in the tragic-comedy "The Secret Lives of Dentists" (2002) before returning to the mainstream in the ill-advised remake of the comedy classic "The In-Laws" (2003), playing the distrustful, tough-as-nails partner of a CIA agent (Michael Douglas). In "Paparazzi" (2004), she was the wife of a famous celebrity (Cole Hauser) seriously injured in an accident caused by overzealous photographers.
With a return to regular series television, she portrayed the lawyer and childhood friend of a structural engineer (Wentworth Miller) who hatches an elaborate escape plan to free his brother from prison on the first season of "Prison Break" (Fox, 2005-09). Back on the big screen, she was a gas station worker who takes a shine to the secretive new guy (Aaron Stanford) in the thriller "Runaway" (2005), which she followed with a turn as the wife of a Bay Area detective (Justin Chambers) who becomes obsessed with finding an elusive serial killer in "The Zodiac" (2006). She next played the real-life Leonore Lemmon, a famed socialite and aspiring actress who was engaged to actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck) in the underappreciated ode to noir, "Hollywoodland" (2006). After playing a wife who is raped and descends into a deep depression that threatens her marriage in the cable movie "Open Window" (Showtime, 2007), Tunney returned again to series television with "The Mentalist" (CBS, 2008-15), playing an agent for the fictional California Bureau of Investigation, which utilizes the talents of an astute medium (Simon West) who is also an admitted fraud.
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Special Thanks (TV Mini-Series)
TV debut in the CBS Schoolbreak Special, "But He Loves Me"
At age 18, moved to Los Angeles
Made TV-movie debut in NBC's "Perry Mason: The Case of the Reckless Romeo"
Had a recurring role on the short-lived FOX series, "Class of '96"
Made regular series debut on the short-lived CBS sitcom, "Cutters"
Feature film debut, "Encino Man"
Played a suicidal teenager in "Empire Records"
First leading role in a feature, "The Craft"
Breakthrough screen role in "Niagara, Niagara"
Played a virgin pursued by Satan in the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, "End of Days"
Starred as a mountain climber who becomes trapped in an ice cave in "Vertical Limit"
Earned rave reviews for her work in "Cherish"
Appeared in the comedy, "The Secret Lives of Dentists"
Cast in "Paparazzi" about a celebrity who turns the tables on a persistent photographer; produced by Mel Gibson
Played Michael Scofield's attorney on the first season of "Prison Break" (FOX)
Played actor George Reeves' fiancie and aspiring starlet, Leonore Lemmon in "Hollywoodland"
Co-starred with Justin Chambers in the thriller, "Zodiac"
Cast as Agent Teresa Lisbon in the CBS series, "The Mentalist"