A prominent indie director of strongly feminist films, Kimberly Peirce broke through with her first feature, "Boys Don't Cry" (1999), a searing look at the life and tragic death of transman Brendon Teena that earned widespread critical acclaim and earned a Best Actress Oscar for the then-unknown Hilary Swank. Openly lesbian in her own life, Peirce moved on to direct an episode of the popular series "The L Word" (Showtime, 2004-09), but expanded her horizons by directing the Iraq War-themed "Stop-Loss" (2008), which was inspired, in part, by her own brother's experiences in the war. From there, she ventured into the horror realm by directing the third adaptation of Stephen King's notorious novel, "Carrie" (2013). Though she directed only a handful of projects for a good portion of her career, Peirce remained a prominent voice for feminist issues and beyond.
Peirce was born on Sept. 8, 1967.in Harrisburg, PA, where she lived until the age of four and where her father's family had been mainstays of the town. As a kid, Peirce was fascinated by the notions of femininity and masculinity, prompting her to form a group which she dubbed her "Tomboy Club." Peirce's upbringing extended to family moves to New York and Puerto Rico, then Miami, where she attended Miami Sunset High School. After graduating high school, Peirce left Florida to study at the University of Chicago. Running out of tuition money, she took some time off to head to Japan to teach English and work in Kobe as a photographer. After two years, she went back to school and was able to finish up with a dual degree in both English and Japanese literature. Looking for a serious career direction, Peirce opted to go to film school and was accepted into the film program at Columbia University, returning to New York City in 1990.
Early in 1994, Peirce became familiar with Brandon Teena's story while working on her thesis film, about the true story of a woman who had posed as man to fight in the Civil War. Engaged by a Village Voice article on Teena's late-1993 murder, she decided to visit the farmhouse site of the murder in Falls City, NE and witness the courtroom trial of one of his killers, Tom Nissen. In 1995, Peirce went on to film a short version of "Boys Don't Cry" while at Columbia, which sprung from the screenplay she had meticulously written with the help of Andy Bienen, a writer she had befriended in the program. Bienen assisted Peirce over a tough writing process that stretched well beyond a year. The director went back to Falls City in 1996, met with coroners and law figures involved in the case, interviewed Teena's love interest Lana Tisdale and her mother, and amassed an unfathomably large amount of court documents. Peirce spent over three years trying to find a Brandon for the feature version, intent on hiring a female actor as opposed to a transgendered one. It was a difficult search, compounded by the reluctance of known actors to take the gamble and actors who just were not a proper fit.
Peirce finally chose the somewhat unknown Hillary Swank, an actress then best known as the successor to Ralph Macchio in "The Next Karate Kid" (1994). Swank had submitted the most convincing audition Peirce had seen via tape and so flew to New York to audition in person and dressed in character. It was one month before Peirce was ready to shoot her movie and knew she had found her perfect Brandon Teena. Shot over 30 days in Dallas and its surrounding parts in the latter part of 1998, "Boys Don't Cry" was picked up by Fox Searchlight for final tweaks after Peirce showed a 20-minute section of the movie at the Sundance festival in early 1999. Released in the fall, the movie went on to become a critical and financial success, as well as make a major star out of Swank. Peirce herself won a National Board of Review Award that year for her direction and an Independent Spirit Ward in 2000, which she shared with the producers in the category of "Best First Feature Over $500,000." Still, the film's biggest accolades were reserved for the performers themselves, most notably at that year's Oscars where Chloe Sevigny was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Swank won the Best Actress statuette. Still, the movie left a sour impression on Tisdale, as portrayed onscreen by Sevigny, who ended up suing the studio in a suit that was later settled out of court.
Following "Boys Don't Cry," Peirce was permanently settled in New York and looking towards future projects. Over the years, her name would be attached to various prestige projects, including a brief flirtation with adaptations of novels such as Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius in 2003, then, more notably, Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, following Steven Spielberg's departure from the director's chair. "Memoirs" was ultimately made in 2005 by "Chicago" (2002) helmer Rob Marshall. At the start of 2006, Peirce had her first formal credit since "Boys" after directing an episode of Showtime's lesbian drama "The L Word" (2004-09). From there, she directed her next feature, "Stop-Loss" (2008), which starred Ryan Phillippe as an Iraq War soldier returned home to Texas who is recalled to service via the military's stop-loss procedure, but refuses to return to battle. Despite relatively good reviews, the film made only $10 million at the box office. After spending a good five years in development on a number of projects, Peirce returned to the director's chair to helm the third adaptation of Stephen King's classic horror novel, "Carrie" (2013), which starred Chloë Grace Moretz as the telekinetic Carrie White and Julianne Moore as her religiously zealot of a mother.
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Helmed the experimental 16-minute short "The Last Good Breath"; screened on the festival circuit
Assistant editor of Cheryl Dunye's short "Greetings From Africa"
Edited Shawn Atkins' experimental 16mm animated film "Anastasia and the Queen of Hearts"
Directed a short film based on the rape and murder of Brandon Teena, "Take It Like a Man"
Participated in the Filmmaker's Lab at the Sundance Institute to work on "Boys Don't Cry" (then titled "Take It Like a Man")
Feature directorial debut, "Boys Don't Cry"; also co-wrote with Andy Bienen
Directed an episode of the Showtime television series "The L Word"
Co-wrote (also directed) the war drama, "Stop-Loss"