A prolific character actress from the mid-1980s into the 21st century, Ann Dowd worked steadily if largely anonymously in television and features like "Philadelphia" (1993), "Garden State" (2004) and "Flags of Our Fathers" (2006) before breaking out with a stellar supporting turn in the grueling indie feature "Compliance" (2012). She began her career in Chicago theater, netting several awards for her stage work before moving into television and features in 1985. Dowd worked her way up from bit roles to supporting turns, often as mothers with varying degrees of warmth, before winning critical accolades as a fast food restaurant manager who appeared to blindly acquiesce to an unseen caller's cruel demands upon her workers in "Compliance." The performance vaulted Dowd to national attention, and signaled what seemed to most as the beginning of a new phase in her career.
Dowd initially pursued a career as a health professional at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. Performing in plays was a secondary consideration, but with the encouragement of teachers and friends, she decided to make acting her primary goal. After graduating in 1978, she studied at the Theatre School at DePaul University and earned a master's degree from the Goodman School of Drama. Dowd soon began performing on Chicago's celebrated theater scene, earning Joseph Jefferson Citations for Outstanding Performances in 1983 and 1984 and finally claiming the award for Best Supporting Actress in 1987. Dowd's screen career began in 1985, and soon led to bit and supporting roles in features like "Lorenzo's Oil" (1992) and the Oscar-winning "Philadelphia" (1993). That same year, she claimed the Clarence Derwent Award for Most Promising Female for her turn in a production of George Bernard Shaw's "Candida."
Dowd progressed to more substantive film and television roles in the 1990s, including Rose McConnell Long, wife of Governor Huey P. Long and Louisiana's first female senator, in "Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long" (TNT, 1995) and the much-lauded but controversial "Nothing Sacred" (ABC, 1997-98) as a feminist nun, which garnered a Q Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Quality Television series. Dowd also played her share of mother figures in projects ranging from "Shiloh" (1995) and "Apt Pupil" (1998) to the acclaimed "Freaks and Geeks" (NBC, 1999-2000), which cast her as the matriarch of Kim Kelly's (Busy Phillips) dysfunctional household. In 2004, she earned one of her better showcases as Natalie Portman's garrulous mother in Zach Braff's cult favorite "Garden State," which preceded a string of supporting roles in major features like Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" (2006), "Marley & Me" (2008) and Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!" (2008).
In 2012, Dowd received her star-making role in "Compliance," a polarizing thriller about the staff of a fast food restaurant under siege by an unknown caller posing as a police officer. Dowd was top-billed as the restaurant's manager, whose belittlement at the hands of her employees appeared to fuel her strict adherence to the caller's requests, which required her to humiliate and abuse a member (Dreama Walker) of her staff. While critics and audiences were divided over the film's content and the behavior of its characters, nearly all parties were unified in their praise for Dowd's performance, which soon attracted considerable buzz during the beginning of the 2012-13 awards season. In November of that year, Dowd picked up her first major nomination with a Best Supporting Actress nod from the Independent Spirit Awards. She was soon in demand as a featured player in a number of independent films, from the bawdy comedy "The Bachelorette" (2012) to the gritty drama "Gimme Shelter" (2013).
By Paul Gaita
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made TV acting debut in CBS movie "First Steps"
Feature film debut, "Green Card" opposite Gérard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell
Won Clarence Derwent Award for her performance in the play "Candida"
Acted alongside Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in "Philadelphia"
Co-starred on ABC series "Nothing Sacred" as Sister Maureen 'Mo' Brody
Played supporting role in Lucille Ball TV biopic "Lucy" (CBS)
Portrayed title character's mother in HBO film "The Notorious Bettie Page"
Directed by Clint Eastwood in "Flags of Our Fathers"
Cast alongside Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson in feature adaptation of "Marley & Me"
Played an FBI agent in Steven Soderbergh directed "The Informant!"
Co-starred in the dark drama "Compliance" as the manager of a fast-food restaurant