Family & Companions
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) and the Hollywood biopic "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013), as well as a sly comic presence on Ben Stiller's statirical TV series "Big Time Hollywood, FL" (Comedy Central 2015), 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. Working steadily, Baker continued to appear in projects ranging from Christian sports drama "Seven Days in Utopia" (2011) to "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013), a film about the making of Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins" (1964) starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. Supporting roles in romantic fantasy "The Age of Adaline" (2015) and Ben Stiller-produced satiric comedy "Big Time in Hollywood FL" (Comedy Central 2015) preceded a recurring role on "The Ranch" (Netflix 2016- ), a western comedy starrying Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson as estranged brothers in rural Colorado.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Successfully auditioned for the CalArts acting program; attended for one year and subsequently dropped out
Moved to Paris to study cooking at Le Cordon Bleu
Returned to California
Made Off-Broadway debut reprising role in "Fool For Love"
Film acting debut in "The Right Stuff", starring Shepard and Harris
Had early television credit as co-star in the fact-based TV-movie "Nobody's Child" (CBS)
First feature leading role, "My Sister's Keeper"
Co-starred as a doomed prostitute in the feature "Street Smart"
Guest starred on episodes of "Amazing Stories" (NBC) and "Mariah" (ABC)
Co-starred with Michael Keaton as a recovering drug addict in "Clean and Sober"
Played the mother of a suicidal teen in the moving drama "Permanent Record"
Starred with Robert De Niro as a spinster schoolteacher who puts her life on hold to watch over her troubled brother (Ed Harris) in the drama feature "Jacknife"
Had a memorable featured role as a flirty neighbor smitten with Johnny Depp in "Edward Scissorhands"
Featured in the HBO original film "The Image"
Starred in the NBC TV-movie "One Special Victory"
First role as a TV series regular, "Picket Fences" (CBS), won three Emmy Awards playing the wife of the town sheriff in this quirky drama-comedy created by David E. Kelley
Was a supporting player in the comedy "Article 99" and the thriller "Jennifer 8"
Reteamed with De Niro in "Mad Dog and Glory"
Featured in the independent drama "Lush Life" (Showtime)
Played the sister-in-law of a man mourning his wife's death in "To Gillian on her 37th Birthday"
Featured on the ABC anthology series "Gun"
Featured in the HBO original TV-movie "Weapons of Mass Distraction"
Starred in the fact-based TV-movie "Not in This Town" (USA Network) as a community activist working to lessen the influence of white supremecists
Played a widowed mother of two sons in the period drama "Inventing the Abbotts"
Starred as a survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing who struggles to deal with her life after the tragedy in Lifetime's "Oklahoma City: A Survivor's Story"
Had a recurring role on "The Practice" (ABC) as a woman accused of murdering a baby
Had featured role as one of the nurses at the orphanage in Lasse Hallstrom's adaptation "The Cider House Rules"
Reteamed with director Michael Pressman as a single-minded social worker in the holiday drama "A Season for Miracles" (CBS)
Had featured role in the Sundance-screened episodic film "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her"; aired on Showtime in 2001
Starred as a woman who employs a magic ring to make her ordinary life spectacular in the Showtime original children's movie "Ratz"
Earned an Emmy nomination for a guest appearance on "Touched By an Angel" (CBS)
Received sixth career Emmy nomination for guest role of a controling mother on Fox's "Boston Public," created by David E. Kelley; joined cast as series regular during the 2001-02 season
Co-starred in the thriller "The Glass House"
Acted opposite Robert Duvall in "Assassination Tango"
Played Gladys in the made for television movie "Door to Door"; received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a TV-movie
Featured in "Cold Mountain," which starred Nicole Kidman and Jude Law
Played Jennifer Garner's mother in the coming-of-age romantic comedy "13 Going on 30"
Cast in the ensemble "Nine Lives"; Rodrigo García directs a series of vignettes, offering glimpses into the lives of nine women
Joined the cast of supernatural drama series "Medium" (NBC, CBS) in the recurring role of Marjorie Dubois
Cast in the feature adatation of "The Jane Austen Book Club," as Bernadette a 67-years-young yoga enthusiast
Co-starred with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in "Last Chance Harvey"
Cast in the action drama feature "Machine Gun Preacher," starring Gerard Butler
Cast in the drama "Take Shelter" opposite Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain
Acted alongside Drew Barrymore in "Big Miracle," a drama centered on a campaign to save a family of gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle
Appeared in the period film "The Age of Adaline "
Appeared on a number of episodes of the series "Colony"