Acting was always Mary-Louise's passion and she graduated
from the North Carolina School of the Arts with acting as her
major. She then got her start in a bit part on the soap opera
In the late '80s, Mary-Louise Parker traveled to New York where she got a job measuring feet at Ecco. After a few minor roles, she made her Broadway debut in a 1990 production of Craig Lucas's Prelude to a Kiss, playing the main role of Rita. For her performance she won the Clarence Derwent Award and was nominated for a Tony award. Parker also briefly dated her co-star Timothy Hutton. However, when the play was made into a film, Meg Ryan took over Parker's role.
That same year, Mary-Louise Parker was noticed by critics worldwide when she appeared in the movie adaptation of another Craig Lucas play, the poignant Longtime Companion, one of the first movies to truly deal with AIDS.
This role was followed by her appearance in Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) alongside Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kathy Bates and Cicely Tyson.
Parker maintained a strong theater presence in the early 1990s, but also maintained her reputation on the big screen, starring with Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones in The Client (1994); with John Cusack in Bullets Over Broadway (1994); and then playing an AIDS sufferer in Boys on the Side (1995), with Drew Barrymore and Whoopi Goldberg. She followed this up with a movie adaptation of yet another Craig Lucas play, Reckless (1995), alongside Mia Farrow and then in Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady (1996) which also starred Nicole Kidman, Viggo Mortensen, Christian Bale, John Malkovich and Barbara Hershey. In 1997, she appeared alongside Matthew Modine in Tim Hunter's The Maker.
Mary-Louise Parker did not become an instant household name, but rather a darling of the critics. Her theater career continued to flourish when she appeared in Paula Vogel's 1997 critical smash How I Learned To Drive, with David Morse. After several independent film releases, she appeared in Let The Devil Wear Black and then a much-lauded role in 1999's The Five Senses.
In 2001, Mary-Louise appeared alongside Len Cariou in David Auburn's Proof on Broadway, and among the praise showered on her was the much-coveted Tony award. However, Parker again lost out when the play was made into a film and the role was given to Gwyneth Paltrow. But whatever her theatrical aspirations, she would leave the stage for three years as her profile soared and she found roles wherever she looked: among them, the Silence of the Lambs prequel Red Dragon and Pipe Dream (2002).
Next up was a guest role on the NBC drama, The West Wing, as women's rights activist Amelia 'Amy' Gardner, which soon became a recurring role. Beginning in 2001, her character became Chief of Staff to the First Lady, became a love interest for neurotic Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman, and provided another female voice in a show publicly criticised for its lack of high-level political women. For this role, Parker was nominated for an Emmy, and a Screen Actors Guild award. Around the fifth season Parker became pregnant and her character was written out of the series after five episodes of the fifth season. She was later to return in 2005.
In November 2003, Mary-Louise Parker split with long-time boyfriend Billy Crudup, after a seven year relationship which began when they met in a 1996 theater reprisal of the Marilyn Monroe film Bus Stop.
On December 7 2003, HBO aired an epic six-and-a-half hour adaptation of Tony Kushner's acclaimed Broadway play Angels in America, directed by Mike Nichols. The miniseries - about a group of lost souls in New York during the AIDS epidemic of the '80s - was internationally acclaimed by many critics. Parker played Harper Pitt, the valium-addicted wife of a gay lawyer in the closet, and - among its many awards - Parker received the Golden Globe and Emmy awards for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries. On January 7, 2004 - two months after her split from Billy Crudup - Parker gave birth to their son, William Atticus.
In 2004, Mary-Louise Parker appeared in the Christian comedy Saved!, and a TV movie called Miracle Run based on the true story of a mother with two autistic sons, as well as appearing in Craig Lucas's Reckless on Broadway. Parker took the lead role that had been Mia Farrow's on screen. The production, directed by Mark Brokaw, was critically acclaimed during its run and earned Parker a nomination for another Tony award for Best Actress at the 2005 ceremony.
In 2005, Mary-Louise Parker reprised her West Wing role for one episode. She also starred with Tom Skerritt in the CBS television film Vinegar Hill as a down-on-her-luck schoolteacher who, with her family, moves in with her in-laws only to discover their bitter, loveless relationship.
Parker plays the lead role on the black comedy television series, Weeds, which airs on Showtime. Parker plays a suburban mother who, following the death of her husband, decides to sell marijuana to make money, while also attempting to maintain her profile in the community. Her Angels in America co-star Justin Kirk, and Elizabeth Perkins also star. The first season finished in October 2005, with a second due to start filming in early 2006.
In November 2005, Mary-Louise Parker was honored with an exhibition of her career at Boston University, where memorabilia from her career were donated to the University's Library.
Parker is currently filming The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, an Andrew Dominik film starring Casey Affleck, Robert Duvall and Garret Dillahunt. She'll reportedly be playing Zerelda Mimms.
Parker also stars in John Turturro's musical movie Romance & Cigarettes. Initially scheduled to premiere in mid-2005, the film was postponed to premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and will receive a full release in early 2006.
Mary-Louise Parker received the 2006 Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a TV Series - Musical or Comedy, given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for her lead role in Weeds. She dedicated the award to the late John Spencer, best known for his work as Leo McGarry on The West Wing. After receiving the award, Parker stated: "I'm really in favor of legalizing marijuana. I don't think it's that controversial."
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