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Illeana Douglas

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Illeana Douglas
Ileana Douglas cropped.jpg
Illeana Douglas at the Streamy Awards, 2009
Born Illeana Hesselberg[1]
(1965-07-25) July 25, 1965 (age 49)
Quincy, Massachusetts[1]
United States
Occupation Actress
Years active 1987–present
Spouse(s) Jonathan Axelrod
(1998–2001; divorced)

Illeana Douglas (born July 25, 1965) is an American actress, director, screenwriter, and producer.

Early life

Douglas was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Joan Hesselberg (née Georgescu),[2] a schoolteacher, and Gregory Hesselberg, a painter.[3] Douglas had two older brothers, the late Stefan Gregor Hesselberg,[2][4] a technician in the histology laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who also trained racehorses in Verona, Italy, and Erik Hesselberg, a journalist.[5] Douglas grew up in Connecticut, but said that really she grew up all over, in Massachusetts (where her father lived), Connecticut (where her mother lived), and New York (where her extended family lived), going back and forth between relatives for summers during her youth.[6][7]

Douglas said that her parents were heavily influenced by the 1970s hippy culture—her father especially by the movie, Easy Rider—and parented with an artsy philosophy, where the kids were not pressured to go to college. Comedy albums were really big in her family. The family would put on dramatic interpretations and performances.[7]

Douglas' mother's side is Italian[8] and Catholic[7] and were from Astoria, Queens near Ditmars Boulevard in New York City. Her maternal grandmother worked at Gertz', in the department store's restaurant in Astoria and her maternal grandfather was a welder.[6] Douglas said that her maternal grandmother was a former Rockette, had really wanted to be an actor and dreamed of being in show business, so she instilled in Douglas a love for the movies, taking her to the movies all the time as a child.[7]

Douglas' father's side is German-Jewish on paternal great grandfather's side, and Southern on her paternal great grandmother's side. As a child she would visit her grandfather, the actor Melvyn Douglas, in his apartment in Manhattan on the Upper West Side as well as his beautiful mansion on Senalda Road off Outpost Drive in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles.[6] In contrast to her half summers with her maternal grandmother in Queens, Douglas said her summers with Melvyn Douglas were about experiencing with him his love of theater and elocution and reading, art, and history.[7]

Douglas paternal grandfather was the actor Melvyn Douglas from his first marriage to artist Rosalind Hightower. Douglas has said that her grandfather's performance in Being There, in particular, was influential on her own career.[9][10] Douglas said that her grandfather and Peter Sellers had "met in the 1940s in Burma (during World War II) and met again in London during the '60s.... They often reminisced about the war days while on the set."[9] During high school Douglas visited the movie set while they were shooting on location in Asheville, North Carolina and got to meet Peter Sellers, a very big deal to her as she was already a big fan of from his movies. It was the first time she was on a film set.[7]

Her paternal great-grandfather was Latvian-born composer and pianist Edouard Hesselberg.[11][12]

Douglas said that growing up she was both an insider and an outsider, which is reflected in her career, that there was a contrast between her working-class Italian roots and the glamorous Hollywood world of her paternal side of her family. Famous people like Myrna Loy, Gore Vidal, Gloria Steinem, politicians, writers, and others were always around in a salon-type world. Even so, Douglas said she feels more Italian than the other side of her family, that she developed more "rhythms and ways" from the Italian side of her family because she spent more time with that part of her family in Queens, but also had the contrast of a childhood based on the shoreline of Connecticut, in the Old Saybrook area. Douglas said it took her a long time to figure out the contrasting diversity, to put both halves of her family upbringing together.[6]


In 1981, after graduating from high school, Douglas moved to New York City when she was 17 years old.[6] Obsessed with the movies from her childhood, Douglas said she wanted to be in show business.[7] She stayed with relatives in various temporary arrangements. Douglas attended American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she was a contemporary of the Canadian actor, Elias Koteas, and Lou Mustillo (Mike and Molly). Lou Mustillo and Douglas, after the first year, were not asked back to school.[6]

After this, when she was 18, Douglas went to work for Steve Rubell at the hotel called Morgans. While there, Douglas decided to reinvent herself and began attending Neighborhood Playhouse, where she said she really found herself and studied with the acting teacher, Richard Pinter.[6]

She was in a sketch comedy group called Manhattan Punchline and while she was doing that one of the troupe members suggested she try stand-up comedy.[7] Douglas briefly worked as a stand-up comic at Stand Up New York, the writing and acting part was not a problem, but she found the performing very difficult. Douglas said the other women were doing very graphic comedy she didn't care for and she didn't really like the lifestyle.[6][7]

Not much later, Douglas' first role was a small role in the Martin Scorsese segment New York Stories.[13]

On getting the role: "I was working for a publicist named Peggy Siegal, and I had given my picture and résumé to Martin Scorsese’s casting director." Nothing came of that but "I’m working for Peggy Siegal, and down the hall, they’re doing the editing for Last Temptation. One day, Marty’s assistant—this girl named Julia Judge, who had gotten me the job working for Peggy—said, 'You’re an actress, right? They’re looking for someone to dub screams for Mary Magdalene.' And I said, 'It says right on my résumé: "Special skills: bloodcurdling scream"'—because you have to have something funny or interesting to get a job. Sure enough, she’s like, 'Can you come down at 5 and just, like, scream for Marty?' So that’s how I met everybody. I met Thelma [Schoonmaker], Michael Powell was there. It was insane. They were all sitting there in the dark, and they’re like, 'Well, let’s hear it.' So I did my scream, and they all laughed and applauded. They said, 'That’s horrible! How do you do that?' I said, 'I work for a publicist. It’s pretty easy.' They laughed and said, 'We’re doing this thing tonight. Can you come by? It’s no money. Just doing crowd voices.' So I ended up doing all these different crowd voices—you know, 'Kill the Romans!' and stuff like that. The next day, I did my scream for the burning of Jerusalem scene, and then they just kept calling me again and saying, 'Could you do a couple of lines for Jesus’ mother?' Every time I’d come back, we would talk more and more about movies—you know, I’d quote something from Twentieth Century, and Marty was very impressed by that. I couldn’t figure out if they really needed me to do all these voices, or if it was just because of my vast knowledge of movies and Mel Brooks routines."[14]

Douglas said that Lorraine Bracco took Douglas under her wing during the shooting of Goodfellas, helping her find an agent. It was then that Douglas became Scorsese's girlfriend.[14]

Douglas is known for her role in Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear (1991) – one of four Scorsese films in which she has appeared – plus her starring role as singer-songwriter Denise Waverly in Allison Anders' Grace of My Heart (1996) and supporting roles in To Die For (1995) and Ghost World (2001).

Douglas, June 24, 2007

Douglas said that when she worked on 1995's To Die For, the director Gus Van Sant taught her about the technical aspects of filmmaking: "He was an amazing teacher. I started learning all about the camera, how to clock your performance for different lenses, things like that."[14] It was also a movie where she felt that the Meisner technique she learned at the Neighborhood Playhouse started to connect for her.[6]

After Cape Fear, Douglas experienced a string of roles in films, but eventually getting cut out of them: "I did a movie called Household Saints and worked incredibly hard on it, but I was cut entirely from it. I did a Spike Lee movie (Jungle Fever), a Robert Redford movie (Quiz Show), Household Saints, and I got cut from all three of them. Oh, and another Woody Allen movie (Husbands And Wives), where I played Liam Neeson’s girlfriend. I got cut from every single part. It was kind of depressing. Marty gave me some advice. He said, 'I think you’re going to have the same problem that Joe Pesci has. You’re more interesting than the parts you play, and sometimes it’s great, but it almost takes you out of the movie. You should start developing relationships with directors.'"[14]

Douglas did a low-budget movie called Grief that got into Sundance, which led to her meeting director Allison Anders. "We just gravitated toward each other, and just kept in contact to try to figure out something to work on. For months we tried to do the biography of Anne Sexton, but we were having problems with the rights, and it just didn’t work out. We’re both obsessed with music, and she was obsessed with girl groups. I said, 'You know, I worked at the Brill Building. Maybe we could do something about that.' It was a true collaboration in which I got to express a lot of things. So much of the movie is autobiographical from my point. It explored where my relationship was with Marty at the time. The Matt Dillon character is kind of like Marty."[14]

On her first starring role as Denise Waverly née Edna Buxton in 1996's Grace of My Heart,[15] where she plays a "singer‑songwriter from blue‑blooded suburban Philadelphia who finds herself writing teen anthems for ghetto girl group" Douglas drew parallels to the Connecticut of her youth and the many contradictions of her childhood. Allison Anders said, "The women I cast have to embody all sorts of contradictions.... I have to find the right woman to speak to other women. And Illeana just does, naturally."[3]

It was before “celebrity.” You asked me, “What ruined it?” Probably celebrity. It was when people still wanted to be artists. We still had those John Cassavetes philosophies. You weren’t thinking, “This person’s a celebrity.” That happened sometime in the mid-’90s. Everything sort of changed. We’re this society where everybody is famous now, so actors aren’t really very special.

"Random Roles: Illeana Douglas"
by Sean O'Neal, A.V. Club (February 9, 2009).[14]

On television, Douglas appeared briefly as Garry Shandling's love interest on The Larry Sanders Show, starred in the series Action (1999) with Jay Mohr, guest starred on Seinfeld, Frasier and The Drew Carey Show, and has played a public defender on several episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2002 and 2003. She appeared in two episodes of the critically acclaimed HBO TV-series Six Feet Under, both of which earned Emmy nominations for Guest Actress in a Drama. She also appeared as Mrs. Ari's sister Marci in the Season 7 finale of Entourage.

In 2006, she starred in the Lifetime TV film Not Like Everyone Else and played herself in Pittsburgh opposite Jeff Goldblum. In 2007, Douglas was added to the cast of Ugly Betty, playing Sheila, an editor for MODE magazine.[16]

At the Walt Disney World Resort in the Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park, Douglas plays Aerosmith's manager in the preshow video for the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster attraction.[17] She later appeared in an Aerosmith music video as Liv Tyler's mother.[citation needed]

Douglas has written and directed a comedy short The Perfect Woman (1993) (a satire about what men really want from women), the documentary Everybody Just Stay Calm—Stories in Independent Filmmaking (1994), and the satire Boy Crazy, Girl Crazier (1995). She has been the producer for several projects including Illeanarama, a collection of her short films for the Sundance Channel.

For four and a half years, Douglas starred in a web series sponsored by IKEA called Easy to Assemble, where she plays herself as an actor-in-recovery-from-acting who goes to work at IKEA.[18] Douglas said the show was a metaphor for "disassembling myself, then putting myself back together, and then realizing the best role I never played was myself. I fused finally these different elements of myself."[6] Douglas said that Ikea "gave her great autonomy, asking her only to keep the content family-friendly."[19]

Douglas and the comedian Sarah Sweet produced and co-starred in a series professional variety shows called The Living Room Show, that is hosted in various Los Angeles living rooms. The shows are described thusly: "In exchange for free entertainment, the couple had promised to provide dinner (courtesy of one of the city’s ubiquitous taco caterers) and drinks for 60 guests plus the performers and assorted friends. No money would change hands."[20]

Douglas worked on a Turner Classic Movies series called Friday Night Spotlight, a prime-time show featuring a month-long festival of movies programmed by special guests. The season she was on focused on the theme, "Second Looks," featuring "films that were not highly regarded during their original release but now seem ripe for reappraisal."[21] Douglas said that curating, writing, and working on this series was able to take her vast movie knowledge and put it into a show, making it funny and entertaining and informative. Douglas said, "It was the first time in my career that was the actual representation of me."[6]

Douglas spent time in Sweden shooting a TV show called Welcome to Sweden, which is produced by Amy Poehler and stars Lena Olin and Will Farrell. A co-Swedish/American production that will air on Swedish TV but will be sold on Netflix.[6]

Personal life

From 1989 until 1997, Douglas was the companion of director Martin Scorsese.[22]

On 16 May 1998, she married producer and writer Jonathan Axelrod, the stepson of producer George Axelrod; they divorced in 2001.[22][23][24][25][26]

After breaking up with Scorsese, getting married and then divorced, and after spending a long time living in Los Angeles, Douglas said she "hit bottom" emotionally and financially. Douglas said at that point she moved back to her roots, moving back to New York. She started writing and tried to figure out who she was, very painful, she said it took about 10 years of re-examining what was it she wanted to do with the second half of her career. She asked herself the questions: Where did the writing go, where did the comedy go? She started taking acting classes again at Neighborhood Playhouse and dancing classes, hearkening back to a time when she really felt like she knew who she was, going back to the beginning, starting from scratch, and re-defined her goals. Douglas did some theater work, and decided to write and direct and do comedy again, finding her voice again.[6]

Douglas is a vegetarian.[27]



Year Title Role Notes
1987 Hello Again Mother in park
1988 The Last Temptation of Christ Crowd member
1989 New York Stories Paulette's friend
1990 Goodfellas Rosie
1991 Guilty by Suspicion Nan
1991 Cape Fear Lori Davis
1993 Alive: The Miracle of the Andes Liliana Methol
1993 Household Saints Evelyn Santangelo
1993 Grief Leslie
1994 Quiz Show Woman at book party
1995 Search and Destroy Marie Davenport
1995 Judgement Laurel Short
1995 To Die For Janice Maretto Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1996 Wedding Bell Blues Jasmine
1996 Grace of My Heart Denise Waverly
1997 Picture Perfect Darcy O'Neil
1997 Weapons of Mass Distraction Rita Pasco Television movie
1997 Rough Riders Edith Roosevelt Television movie
1997 Bella Mafia Teresa Scorpio Luciano Television movie
1997 Hacks Georgia Feckler
1998 The Thin Pink Line Julia Bullock
1999 Flypaper Laura
1999 Stir of Echoes Lisa Weil
1999 Happy, Texas Doreen Schaefer
1999 Message in a Bottle Lina Paul Nominated—Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Supporting Actress – Drama
1999 Lansky Anna Lansky Television movie
1999 Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Band manager Short
2000 The Next Best Thing Elizabeth Ryder
2001 Ghost World Roberta Allsworth
2002 Dummy Heidi
2002 The New Guy Kiki Pierce
2002 Point of Origin Kate Television movie
2002 The Adventures of Pluto Nash Dr. Mona Zimmer
2003 The Kiss Joyce Rothman
2003 Missing Brendan Julie Conroy
2005 Alchemy KJ
2005 The Californians Olive Ransom
2006 Not Like Everyone Else Toni Blackbear Television movie
2006 Factory Girl Diana Vreeland
2006 The Bondage Elaine Edwards
2007 Walk the Talk Jill
2007 Order Up Waitress Short
2007 Osso Bucco Megan
2007 Expired Wilman
2008 The Year of Getting to Know Us Christine Jacobson
2008 Otis Kate Lawson
2009 April Showers Sally
2009 Life Is Hot in Cracktown Mommy
2010 Spärhusen Plays The Egyptian Beirget Kattson Short
2011 The Green Trish
2011 Knots Miriam
2013 Monarch Lindsey Teller Short
2013 Chez Upshaw Rita Upshaw
2013 Max Rose Jenny Flowers
2013 Dark Around the Stars Dayton
2013 A Country Christmas Susan Satcher
2013 It's Dark Here Linda Tennies
2014 Sister Aunt Connie
2014 Outlook Not So Good Mom Short
2015 Road Hard
2015 All Stars Billie
2015 Return to Sender
2015 Pearly Gates Karen Weiner
2015 She's Funny That Way Judy


Year Title Role Notes
1995 Homicide: Life on the Street Gina Doolen Episode: "Autofocus"
1995 The Single Guy Martha Episode: "Sister"
1998 Seinfeld Loretta Episode: "The Strong Box"
1999 Brother's Keeper Ginny Episode: "Dating the Teacher"
1999–2000 Action Wendy Ward 13 episodes
Satellite Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy
2001 Frasier Kenny's wife Episode: "Hungry Heart"
2001 The Drew Carey Show Rachel Murray 2 episodes
2001–2005 Six Feet Under Angela 3 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
2002–2003 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Gina Bernardo 3 episodes
2006 Crumbs Shelley 3 episodes
2006–2007 Shark Gloria Dent 2 episodes
2007 Ugly Betty Sheila 3 episodes
2008 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Beverly Tyson Episode: "Contract"
2008–2012 Easy to Assemble Illeana 48 episodes
2010–2011 Entourage Marcie 2 episodes
2011 The Cape Netta Stilton 2 episodes
2013 Maron Herself Episode: "Dominatrix"
2013 Drop Dead Diva Dr. Reza Episode: "The Kiss"
2014 Welcome to Sweden Nancy 2 episodes

Web television

Other activities

  • Douglas is Beirget Kattsson, a member of a band called Spärhusen,[7][28] a Swedish pop group. Douglas describes them: "Spärhusen has had their ups and downs over the years. They’ve been in many plane crashes, but they’ve survived and they’re together."[27]

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b "Illeana Douglas Biography (1965-)". Film Reference. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Stefan Hesselberg, 48; Of Haddam". Hartford Courant. May 24, 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Smith, Chris (October 1996). "Illeana Douglas". US Weekly. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  4. ^ "Stefan Gregor Hesselberg". Hartford Courant. May 23, 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  5. ^ "Illeana Douglas Biography". TCM Movie Database. Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. A Time Warner Company. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Maron, Marc (November 11, 2013). "Episode 441 - Illeana Douglas" (PODCAST). WTF Podcast with Marc Maron. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Pollak, Kevin (June 14, 2009). "KPCS: Illeana Douglas #11" (VIDEO INTERVIEW). Kevin Pollak's Chat Show. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  8. ^ Flora, Carlin (July 1, 2007). "Final Analysis: Illeana Douglas - Actress Illeana Douglas discusses rejection and how it's helped her career.". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Vigil, Delfin (February 15, 2009). "Illeana Douglas inspired by Melvyn's 'Being There'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2 August 2009. 
  10. ^ Douglas, Melvyn and Tom Arthur, See You At the Movies: The Autobiography of Melvyn Douglas, University Press of America, 1986, ISBN 978-0-819-15389-0, pages 63 and 64
  11. ^ Kallmann, Helmut (December 7, 2013). "Edouard Hesselberg". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  12. ^ "Edouard Hesselberg". Find A Grave. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  13. ^ Shattuck, Kathryn (July 13, 1997). "Playing the Woman Beside the Man Who Took San Juan Hill". New York Times. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f O'Neal, Sean (February 9, 2009). "Random Roles: Illeana Douglas". A.V. Club. Onion Inc. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  15. ^ Maslin, Janet (September 13, 1996). "Movie Review: Grace of My Heart (1996) - One Fine Day at the Brill Building". New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  16. ^ R, Alissa (July 11, 2007). "Illeana's Getting Ugly This Fall". US Weekly. Archived from the original on June 10, 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  17. ^ Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith with Illeana Douglas The Official Disney Fan Club. August 4, 2011.
  18. ^ Lloyd, Robert (November 23, 2011). "Illeana Douglas puts herself together in 'Easy to Assemble'". L.A. Times. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  19. ^ Stelter, Brian (August 8, 2010). "After Drought, Hope for Shows Made for Web". New York Times. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  20. ^ Speidel, Maria (December 13, 2013). "Illeana Douglas: Live From Your Living Room (photos)". New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  21. ^ Fristoe, Roger. "Introduction to Second Looks". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  22. ^ a b Jewel, Dan (March 1, 1999). "Noteworthy: Message in a Bottle's Illeana Douglas, Martin Scorsese's Ex-Girlfriend, Triumphs in Her Marriage and in Movies". People. Time Inc. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  23. ^ Musto, Michael (June 2, 1998). "NY Mirror". Village Voice. 
  24. ^ Maynard, Kevin "Q&A: Illeana Douglas, The Veteran Scene-Stealer Sparkles in 'The Next Best Thing'", Out, page 44
  25. ^ "Kiss of the Straight Men", The Advocate, 5 December 2000, page 22
  26. ^ Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies, HarperCollins, 2003, ISBN 978-0-06053-423-3, page 142
  27. ^ a b Ward, Kate (October 7, 2009). "Illeana Douglas talks about new Web series 'Sparhusen' (featuring Keanu Reeves)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  28. ^ "Spärhusen". Easy To Assemble TV. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 

External links