Somerville at the 2007 premiere of Lucky You
|Born||Phyllis Jeanne Somerville
December 12, 1943
Iowa City, Iowa, U.S.
Somerville was born in Iowa City, Iowa to Lefa Mary (née Pash; 1918–2011) and Rev. Paul Somerville (1919-1995), who moved the family around as he preached at different parishes, until settling in Traer, and eventually Cresco, Iowa, where her mother worked as a librarian and Phyllis attended high school where she was involved with cheerleading, drama, and music, including playing clarinet in the All-State band. She has three brothers: Bruce (also an actor), Paul (1947-2005) and Stephen, a pathologist.
She attended Morningside College and then transferred to the University of Northern Iowa, studying theatre and graduating with a degree in English in 1966. In college she starred in productions such as The Visit, Electra, and Macbeth. She next did graduate work performing classical roles like Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Hilberry Theatre through Wayne State University in Detroit and later became a resident equity actress with the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. Her first paid job as an entertainer was at Buckskin Joe amusement park over summer break in college.
Somerville made her Broadway debut as Wilma in the 1974 musical Over Here! which was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical. The following year, she performed in the off-Broadway musical The Journey of Snow White as "The Witch". She appeared in the 1978 Broadway production of Once in a Lifetime. In 1983 she was the understudy for Kathy Bates in the Broadway production of Marsha Norman's 'night, Mother, and later toured in the role opposite Mercedes McCambridge. In 1984, she originated the role of Glory is Norman's next play, Traveler in the Dark, at the American Repertory Theater.
In 1990, she originated the role of Joyce in The Sum of Us by David Stevens. In 2001, she originated the role of Hannah in the Off-Broadway musical The Spitfire Grill, a role played in the 1996 film by Ellen Burstyn. In 2009 she performed in the musical Happiness at the Lincoln Center Theatre. She has appeared in other productions Off-Broadway, as well as in regional theatre, including many roles with the Hartford Stage Company. She is a member of the LAByrinth Theater Company. In 2014, she appeared Off-Broadway in an experimental all-female production of I Remember Mama, alongside Rita Gardner, Heather MacRae and Barbara Barrie.
Somerville made her film debut in 1981 in a minor role in Arthur. Other supporting roles include Dolores in Leap of Faith (1992), Gladys in Curtain Call (1998) and Nellie in Better Living (1998). In 1999 she was cast in the Martin Scorsese film Bringing Out the Dead as Mrs. Burke. In 2006 she earned critical acclaim for her role as May MacGorvey, mother of Jackie Earle Haley in Little Children, directed by Todd Field and starring Kate Winslet. She followed this in 2007 with Lucky You, starring Drew Barrymore and directed by Curtis Hanson, and in 2008 with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button directed by David Fincher, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Recent film roles include Stoker and The Double.
Somerville made her television debut in daytime soap operas Guiding Light and One Life to Live. She also has guest starred on many series including several Law & Order episodes, The Sopranos, Homicide: Life on the Street, NYPD Blue, and more recently on House of Cards and Fringe. She played a main supporting role as Marlene on the series The Big C which starred Laura Linney.
- Date of birth, familysearch.org; accessed May 30, 2014.
- Profile, iagenweb.org; accessed May 30, 2014.
- Lefa Pash Somerville obituary, iowajones.org; accessed May 28, 2014.
- Profile, unialum.org; accessed May 28, 2014.
- Phyllis Somerville interview with AARP, aarp.org; accessed May 28, 2014.
- Profile, wcfcourier.com; accessed May 28, 2014.
- Profile, historicimages.com; accessed May 28, 2014.
- Profile, abouttheartists.com; accessed May 24, 2014.
- Phyllis Somerville at the Internet Movie Database
- Phyllis Somerville at the Internet Broadway Database
- Phyllis Somerville at the Internet Off-Broadway Database