Illeana Douglas at the Streamy Awards, 2009
July 25, 1965
Illeana Douglas (born July 25, 1965) is an American actress, director, screenwriter, and producer. Starting in 1987, she has amassed scores of film and television credits, including a 2001 episode of Six Feet Under for which she received a Primetime Emmy nomination as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series and won the Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series award from OFTA, the Online Film & Television Association. Among her other nominations and wins is the Satellite Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy for a 1999 episode of the TV series Action.
Douglas was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Joan Hesselberg (née Georgescu), a schoolteacher, and Gregory Hesselberg, a painter. Douglas had two older brothers, the late Stefan Gregor Hesselberg, a technician in the histology laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who also trained racehorses in Verona, Italy, and Erik Hesselberg, a journalist. 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 in the summers of her youth.
Douglas said that her parents were heavily influenced by the 1970s hippy culture—her father especially by the movie Easy Rider. They had a loose parenting style and did not pressure her to go to college. Comedy albums were really big in her family. The family would put on dramatic interpretations and performances.
Douglas' mother's side is Catholic Italian and Romanian from Astoria, Queens. Her maternal grandmother worked in the restaurant at Gertz' department store in Astoria and her maternal grandfather was a welder. Douglas said that her maternal grandmother, a former Rockette, had really wanted to be an actor. She instilled in Douglas a love for the movies, which they attended together frequently when she was a child.
Douglas' father's side is Russian-Jewish on her paternal great grandfather's side, and Southern on her paternal great grandmother's side. Her paternal great-grandfather was Latvian-born composer and pianist Edouard Hesselberg. 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 home in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles. Douglas said her summers with Melvyn Douglas were about experiencing with him his love of theater and elocution as well as reading, art, and history.
Douglas has said that her grandfather's performance in Being There was influential on her own career. Her grandfather and Peter Sellers "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." During high school Douglas visited the set while they were shooting on location in Asheville, North Carolina and got to meet Sellers, whose work she admired greatly. It was the first time she was on a film set.
Douglas notes the 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. Douglas said it took her a long time to figure out the contrasting diversity, to put both halves together. She identifies more with the Italian side of her family, that she developed more of their "rhythms and ways" because she spent so much time with them in Queens.
After graduating from high school in 1981, Douglas moved to New York City. She was 17 years old. Obsessed with the movies from her childhood, Douglas wanted to be in show business. She stayed with relatives in various temporary arrangements. Douglas attended American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she was a contemporary of Elias Koteas and Lou Mustillo. Mustillo and Douglas were not asked back to school after their first year.
She next went to work for Steve Rubell at the Morgans Hotel. While there, Douglas decided to reinvent herself and began attending Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, where she studied with the acting teacher Richard Pinter. While she was working in a sketch comedy group called Manhattan Punchline, one of the troupe members suggested she try stand-up comedy. Douglas decided to give it a try, working briefly at Stand Up New York. She found the writing and acting easy, but the performing very difficult. She didn't like the graphic comedy style then in vogue, and didn't like the lifestyle.
Not much later, she got her first movie role: a small part in the Martin Scorsese segment of New York Stories. 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.
Douglas appeared in Scorsese's Cape Fear (1991) – one of four Scorsese films in which she has appeared. After Cape Fear, she had several film roles where her segment was eventually cut, including in Household Saints, Jungle Fever, and Quiz Show. "It was kind of depressing," she commented.
Douglas did a low-budget movie called Grief that got into Sundance, which led to her meeting director Allison Anders. She had a starring role as singer-songwriter Denise Waverly in Anders' Grace of My Heart (1996) (her first starring role) and supporting roles in To Die For (1995) and Ghost World (2001).
Douglas said that when she worked on To Die For, the director Gus Van Sant taught her about the technical aspects of filmmaking. It was also a movie where she felt that the Meisner technique she learned at the Neighborhood Playhouse started to connect for her.
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 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.
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. She later appeared in an Aerosmith music video as Liv Tyler's mother.
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.
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.
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". Douglas said that curating, writing, and working on this series allowed her to use her movie knowledge while making it funny, entertaining, and informative.
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.
Her memoir I Blame Dennis Hopper is forthcoming from Flatiron Books in 2015.
From 1989 until 1997, Douglas was the companion of director Martin Scorsese. On 16 May 1998, she married producer and writer Jonathan Axelrod, the stepson of producer George Axelrod; they divorced in 2001.
Douglas is a vegetarian.
|1987||Hello Again||Mother in park|
|1988||The Last Temptation of Christ||Crowd member|
|1989||New York Stories||Paulette's friend|
|1991||Guilty by Suspicion||Nan|
|1991||Cape Fear||Lori Davis|
|1993||Alive: The Miracle of the Andes||Liliana Methol|
|1993||Household Saints||Evelyn Santangelo|
|1994||Quiz Show||Woman at book party|
|1995||Search and Destroy||Marie Davenport|
|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|
|1998||The Thin Pink Line||Julia Bullock|
|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||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||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|
|2008||The Year of Getting to Know Us||Christine Jacobson|
|2009||Life Is Hot in Cracktown||Mommy|
|2010||Spärhusen Plays The Egyptian||Beirget Kattson||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||Outlook Not So Good||Mom||Short|
|2015||Return to Sender|
|2015||Pearly Gates||Karen Weiner|
|2015||She's Funny That Way||Judy|
|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|
|2006–2007||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|
|2011||The Cape||Netta Stilton||2 episodes|
|2013||Drop Dead Diva||Dr. Reza||Episode: "The Kiss"|
|2014||Welcome to Sweden||Nancy||2 episodes|
- Easy to Assemble (2008–2012)
- Douglas is Beirget Kattsson, a member of a band called Spärhusen, 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."
Notes and references
- "Illeana Douglas Biography (1965-)". Film Reference. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- "Stefan Hesselberg, 48; Of Haddam". Hartford Courant. May 24, 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- Smith, Chris (October 1996). "Illeana Douglas". US Weekly. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- "Stefan Gregor Hesselberg". Hartford Courant. May 23, 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- "Illeana Douglas Biography". TCM Movie Database. Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. A Time Warner Company. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- Maron, Marc (November 11, 2013). "Episode 441 - Illeana Douglas" (podcast). WTF Podcast with Marc Maron. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- Pollak, Kevin (June 14, 2009). "KPCS: Illeana Douglas #11" (video interview). Kevin Pollak's Chat Show. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
- 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.
- Kallmann, Helmut (December 7, 2013). "Edouard Hesselberg". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- "Edouard Hesselberg". Find A Grave. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- Vigil, Delfin (February 15, 2009). "Illeana Douglas inspired by Melvyn's 'Being There'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2 August 2009.
- 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
- Shattuck, Kathryn (July 13, 1997). "Playing the Woman Beside the Man Who Took San Juan Hill". New York Times. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- O'Neal, Sean (February 9, 2009). "Random Roles: Illeana Douglas". A.V. Club. Onion Inc. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
- 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.
- 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.
- Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith with Illeana Douglas The Official Disney Fan Club. August 4, 2011.
- Lloyd, Robert (November 23, 2011). "Illeana Douglas puts herself together in 'Easy to Assemble'". L.A. Times. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
- Speidel, Maria (December 13, 2013). "Illeana Douglas: Live From Your Living Room (photos)". New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
- Fristoe, Roger. "Introduction to Second Looks". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
- 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.
- Musto, Michael (June 2, 1998). "NY Mirror". Village Voice.
- Maynard, Kevin "Q&A: Illeana Douglas, The Veteran Scene-Stealer Sparkles in 'The Next Best Thing'", Out, page 44
- "Kiss of the Straight Men", The Advocate, 5 December 2000, page 22
- Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies, HarperCollins, 2003, ISBN 978-0-06053-423-3, page 142
- Ward, Kate (October 7, 2009). "Illeana Douglas talks about new Web series 'Sparhusen' (featuring Keanu Reeves)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
- "Spärhusen". Easy To Assemble TV. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
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