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Jennifer Jason Leigh

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Jennifer Jason Leigh
Leigh in 2015
Jennifer Leigh Morrow

(1962-02-05) February 5, 1962 (age 62)[1]
Years active1976–present
(m. 2005; div. 2013)

Jennifer Jason Leigh (born Jennifer Leigh Morrow; February 5, 1962) is an American actress. She began her career on television during the 1970s before making her film breakthrough in the teen film Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). She received critical praise for her performances in Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989), Miami Blues (1990), Backdraft (1991), Single White Female (1992), and The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), and was nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Dorothy Parker in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994).

Leigh starred in a 1995 film written by her mother, screenwriter Barbara Turner, titled Georgia. She co-wrote and co-directed a film with Alan Cumming titled The Anniversary Party (2001). Leigh starred in the crime drama Road to Perdition (2002) and the family drama Margot at the Wedding (2007). She had a recurring role on the Showtime comedy-drama series Weeds (2009–2012) and received critical acclaim for her voice work in Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa (2015). For her role as fugitive Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight (2015), she was nominated for the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. From 2017 to 2021, she starred in the Netflix comedy-drama series Atypical, while featuring in the science fiction films Annihilation (2018) and Possessor (2020). She has since starred in the fifth season of the crime drama series Fargo (2023).

For her stage work, Leigh was nominated for a Drama Desk award for her off-Broadway performance as Beverly Moss in Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party. Her Broadway debut occurred in 1998, when she became the replacement for the role of Sally Bowles in the musical Cabaret.

Early life


Leigh was born in Los Angeles, California.[2] Her father, Vic Morrow (born Victor Morozoff), was an actor, and her mother, Barbara Turner, was a screenwriter.[3][4] Her parents divorced when she was two.[5] Leigh's birth name was Jennifer Leigh Morrow. She changed her surname early in her acting career, taking the middle name "Jason" in honor of actor Jason Robards, a family friend. Leigh's parents were Jewish; her father's family was from Russia and her mother's from Austria.[6][7][8][9][10][11]

Leigh is the younger of two daughters. Her older sister, Carrie Ann Morrow, who was credited as a "technical advisor" on her 1995 film Georgia, died in 2016.[12] Leigh also has a half-sister, actress Mina Badie (born 'Badiyi' – from her mother's second marriage). Badie acted alongside Leigh in The Anniversary Party. Film director Reza Badiyi became Leigh's stepfather when he married Leigh's mother, Barbara.





Leigh had a nonspeaking role in her film debut Death of a Stranger (The Execution) (1973). At the age of 14, she attended acting workshops, taught by Lee Strasberg, and the Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center in Loch Sheldrake, New York. Afterwards, she landed a role in the film The Young Runaways (1978). She also appeared in an episode of Baretta and an episode of The Waltons. Several television films followed, including a portrayal of an anorexic teenager in The Best Little Girl in the World, for which Leigh dropped to 86 pounds (39 kg) under medical supervision. She made her film debut, as a blind, deaf and mute rape victim in the 1981 slasher film Eyes of a Stranger. She left school to star in the film.[4]

In 1982, Leigh played a pregnant teenager in Amy Heckerling's high school film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which served as a launching pad for several of its young stars. While decrying the writing as sexist and exploitative, film critic Roger Ebert was enthusiastic about the acting, singling out Leigh and writing, "Don't they know they have a star on their hands?"[13] With the exception of Ridgemont High and a supporting role in the comedy film Easy Money (1983) alongside Rodney Dangerfield, Leigh's early film work consisted of playing fragile, damaged or neurotic characters in low-budget horror or thriller genre films. She played a virginal princess kidnapped and raped by mercenaries in Flesh and Blood (1985), an innocent waitress pursued by the psychopathic title character in The Hitcher (1986) (both films pitting her alongside Rutger Hauer), a mentally-disturbed, child-like young woman on the threshold of sexual awakening in the Southern Gothic film Sister, Sister (1987), and a young woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown in Heart of Midnight (1989).



In 1990, Leigh made a significant career breakthrough when she was awarded New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress[14] and the Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress[15] for her portrayals of two very different prostitutes: the tough streetwalker Tralala who is brutally gang-raped in Last Exit to Brooklyn, and Susie, a 23-year-old prostitute who falls in love with ex-con Alec Baldwin in Miami Blues. Roger Ebert included Last Exit in his list of Best Movies of 1990, calling Leigh's performance brave,[16] though his review of Miami Blues was much less sympathetic, simultaneously criticizing Leigh's ability to play dumb roles and praising her ability to play smart roles.[17] Entertainment Weekly called her "the Meryl Streep of bimbos".[18]

In his 1991 book Cult Movie Stars, Danny Peary described Leigh as "an interesting, always watchable, and extremely talented young actress," summarizing her appeal "For those who believe that the preacher's angelic-looking daughter is as interested in sex as the farmer's daughter. This pretty, sweet-looking blonde has played a number of shy and innocent-looking women who are curious about sex; once they learn, they display wicked imaginations." Peary added, "Leigh seems too gentle and looks too young and innocent to play the parts she has taken. Her females are either hungry for sex and/or have been psychologically affected by past sexual incidents... Her characters are vulnerable and almost always victimised, but usually they gave surprising resilience, and try to use their bad experiences to make themselves stronger."[19]

Leigh was cast in her first mainstream Hollywood studio film, the firefighter drama Backdraft (1991), in which she played a more conventional role, the girlfriend of lead actor William Baldwin. She found more success in the gritty crime drama Rush (1991), portraying an undercover cop who becomes a junkie and falls in love with her partner, played by Jason Patric. Reviewing Rush, Roger Ebert noted, "Leigh of course is a veteran by now of grubby characters in sleazy films; she has become one of the best young actresses by accepting roles some of her contemporaries would not even consider... After her extraordinary work as a doomed prostitute in Last Exit to Brooklyn, here she is again, looking sweet and wholesome, and descending into a world of people who have forgotten their better natures."[20] Leigh's next film, Single White Female (1992), was a surprise box-office success, bringing Leigh to her largest mainstream audience yet, portraying a mentally-ill woman who terrorizes roommate Bridget Fonda.[21]

Leigh was awarded the MTV Movie Award for Best Villain at the 1993 MTV Movie Awards[22] and nominated for Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress.[23] Leigh co-starred with Kathy Bates as a tormented, pill-popping woman hiding a history of childhood sexual abuse in the adaptation of Stephen King's novel Dolores Claiborne (1995). Leigh achieved her greatest acclaim in the role of Sadie Flood, an angry, drug-addicted rock singer living in the shadow of her successful older sister (Mare Winningham), in Georgia (1995). For the role, Leigh dropped to 90 pounds (41 kg) and sang all of her songs live, including a rambling 8+12-minute version of Van Morrison's "Take Me Back". Georgia was met with critical praise. James Berardinelli wrote, "There are times when it's uncomfortable to watch this performance because it's so powerful",[24] and Janet Maslin of The New York Times described Leigh's "fierce, risk-taking performance and flashes of overwhelming honesty".[25]

Leigh won New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress[26] and Best Actress from the Montreal World Film Festival,[27] as well as an Independent Spirit Award nomination and Sensual Knife fight nomination[28] Some expressed surprise that she was not nominated for an Academy Award,[29][30] while Winningham was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Throughout the 1990s, Leigh worked with many independent film directors. She worked with Robert Altman in Short Cuts (1993), playing a phone-sex operator, and Kansas City (1996), as a streetwise kidnapper. Leigh has expressed admiration for Altman and called him her mentor.[3] In a change of pace from her "bad girl" roles, Leigh played the fast-talking reporter Amy Archer in the Coen Brothers' comic homage to 1950s comedy, The Hudsucker Proxy (1994). Leigh took her first lead role as the writer and critic Dorothy Parker in Alan Rudolph's film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994). She received a Golden Globe Award nomination and a National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress,[31] as well as Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress[32] and Fort Lauderdale Film Critics Best Actress Award.

In another change of pace, she starred in Agnieszka Holland's version of the Henry James novel Washington Square (1997), as a mousy 19th-century heiress courted by a gold digger. In 1998, she appeared alongside Campbell Scott in the Hallmark Hall of Fame television film The Love Letter. In David Cronenberg's eXistenZ (1999), she played a virtual-reality game designer who becomes lost in her own creation.[33]



Leigh had a brief role as a gangster's doomed wife in Sam Mendes's Road to Perdition (2002) and co-starred as Meg Ryan's brutally murdered sister in Jane Campion's erotic thriller In the Cut (2003). She went on to play Stevie, the prostitute girlfriend of Christian Bale's character in the dark thriller The Machinist (2004). Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle commented that "As the downtrodden, sexy, trusting, and quietly funny prostitute, Leigh is, of course, in her element".[34] Her performance as a manipulative stage mother in Don McKellar's film Childstar won her a Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in 2005.[35]

After many years of wanting to be in a Todd Solondz film,[4] she appeared in Palindromes (2004). She also appeared in the psychological thriller The Jacket (2005), alongside Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley.[36] Leigh appeared in the 2008 ensemble film Synecdoche, New York and has acted in two films written and directed by her then-partner Noah Baumbach: Margot at the Wedding, co-starring Nicole Kidman, and Greenberg. Leigh has said that the roles were not specifically written for her, as Baumbach does not write roles with actors in mind.[3] In 2009, Leigh was cast in the Showtime comedy-drama series Weeds,[37] becoming a regular guest in the eighth season.

Leigh has received three separate career tributes: at the Telluride Film Festival in 1993,[38] a special award for her contribution to independent cinema from the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 2002,[39] and a week-long retrospective of her film work held by the American Cinematheque at Los Angeles's Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in 2001.[40]


Leigh and the rest of the cast and director of The Hateful Eight at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con.

Leigh joined the drama series Revenge on ABC in 2012.[41] In 2015, Leigh starred in Quentin Tarantino's western film The Hateful Eight. It is set in Wyoming after the Civil War, and was released on December 25. Leigh, along with the rest of the cast, appeared at the San Diego Comic-Con to promote the film in July 2015.[42] Leigh's performance has received multiple award nominations at various award ceremonies, including her third Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture,[43][44] her first BAFTA Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role[45] and her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[46] In 2017, Leigh was reunited with her Hateful Eight co-star Tim Roth when the pair played a husband-and-wife team of contract killers in six episodes of Showtime's revival of David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks.

Leigh played psychiatrist Dr. Ventress in the 2018 science fiction film Annihilation, alongside Natalie Portman, directed by Alex Garland and based on the novel by Jeff VanDerMeer.

In 2019, Leigh appeared in two episodes of Showtime's last season of The Affair. She appeared in Brandon Cronenberg's science fiction thriller Possessor in 2020. In 2022, Leigh was cast in a lead role as Lorraine Lyon in the fifth season of the FX black comedy crime drama anthology series Fargo.

Stage roles


In 1998, Leigh took on the lead role of Sally Bowles in Sam Mendes's Broadway revival of the musical Cabaret, succeeding Natasha Richardson, who originated the role in Mendes's production.[47] She succeeded Mary-Louise Parker in the lead role in Proof on Broadway in 2001.[48] Her other theatrical appearances include The Glass Menagerie, Man of Destiny, The Shadow Box, Picnic, Sunshine and Abigail's Party. In 2011, she played Bunny in the Broadway revival of The House of Blue Leaves in New York City alongside Ben Stiller and Edie Falco.[49]

Writing and directing


In 2001, Leigh co-wrote and co-directed The Anniversary Party, an independently produced feature film about a recently reconciled married couple who assemble their friends at their Hollywood Hills house, ostensibly to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary. As the evening progresses, the party disintegrates into emotional confrontations and bitter arguments as the façade of their happy marriage crumbles. Leigh was inspired by her recent experience filming the low-budget Dogme 95 film The King Is Alive.[50] Leigh and co-writer Alan Cumming drew freely from their personal experiences in the writing of the film.[50] Leigh plays an aging actress who makes jokes about her lack of Academy Award nominations and is fearful of losing her bisexual husband (Cumming). The film was shot in 19 days on digital video,[3] and costarred the pair's real-life Hollywood friends,[50] including Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Beals, John C. Reilly, Parker Posey, and Leigh's sister Mina Badie. Leigh and Cumming jointly received a citation for Excellence in Filmmaking from the National Board of Review,[51] and were nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature and Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. The film received generally positive reviews.[52]

Other work


Leigh filmed a role in Stanley Kubrick's final film Eyes Wide Shut (1999) as a grieving patient of Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) who declares her love for him after her father's death. Kubrick wanted to reshoot the scenes, but Leigh was unavailable due to scheduling conflicts with eXistenZ; instead, her scenes were cut, and the role was recast with Marie Richardson.[53] Leigh was originally cast as Vincent Gallo's girlfriend in his self-directed film The Brown Bunny, and was apparently prepared to perform oral sex on Gallo as the script required. Leigh subsequently commented that "it just didn't work out" and the role was eventually played by Chloë Sevigny.[54] In 1997, she was featured in Faith No More's music video for "Last Cup of Sorrow".[55] She was selected as one of "America's 10 Most Beautiful Women" by Harper's Bazaar magazine in 1989 and served as a jury member at the 57th Venice International Film Festival in 2000. She narrated the audiobook for Quentin Tarantino's novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Personal life


In 1982, Leigh's father, Vic Morrow, was accidentally killed along with two child actors when a helicopter stunt went wrong during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Leigh and her sister filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Warner Bros., John Landis, and Steven Spielberg. They settled out of court a year later.[56]

Leigh has described herself as shy, introverted, and averse to Hollywood publicity and scandal.[5][57] Speaking about her roles in smaller, independent films, she said, "I'd much rather be in a movie that people have really strong feelings about than one that makes a hundred million dollars but you can't remember because it's just like all the others."[4]

She met independent film writer-director Noah Baumbach in 2001 while starring on Broadway in Proof. The couple married on September 2, 2005. Their son was born on March 17, 2010. Leigh filed for divorce on November 15, 2010, in Los Angeles, citing irreconcilable differences.[58] She sought spousal support as well as primary custody of the couple's son, with visitation for Baumbach.[59] The divorce was finalized in September 2013.[60]




Year Title Role Notes
1981 Eyes of a Stranger Tracy Harris
1982 Wrong Is Right Young Girl
Fast Times at Ridgemont High Stacy Hamilton
1983 Easy Money Allison Capuletti
1984 Grandview, U.S.A. Candy Webster
1985 Flesh + Blood Agnes
1986 The Hitcher Nash
The Men's Club Teensy
1987 Sister, Sister Lucy Bonnard
Under Cover Tanille Lareoux
1988 Heart of Midnight Carol Rivers
1989 The Big Picture Lydia Johnson
Last Exit to Brooklyn Tralala
1990 Miami Blues Susie Waggoner
1991 Backdraft Jennifer Vaitkus
Crooked Hearts Marriet Hoffman
Rush Kristen Cates
1992 Single White Female Hedra 'Hedy' Carlson/Ellen Besch
1993 Short Cuts Lois Kaiser
1994 The Hudsucker Proxy Amy Archer
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle Dorothy Parker
1995 Dolores Claiborne Selena St. George
Georgia Sadie Flood Also producer
1996 Kansas City Blondie O'Hara
Bastard Out of Carolina Anney Boatwright
1997 Washington Square Catherine Sloper
A Thousand Acres Caroline Cook
1999 eXistenZ Allegra Geller
2000 The King Is Alive Gina
Skipped Parts Lydia Callahan Also co-producer
2001 The Anniversary Party Sally Therrian Also co-writer, co-producer and co-director with Alan Cumming
The Quickie Lisa
2002 Hey Arnold!: The Movie Bridget Voice[61]
Road to Perdition Annie Sullivan
Crossed Over Karla Faye Tucker
2003 In the Cut Pauline
2004 The Machinist Stevie
Palindromes Mark Aviva
Childstar Suzanne
2005 The Jacket Dr. Beth Lorenson
Rag Tale Mary Josephine Morton
2007 Margot at the Wedding Pauline
2008 Synecdoche, New York Maria
2010 Greenberg Beth Also writer and producer
2013 The Spectacular Now Sara
Kill Your Darlings Naomi Ginsberg
The Moment Lee
Hateship, Loveship Chloe
Jake Squared Sheryl
2014 Welcome to Me Deb Moseley
2015 Anomalisa Lisa Voice[61]
The Hateful Eight 'Crazy' Daisy Domergue
2016 Morgan Dr. Kathy Grieff
LBJ Lady Bird Johnson
2017 Good Time Corey
Amityville: The Awakening Joan Walker
2018 Annihilation Dr. Ventress
White Boy Rick FBI Agent Alex Snyder
2019 QT8: The First Eight Herself Documentary film[62]
2020 Possessor Girder
2021 The Woman in the Window Jane Russell
Awake Murphy
2022 Sharp Stick Marilyn
2023 Poolman Susan
TBA Night Always Comes Filming


Year Title Role Notes
1977 Baretta Marcie Episode: "Open Season"
1978 Family Jenny Blair Episode: "And Baby Makes Three"
1978 The Wonderful World of Disney Heather Episode: "The Young Runaways"
1980 Angel City Kristy Teeter Television film
1981 The Waltons Kathy Seals Episode: "The Pursuit"
1981 CBS Schoolbreak Special Laurie Mcintyre Episode: "I Think I'm Having a Baby"
1981 The Killing of Randy Webster Amy Wheeler Television film
1981 The Best Little Girl in the World Casey Powell Television film
1982 Trapper John, M.D. Karen McCall Episode: "The One and Only"
1982 The First Time Bonnie Dillon Television film
1983 ABC Afterschool Special Andrea Fairchild Episode: "Have You Ever Been Ashamed of Your Parents?"
1983 Girls of the White Orchid Carol Heath Television film; alternative title Death Ride to Osaka
1990 Buried Alive Joanna Goodman Television film
1998 The Love Letter Elizabeth Whitcomb Television film
1998 King of the Hill Amy Voice, episode: "I Remember Mono"
1998 Tracey Takes On... Paige Garland Episode: "Sports"
1998 Adventures from the Book of Virtues Alexandra Voice, episode: "Gratitude"[61]
1998 Thanks of a Grateful Nation Teri Small Television film
1998 Hercules Tempest Voice, 4 episodes
1999 Superman: The Animated Series Cetea Voice, episode: "Absolute Power"[61]
1999 Todd McFarlane's Spawn Lily Voice, 2 episodes[61]
2000 Twitch City Faith Episode: "The Life of Reilly"
2001 Frasier Estelle Voice, episode: "The Two Hundredth"
2002 Mission Hill Eunice Eulmeyer Voice, episode: "Kevin Loves Weirdie"
2009–2012 Weeds Jill Price-Gray 16 episodes
2012 Revenge Kara Clarke-Murphy 7 episodes
2014 Open Holly Pilot
2017 Twin Peaks Chantal Hutchens 6 episodes
2017–2021 Atypical Elsa Gardner 38 episodes; also producer
2018 Patrick Melrose Eleanor Melrose 5 episodes
2019 The Affair Adeline Taylor 2 episodes
2021 Lisey's Story Darla Debusher 8 episodes
2023 Hunters Chava Apfelbaum 7 episodes
2023–2024 Fargo Lorraine Lyon Season 5; main role


Year Title Role Theater Notes
1986 Picnic Madge Owens Ahmanson Theatre April 8, 1986 – May 24, 1986[63][64]
1989 Sunshine Sunshine Circle Repertory Theatre December 9, 1989 – January 14, 1990[65]
1998 Cabaret Sally Bowles Stephen Sondheim Theatre
Studio 54
August 4, 1998 – February 28, 1999[66]
2001 Proof Catherine Walter Kerr Theatre September 13, 2001 – June 30, 2002[67]
2005 Theater of the New Ear: Anomalisa Lisa Royce Hall September 14, 2005 – September 16, 2005[68][69]
2005 Abigail's Party Beverly Acorn Theater December 1, 2005 – March 11, 2006[70][71]
2011 The House of Blue Leaves Bunny Flingus Walter Kerr Theatre April 25, 2011 – June 25, 2011[72]





Short Cuts

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle


The Hateful Eight



Thanks from a Grateful Nation



Abigail's Party


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Further reading