Tess Harper

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tess Harper
Tessie Jean Washam

(1950-08-15) August 15, 1950 (age 73)
Years active1983–present
Ken Harper
(m. 1971⁠–⁠1976)
External image
image icon Harper in 1984

Tessie Jean Harper (née Washam;[1] born August 15, 1950) is an American actress. She was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress for her first film role in 1983's Tender Mercies, and for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the 1986 film Crimes of the Heart. Her other film appearances include Flashpoint (1984), Ishtar (1987), Far North (1988), and No Country for Old Men (2007). She also had a recurring role on the first three seasons of Breaking Bad (2008–2010).

Early life[edit]

Harper was born in Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, the daughter of Rosemary and Ed Washam, who operated Washam's Hardware. Harper has a brother and sister.[1] She attended Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) in Springfield, Missouri, graduated with a degree in education, and taught ninth-grade English in Springfield, Missouri.[2]


Harper began acting in theater productions, theme parks[3] (including Dogpatch, USA and Silver Dollar City), dinner theater, and children's theater. She moved to Texas in order to appear in television commercials.[2] The institution wanted to produce a TV spot and asked her to be in the spot, which she accepted. In a twist of fate, a casting person with Tender Mercies had to spend the night in Dallas and saw Harper's spot on TV. She called Robert Duvall and arranged an audition. Director Bruce Beresford was impressed with Harper and cast her in the lead female role of Rosa Lee, the young widow and mother who marries country singer Mac Sledge. Beresford said that Harper brought a kind of rural quality to the role without coming across as simple or foolish. He said of Harper, "She walked into the room and even before she spoke, I thought, 'That's the girl to play the lead.'"[4] Harper did not realize this, and recalled shortly after the film's release, "After I did the final screen test, I went to see Breaker Morant and started sobbing uncontrollably halfway through it. A friend had to take me home, and I kept crying, 'You don't understand! They're not gonna let me do this part!'"[5]

Tender Mercies was Harper's feature film debut.[6] She earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for the role.[7]

Harper appeared in the TV mini-series Chiefs (1983) and Celebrity (1984), as well as many television movies including Starflight: The Plane That Couldn't Land (1983) and Reckless Disregard (1985). In 1983, she appeared in the full-length feature Silkwood.[8] In 1986, Harper was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work as Chick Boyle in Crimes of the Heart,[3] which was directed by her Tender Mercies director Bruce Beresford. She later played parts in Ishtar (1987),[8] Far North (1988), The Man in the Moon (1991), The Jackal (1997) and Loggerheads (2005). She also took part in Michael Jackson's music video "Black or White" (1991), playing the mother.

From 1994 to 1995 Harper had a regular role on the CBS series Christy, playing mountain woman Fairlight Spencer.[9] She also had a recurring role on another CBS television series, Early Edition, from 1996 to 2000. She portrayed the mother of lead character Gary Hobsen. Harper shared a Screen Actors Guild Award (in the Best Ensemble Cast category) with her fellow cast members in the Oscar-winning film No Country for Old Men, in which she played the wife of Tommy Lee Jones's character.

She had the recurring role of Mrs. Pinkman on Breaking Bad, appearing in the first three seasons.



Year Title Role Notes
1983 Tender Mercies Rosa Lee
1983 Amityville 3-D Nancy Baxter
1983 Silkwood Linda Dawson
1984 Flashpoint Ellen
1986 Crimes of the Heart Chick Boyle
1987 Ishtar Willa Rogers
1988 Far North Rita
1988 Criminal Law Det. Stillwell
1989 Her Alibi Sally Blackwood
1990 Daddy's Dyin': Who's Got the Will? Sara Lee Turnover
1991 My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys Cheryl Dalton-Hornby
1991 The Man in the Moon Abigail Trant
1991 Pretty Hattie's Baby Maya
1992 The Turning Martha Harnish
1992 My New Gun Kimmy Hayes
1996 Dirty Laundry Beth Greene
1997 The Jackal The First Lady
2000 The In Crowd Dr. Amanda Giles
2001 The Rising Place Rebecca Hodge
2001 Morning Margaret
2003 Studio City Linda Little Short
2005 Loggerheads Elizabeth
2005 Jesus, Mary and Joey Liz O'Callahan
2006 Karla Molly Czehowicz
2006 Jam Ruby
2006 Broken Bridges Dixie Rose Delton
2006 Broken Clare
2007 No Country for Old Men Loretta Bell
2007 Kiss the Bride Barbara
2007 Saving Sarah Cain Miriam Esh
2009 Fatal Secrets Naomi
2013 Sunlight Jr. Kathleen
2014 Hello, My Name Is Frank Aunt Flossie
2014 Frank Frank's mom
2015 Surprise Linda Short
2015 The Perfect Guy Mrs. McCarthy
2018 Burden Hazel Griffin
2019 El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Diane Pinkman
2020 The Evening Hour Dorothy Freeman
2023 American Outlaws Loretta Hillhouse


Year Title Role Notes
1983 Kentucky Woman Lorna Whateley TV film
1983 Starflight: The Plane That Couldn't Land Janet Briggs TV film
1983 Chiefs Carrie Lee TV miniseries
1984 Celebrity Susan French TV miniseries
1985 A Summer to Remember Jeannie Wyler TV film
1985 Promises to Keep Gwen Palmer TV film
1986 The Twilight Zone Sarah Episode: "Quarantine"
1986 Reckless Disregard Meredith Craig TV film
1987 Murder, She Wrote Irene Rutledge Episode: "Simon Says, Color Me Dead"
1987 L.A. Law Patricia Pittman Episode: "Sparky Brackman R.I.P. ????-1987"
1987 Daddy Ann Burnette TV film
1988 Little Girl Lost Clara Brady TV film
1989 Unconquered Mary Flowers TV film
1989 Incident at Dark River Betty McFall TV film
1990 Thirtysomething Deborah Episode: "Post-Op"
1992 In the Line of Duty: Siege at Marion Vickie Singer TV film
1992 Willing to Kill: The Texas Cheerleader Story Verna Heath TV film
1993 The Hidden Room Dede Episode: "After the Crash"
1994–95 Christy Fairlight Spencer Main role
1995 Death in Small Doses Asst. D.A. Jerri Sims TV film
1996 The Road to Galveston Julia Archer TV film
1996 A Stranger to Love Linda Grant TV film
1997 The Killing Secret Tina De Capprio TV film
1997 Grace Under Fire Joan Episode: "Matthew's Old Lady"
1997 A Child's Wish Joanna Chandler TV film
1997 Gun Virginia Episode: "Ricochet"
1997 Walker, Texas Ranger Katie Malloy Episode: "Sons of Thunder"
1997 Cracker Lea Ann Garner Episode: "An American Dream"
1998–00 Early Edition Lois Hobson Recurring role
1999 Beyond the Prairie Narrator / Older Laura Ingalls Wilder TV film
2000 Touched by an Angel Betsy Baxter Episode: "The Empty Chair"
2001 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Julia Barrett Episode: "Bully for You"
2002 Beyond the Prairie, Part 2 Narrator / Older Laura Ingalls Wilder TV film
2003 The Division Polly Danko Episode: "Oh Mother, Who Art Thou?"
2004 One Tree Hill May Scott Episode: "Crash Course in Polite Conversations"
2004 Jack & Bobby Karen Carmichael Episodes: "Pilot", "An Innocent Man"
2004 Angel in the Family Mrs. Nelly Tomkins TV film
2005 Judging Amy Barbara Nissman Episode: "Sorry I Missed You"
2007 Without a Trace Mrs. Spade Episode: "At Rest"
2007 Brothers & Sisters Beth Ridge Episode: "History Repeating"
2007 Judy's Got a Gun Susan Lemen TV film
2008 Ghost Whisperer Ellen Wilkins Episode: "Stranglehold"
2008–10 Breaking Bad Diane Pinkman Recurring role
2009 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Mrs. Hallander Episode: "Stranger"
2009 Cold Case Sharon Lertola Episode: "November 22"
2009 Crash Wendy Olinville Recurring role
2010 Proposition 8 Trial Re-Enactment Sandy Stier TV documentary
2010 Grey's Anatomy Pam Nelson Episode: "Perfect Little Accident"
2010 In Plain Sight A.U.S.A. Rolly Episode: "Coma Chameleon"
2011 Private Practice Augusta King Episode: "Something Old, Something New"
2011 A Christmas Wish Trudy Willis TV film
2012 Revenge Carole Miller Episodes: "Absolution", "Grief"
2012 The Christmas Heart Elizabeth TV film
2014 True Detective Mrs. Kelly Episode: "Seeing Things"
2014 Nikki & Nora: The N&N Files Mary Delaney 2 episodes
2015 Criminal Minds Dinah Troy Episode: "Rock Creek Park"
2019 How to Get Away with Murder Sheila Miller Episode: "We Know Everything"

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
1984 Golden Globe Award Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture Tender Mercies Nominated
1987 Academy Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role Crimes of the Heart Nominated
1994 CableACE Award Actress in a Dramatic Series The Hidden Room Nominated
2004 Method Fest Best Actress in a Short Film Lonely Place Won
2007 National Board of Review Best Acting by an Ensemble No Country for Old Men Won
2008 Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Won
2008 Gold Derby Awards Ensemble Cast Won
2011 California Independent Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award Won


  1. ^ a b It’s 'Tess Harper Day' Monday in hometown Mammoth Spring, Baxter Bulletin (Mountain Home, Arkansas), March 28, 1987, page 3
  2. ^ a b Tess Harper: 'Ozark Hillbilly', St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 11, 1987, page 101
  3. ^ a b Robert Cochran & Suzanne McCray, Lights! Camera! Arkansas pages 63-64, University of Arkansas Press, 2015
  4. ^ Bruce Beresford (actor), Robert Duvall (actor), Tess Harper (actor), Gary Hertz (director) (April 16, 2002). Miracles & Mercies (Documentary). West Hollywood, California: Blue Underground. Retrieved January 28, 2008.
  5. ^ "Success, Stress and Tess Harper". Rolling Stone. No. 397. June 9, 1983. p. 40.
  6. ^ Peter Wilson, Truth no stranger in this fiction, The Vancouver Sun, June 18, 1983, page 27
  7. ^ Clay Hutt, Golden Globes often mirror Oscars, El Paso Herald-Post, January 27, 1984, page 58
  8. ^ a b Peggy Soric, Former SMS student Tess Harper enjoys success, Springfield Leader and Press (Springfield, Missouri), December 21, 1986, page 80
  9. ^ Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows 1946 – Present (7th edition), page 185, Ballantine, 1999

External links[edit]