World Famous People
World Famous People - Marissa Tomei (actress). The Oscars of 2002 were immediately noted for the nomination of several black actors and actresses - far more than has been the norm. But there was another comment worth making; that, aside from perennials like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, another series of great and usually unheralded character actors made the list. Step up Jim Broadbent, Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei. Now, it's true that Tomei had already triumphed at the Academy Awards, for My Cousin Vinny, but all of her other performances - many of them scintillating - had gone wholly unnoticed. The plaudits given to her efforts in In The Bedroom were more than well-deserved. She'd been shining for over a decade, and would continue to do so, being nominated for the third time in 2009 for The Wrestler.
Marisa Tomei was born on the 4th of December, 1964, in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Gary A. Tomei was a trial lawyer, while her mother, Patricia, was an English teacher. She has one brother, Adam, born a few years later, who's now also an actor, having appeared in both Independence Day and The Truman Show.
Marisa attended the Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, receiving extra tuition from her mother, who worked hard to erase that tell-tale Brooklyn accent. When Adam was born, the Tomeis moved to a more middle-class district on Manhattan. As both parents worked, the kids were guarded by Gary's mother, Rita. At school, Marisa studied both acting and dance, having been stage-struck at the age of 12 when taken to a performance of A Chorus Line. She abandoned her early ambition to be an archaeologist, and spent her summers in plays at the Golden Bridge Colony in upstate New York. A life in the theatre was her aim, though she was very keen on old movies, particularly those starring that smooth groover Gene Kelly.
An intelligent girl, she enrolled at the prestigious Boston University. But she didn't stay for long. After a single year, she took a summer job as a waitress at Tony Roma's and it was now that her first big breaks came. There was a movie offer, and the chance of a contract with a popular soap. Her father, as fathers do, wanted her to continue her studies, but encouraged by her friends, Marisa left university and took the plunge.
The movie was The Flamingo Kid, wherein Matt Dillon leaves his dull family life to sell flash cars for a slick businessman. Marisa was way down the bill, with only one line - "You're so drunk" - but it boded well. Also down the bill was a young John Turturro.
The soap opera was a great opportunity, too. As The World Turns, concerning the folks of fictional Oakdale, was the grandaddy of them all. James Earl Jones and Martin Sheen had earlier appeared in it and, later, the cast would be joined by both Julianne Moore and Lauryn Hill. As teenage temptress Marcy Thompson Cushing, Marisa stayed for two years, for a while sharing a dressing-room with another young co-star, Meg Ryan (whose character carried the rather unwieldy moniker Betsy Stewart Montgomery Andropolous). During her stint, another hopeful would briefly pop up - Courteney Cox.
This was excellent experience, but Marisa, ever ambitious, wanted more - she wanted to be a respected actress. In 1986, she turned back to the theatre, making her off-Broadway debut as Cetta in John Morgan Evans' Daughters, winning a Theatre World award in the process. She moved on to the play Beirut at the Nat Horne Theatre. Set in the near-future, this would see a man catch an unnamed sexually transmitted disease, a disease so cruel he's shunned by society. Tomei would play his girlfriend, ignoring his demands that she leave him to die, arguing with him over the nature of love and life, and eventually choosing to risk death in a proper relationship with him, rather than live a long and empty existence. This would be a breakthrough of sorts, with Tomei winning a Dramalogue award for her efforts. Then came the Emmy-winning Supermom's Daughter.
At this point, the movies were secondary to her. Just as well, because the roles she was offered were small and the films far from great. She made a brief showing in Troma's classically trashy The Toxic Avenger, then played a small-town girl helping some high school graduates start up a rock and roll hotel in Playing For Keeps (written and directed by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, in the days before they were super-moguls).
Now came more soap. A Different World concerned a group of black students struggling through college. Marisa appeared as Maggie Lauten, flatmate of the show's big star Lisa Bonet. Tomei was consistently impressive, and finally came to the attention of the big Hollywood casting directors. But, feeling she needed more time onstage to improve her technique, she chose instead to appear in What The Butler Saw. Marisa would make this same choice throughout her career, continually returning to the theatre and playing in the varied likes of The Comedy Of Errors, Waiting For Lefty, The Rose Tattoo, Aven'u Boys, Rockets To The Moon, Demonology, Dark Rapture and Slavs. In 1998, in Boston and New York, she'd also take the Audrey Hepburn role in a stage production of Wait Until Dark, as a blind woman terrorised by crooks. One unlikely co-star would be Quentin Tarantino.
After A Different World, her movie career began to take off. Actually, it was after the dodgy Jeff Fahey/David Caruso vehicle Parker Kane. Marisa won two very different but very eye-catching parts. First was in the comedy Oscar, where master criminal Sylvester Stallone promised dying dad Kirk Douglas that he'd go straight, only to be dragged back into the underworld mire. Marisa was outstanding as his pregnant daughter, though the movie itself was not startling. In case you were wondering where Marisa was supposed to have got her looks from - her mother was played by Ornella Muti.
The other part was as a loose woman in the erotic thriller Zandalee, starring Nicolas Cage - a conscious move towards more adult roles. Marisa's looks had allowed her to play youngsters far longer than was usual. When not filming, Marisa continued her stage-work, joining an elite theatre group called Naked Angels, other members including Matthew Broderick, Lili Taylor and Sarah Jessica Parker. Marisa would also begin to date playwright Frank Pugliese, with whom she live in Greenwich Village for some three years.
Now came the first big breakthrough, and a success that took everyone by surprise. My Cousin Vinny was a lightweight comedy where two New York kids are accused of murder Down South and are forced to hire crude relative Joe Pesci to represent them in court. Marisa drew heavily on her Brooklyn youth and was tremendous as Pesci's motor mechanic girlfriend, lipping off brilliantly while helping him in his sly and manipulative defence. She was great, nevertheless people were surprised when she received an Oscar nomination - it was a comedy, after all. And they were completely stunned when she actually won it, beating thespian heavyweights Vanessa Redgrave, Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson and Judy Davis. Indeed, a nasty rumour began to circulate that the award presenter Jack Palance had not opened the envelope to reveal the winner, but mistakenly read the name at the top of the list.
Marisa was deeply hurt by this gossip, saying it "took the glow" from her big night. These days, her victory is seen in a different light. What happened, it's said, is that the vote was split between the renowned thesps, allowing Marisa to sneak through on the rails. When experts discuss the nominees' chance of winning, they'll often use the expression "the Marisa Tomei factor".
After this painful episode, Marisa knuckled down and went all-out to master her craft, alternating between lead and supporting roles. Her choice of parts was based on an unusual and gratifying notion. "I never wanted to be an ingenue," she said "even when I was a little girl. I've always liked the sidekick roles. I never wanted to be the prissy, one-note lead who always has to be perfect and look pretty - It's the fairy princess thing.
I like watching it, but I have a very hard time squeezing myself into that." Her words were backed up years later by her In The Bedroom director, Todd Field, when he said of her "She's not afraid to get lost. She's not afraid to stumble. She's looking for it to be messy". Marisa's efforts toward perfection led to her gaining a rep for being cranky on-set, something she explained by saying "I had only just started - I didn't think I'd be judged that harshly".
. Marisa's next role was as the silent-film comedienne Mabel Normand in Chaplin - a part that was disappointingly under-written. But then came her first lead role, in Untamed Heart. Here she played waitress Caroline (again a performance for which she had prepared earlier) who's rescued form rapists by a horribly introverted Christian Slater and falls for him. Critics raved about her superb depiction of a woman who's head over heels.
Next she played Michael Keaton's pregnant wife as he endured a power-struggle with Glenn Close in The Paper (their final confrontation beside the printing press is hilarious), Marisa's raw emotion lending some weight to proceedings. Then she rejoined Chaplin star Robert Downey Jr in Only You, where she played a hot-headed romantic who drops everything to pursue a soul-mate she's discovered via a ouija board. Then came The Perez Family, about a group of Cuban refugees who pretend to be related in order to get preferential treatment from US Immigration. The movie co-starred Angelica Huston and Vincent Gallo, and was directed by Mira Nair, who'd hit big with Mississippi Masala and would later direct Tomei again in My Own Country, based on the true story of an Indian doctor who had to battle hard to combat AIDS in Tennessee in 1982, Marisa playing a simple Southern girl whose brother is dying.
Now, true to form, Marisa took on a series of low-profile but challenging roles. In Unhook The Stars she was an abandoned mother lent a hand by Gena Rowlands, who in turn learns something new about life and independence. Marisa learned a great deal from Rowlands, a fine actress and formerly the wife and muse of John Cassavetes. Rowlands was, said Tomei, EXACTLY the kind of actress she wanted to be herself. As if to prove it, she went to war-torn Bosnia to film Welcome To Sarajevo, as an aid worker who helps a British journalist rescue a child from untold misery. Then came Slums Of Beverly Hills where, sexually liberated but unhinged, she broke out of rehab and had to be kept from drink and drugs by her younger cousin, Natasha Lyonne. Then there was the poignant My Own Country, and Happy Accidents, a real oddity where Marisa played a woman who's had terrible trouble with men, winding up in therapy. What she doesn't need right now is Vincent D'Onofrio claiming to have come from the year 2439 to save her from certain death.
Suddenly, the movies got bigger. In The Watcher, James Spader was a detective who, failing to catch serial killer Keanu Reeves, moves to a different town.
However, Reeves follows him and threatens the life of all around him, including his psychiatrist, played by Marisa. Also in 2000 came a huge success with What Women Want, about a macho ad exec who, due to accidental electrocution, can suddenly hear what women are thinking. Marisa, now comfortable in all acting company, stood out in a cast including Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, playing a waitress in Gibson's local coffee shop. In one of the movie's stand-out scenes, she begins to freak out when he decides to dump her after just one night, forcing him to pretend to be gay. Tomei's year would end with Dirk And Betty, a challenging little comedy where two druggies get stranded in a local store and encounter all the neighbourhood eccentrics.
. And then came In The Bedroom. Here she played Natalie Strout, a young mother who's kicked out violent husband William Mapother and begun a happy affair with a college student. Unfortunately, Mapother will not be dumped and winds up in a fight with her lover, killing him in the process. Tomei's grief at this is deeply moving, as are her subsequent encounters with her lover's tortured father, Tom Wilkinson, and enraged mother Sissy Spacek. Quite rightly, all three found themselves Oscar-nominated. Marisa could at last be considered a heavyweight.
But this didn't mean she'd always be given heavyweight roles. Despite her success at the Oscars, and in theatre, she was still more likely to pop up in memorable cameo roles (or rather, cameo roles that she made memorable). After In The Bedroom came Animal Attraction, where Ashley Judd played a TV researcher who finds anonymous fame by penning an article claiming men are like bulls - they only want to service the same female once. When her relationship with an attached Greg Kinnear gets rocky, she's forced to share a flat with a predatory Hugh Jackman, putting her theories well and truly to the test. Marisa would play her best buddy and sounding-board though, as critic James Berardinelli remarked, the film would probably have been more successful had the two actresses switched roles. This, perhaps, would be a more reasonable definition of "the Marisa Tomei factor".
Next would come the inspirational TV movie Jenifer, with Laura San Giacomo in the title role as a woman struck down by Lou Gehrig's disease and re-bonding with her sisters, Jane Kaczmarek and Annabella Sciorra. Marisa would pop up as a fellow actress in a play San Giacomo is working on. There'd be more Sciorra when, continuing her run of supporting roles with genuine meaning, Marisa then joined a great ensemble cast for the grim thriller King Of The Jungle. Here John Leguizamo played a retarded young New Yorker living with his mum and her lover Rosie Perez. When mum is murdered, he must choose between her peaceful ways and his own violent revenge.
It was a tough little movie and, with Tomei as an uppity cop, Sciorra as a tart with a heart, and the aforementioned Perez, it was great to see three of America's finest and most under-rated actresses onscreen together.
The following year, 2002, saw two more productions, neither of which were worthy of Tomei's talents. First came Just A Kiss, adapted from Patrick Breen's play, which concerned the drastic repercussions of two people enjoying an illicit kiss. The movie attempted to combine comedy and drama to no great effect but, as usual, Marisa made her part count, this time playing a manic bar-tender who claims to be able to read psychic messages in the rings left by beers on the counter. Less successful still would be musical rom-com The Guru, where Indian guy Jimi Mistry sought success in New York and, pushed into pretending to be a swami, turned around the life of Marisa's well-connected socialite. She attempts to market him as a star of sex and spirituality and, seeking advice from porn actress Heather Graham, he struggles to live up to the part. It was hit-an-miss stuff. Mostly miss.
2003 would bring another hit with Anger Management, where meek Adam Sandler was wrongly sent to rage control therapy with a continually exploding Jack Nicholson, but Tomei was once more underused, playing the girlfriend Sandler loves and thinks he's losing. Then would come Game Over where she'd lend her voice to a cartoon involving the lives of a family of video game characters once, as the title suggests, the games are over. Marisa would voice the Lara Croft-type Raquel Smashenburn, but only for the pilot - Lucy Liu would step in for the series proper, the show eventually being cancelled after earning the lowest ratings of the 2003/4 season.
Marisa had been too busy to commit to the series as her theatre and film schedules were packed. Having in 1999 performed in Dario Fo's comedy satire We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! at the Loeb Theatre, now she took on the more ambitious Salome in the Actors' Workshop production on Broadway. Directed by Estelle Parsons, Marisa would play Oscar Wilde's titular heroine, alongside Al Pacino's Herod, Dianne Wiest and David Strathairn. The next year would see her in Noel Coward's Design For Living at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
Onscreen, 2004 would also bring Alfie, a remake of the Michael Caine classic, where Jude Law played a cockney lothario working as a chauffeur in New York. Jane Krakowski would be one notch on his bed-post, and Marisa's kind, trusting single mother another. Following this would be Loverboy, an indie directed by Kevin Bacon, where Bacon's real-life wife Kyra Sedgwick (who'd appeared with Tomei in Just A Kiss) played a mother so neglected as a child she smothers her young son. Bacon and Marisa would be seen in flashback as the parents who brought about her problems.
Having the year before appeared in The Vagina Monologues in Bombay for International Women's Day, 2005 would see Marisa join another all-star cast for Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing And Charm School. This was a total rewrite of a 1990 short starring William Hurt and saw Robert Carlyle as a baker grieving over his dead wife. Coming across John Goodman in a car-wreck, he's told of the lover Goodman was hoping to meet at the titular school after a 40-year separation, and agrees to complete the journey himself. Once there, he tries to uncover the identity of Goodman's great love, while at the same time falling for Marisa, a fellow classmate also attempting to escape a painful past. Marisa would follow this with Factotum, based on Charles Bukowski's autobiographical novel, which saw Matt Dillon as Bukowski's alter-ego Henry Chinaski, moving from job to job, woman to woman, drinking heavily to pass the time between furious bouts of creativity. Tomei would play one of his lovers, one of several women appropriated by an eccentric French millionaire, all of them living in a big, weird place straight out of a David Lynch flick. The film would also see Tomei naked onscreen for the first time, her forties seeing her in a succession of far more sexual roles. Dillon, the star of her film debut The Flamingo Kid, had recently appeared in Tomei's Loverboy, while the movie also reunited her with her Naked Angels colleague Lili Taylor.
. 2006 would see the release of Danika, a far more testing role for Tomei, where she'd play a stressed-out mother of three who begins to have hallucinations. Fearing for her children's safety, she becomes ever more controlling, then her dreams begin to come true as the film used horror tactics to explore mental disintegration. Tomei would be excellent, moving between exultant optimism and paranoid delirium. She'd then move on to make several appearances in the TV series Rescue Me, where Denis Leary would play a jaded fireman, suffering from the departure of his wife and haunted (literally) by the ghosts of those he has failed to save. Tomei would appear in Season 3 as Angela, a girl returned to the neighbourhood, once married to Leary's brother. He tries it on with her, but she's not keen. Until, that is, her ex starts seeing his ex. Still she's convinced Leary's carrying a torch for his former wife. She'd also make a brief return to the play Beirut, with which she'd broken through back in the mid-Eighties, starring in a one-night-only reading.
With so many film stars finding good work on TV, Tomei would now go for a series of her own. This was to be The Rich Inner Life Of Penelope Cloud, where she'd play a smart, opinionated writer who's been blocked since her first novel became a cultural phenomenon some nine years before.
Dumped by Angus Macfadyen, who proceeds to get his new and younger partner pregnant, Tomei's on anti-depressants, working as a writing professor at Berkeley and hanging out with her lesbian best friend with whom she once had a drunken college fling. Now, in order to get her spark back, she comes off the drugs and gets writing, only to find she's inadvertently plagiarising one of her students. Tomei's first sit-com since A Different World twenty years before, the show looked promising, but never made it past the pilot stage.
. 2007 would be far more successful. Onstage, in April she'd direct the short play The Machine for the Naked Angels company, a work concerning the unjust treatment of minorities in the US. Then, in November and December, she'd appear in Will Eno's Oh, The Humanity!, acting alongside Brian Hutchison in several different stories, the most impressive seeing her as a spokeswoman gradually falling apart as she addresses a crowd of people who've all lost relatives in a plane crash. Onscreen, she'd appear briefly - all too briefly - in Grace Is Gone. Here John Cusack would play a chap whose wife is killed in the conflict in Iraq. Unable to tell his two young daughters, he takes them on a road trip to a Florida amusement park, hoping the right time will arise when he can inform them of their loss. Tomei was supposed to appear as a woman Cusack meets and talks to pool-side at a Florida hotel while his daughters swim, but test audiences disliked his having any kind of relationship with another woman so soon after his wife's death. Thus Tomei pops up only in the background, a weird waste of a great talent.
Still, the year would bring both financial and artistic success. Next would come Wild Hogs, where John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H Macy would play four motorbike-loving friends in suburban Cincinnati, each of them finding their lives drifting to a dead end. To rediscover their youthful spark, they take off on a road trip to California but fall foul of a real biker gang led by Ray Liotta and must take them on in a final confrontation. Tomei would add yet more warmth to proceedings, running a diner in a desert town and stealing the heart of Macy, a shy computer boffin who's pants at pulling. Wild Hogs would be an unexpectedly giant hit, taking $168 million at the US box office. Far less successful but infinitely superior would be Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. Here Hoffman would play a payroll executive married to Tomei. The movie begins with them having wild sex in Rio and wondering why their marriage is usually so unsatisfying on so many different levels. Then we discover that Hoffman has a major but secret drug problem and Tomei's been seeing his brother Hawke.
In order to get his life back on track, Hoffman plots to rob his own parent's jewellery shop (they'll lose nothing due to their insurance) and draws Hawke into the plot, which goes horribly, horribly wrong, plunging the brothers into guilt-ridden grief. It was a powerful tragedy, with Tomei lending extra weight with her reactions to events, picking up an Independent Spirit award nomination for her work. There'd also be new joy in her personal life. Having dated actor Dana Ashbrook back in the late Nineties, she'd moved on to New York playwright Frank Pugliese, appearing in his Late Night, Early Morning. Now she'd be seen in the company of another actor, Logan Marshall Green, 12 years her junior.
. 2008 would bring more good work, and many more plaudits. First there'd be a reunion with John Cusack in War Inc. Here Cusack would play another reluctant hit-man, this time working for the CIA. Sent to Iraq by former vice-president Dan Aykroyd, he's supposed to kill an oil minister whose plans do not conform with those of Aykroyd's own conglomerate, using as cover a trade expo run by Cusack's sister Joan. Highlight of the expo is the marriage of pop star Hilary Duff, and Duff is rather taken by an unimpressed Cusack - he's far more interested in Tomei, a liberal journalist refusing to kow-tow to the authorities, who believes Cusack to be a greedy capitalist cowboy. A political satire and screwball comedy, it was reasonably diverting stuff.
But it was Tomei's other movie of 2008 that would take the headlines. This was Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, where Mickey Rourke would play a former superstar grappler reduced to fighting for a pittance in local halls, keeping his battered body going with drugs and humping boxes at the supermarket to make ends meet. For relaxation he visits a pole-dancing club where Tomei works. She's a single mum, performing onstage and giving private lap-dances for extra money, keeping her eyes off the reality and on the wage-packet. She was genuinely excellent, sexy and sultry at work and warm and charming offstage, persuading Rourke to attempt a reconciliation with his estranged daughter and allowing him to pick her up - though she needs him as much as a client as a lover. Her own drama, her self-abasement and her dream of escape, would eventually match his own. As the Comeback Kid, Rourke would win a raft of awards for his work, but Tomei would be lauded, too, being nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and, for the third time, an Oscar.
Marisa Tomei can certainly be said to have made it. She's gone from Overnight Sensation to Yesterday's Girl and back to the top again . Now - experienced, skilful and determined - she is doubtless there to stay.
Marisa Tomei, world famous people, actress, biography