Jennifer Jason Leigh Biography
She's been called a "post-modern Meryl Streep, and is considered to be one of the hardest working actresses in Hollywood. Jennifer Jason Leigh is most known not only for the quality of her acting, but for the many odd roles she has taken. Not one to rely on her beauty to land glamorous roles, Jennifer has carved out a niche in Hollywood playing the dark, the disturbed and the disenfranchised. Her filmography contains the mentally unbalanced, substance abusers, rape victims and murderers.
Leigh was born Jennifer Lee Morrow on February 5th, 1962 in Hollywood, California and she comes from a Hollywood family. Her father is Vic Morrow (star of Blackboard Jungle) and her mother has worked for years in the business as both a writer and an actress. Her parents divorced when she was only 2, but she remained in contact with both over the years. In 1982, her father was killed in a famous accident on the set of the Twilight Zone Movie. It was in an attempt to distance herself from her family's reputation that she first changed her name.
The 'Jason' was in honor of a close friend, Jason Robards, Jr.. Jennifer has a younger sister and one older sister, Carrie, who apparently is the inspiration for many of her most outlandish characters. Carrie was a rebellious youth, who eventually left home to join the circus. She was always the passionate, emotional sister, and Jennifer was left with the responsible and more intellectual character. She was quiet and even her mother has said that she knew she was different because she had this death look as a baby... “I had these visions of her sitting in her room sticking needles into dolls. Don't cross this kid. She's a witch."
In an attempt to release all the emotion which she usually had kept bottled up, Jennifer turned to acting as an outlet. Without finishing high school first, she got her start in some very low-brow, exploitative films. Leigh showed a willingness to bare all, and did not mind playing trashy characters - she was a B-movie director's dream. Still, it was abundantly clear that Jennifer was much better than the films she starred in, and it was only a matter of time before the right people took notice. Jennifer has gone on to star in numerous films, most of which have been adored by critics. She has gained a reputation as being a very professional and thoughtful actress.
Leigh fully immerses herself in her characters, and they seem to provide her with a kind of emotional catharsis. As director Robert Altman has put it, "Jennifer's one of the few actresses who doesn't use her own personality; she manufactures these characters and becomes them." One of Jennifer's most intense performances came in Georgia, the story of a woman (Sadie Flood - played by Leigh) whose singing is far overshadowed by that of her folk-singing sister, Georgia (Mare Winningham)’s. Sadie goes on a steady downward spiral of depression and drugs. The movie was written by Leigh's mother and was inspired partly by her relationship with her two very different daughters. Jennifer says that playing such a needy character was hard, and that by the end of filming she was down to a mere 89 pounds. So why does Jennifer seem to go after such dark and disturbing characters? She says that this kind of character fascinates her, and she believes that they are people "we label and put in boxes somewhere" and that she wants to oppose this notion.
Jennifer is passionate about her ideals, and tries to use her performances to shed some light on the disenfranchised members of our society. This would seem to explain why she seems to revel in dark and dirty of subcultures - it is all an attempt to make mainstream culture face its demons. Should we expect a lighter, more carefree Jennifer Jason Leigh performance in the future? Not likely. She does what she does too well, and enjoys it too much to give it up. We can surely count on many more thought-provoking theatrical turns for this unique actress.