Date and Place of Birth
April 28, 1952 (Taurus)
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA
001. Biography (below)
003. Awards List
004. Personal Quotes
006. Official Twitter
007. Official Facebook
008. Official Instagram
with her sister
Mary Eileen McDonnell was born on April 28, 1952 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to her parents Eileen Mundy and John McDonnell. She is one of six children, her siblings include Jane (who passed away in 2005), Sally, Judith, Jackie and John. Being raised in Ithaca, New York, she graduated from the State University of New York at Fredonia and attended drama school afterward, joining the prestigious Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, where she worked for three months.
Mary made her first television appearance on the soap opera As The World Turns as Claudia Colfax in an episode dated January 24, 1980. In 1981, she won an Obie Award for Best Actress for her role in the play Still Life, and the next year, she played the role of Terri in the television movie Money on the Side, about three middle-class housewives who are having money problems and join a prostitution ring. The film also starred Jamie Lee Curtis, Karen Valentine, and Christopher Lloyd. In 1984, she briefly appeared on the screen in the role of Lady Capulet for Garbo Talks and that same year, she began her first recurring role on the short-lived medical comedy series E/R as Dr. Eve Sheridan, which would put the basis for the acclaimed drama a few years after.
In 1986, Mary portrayed Gabriella Estrada in the television movie Courage, starring Sophia Loren, Billy Dee Williams, and Hector Elizondo.
Next came Matewan in 1987, where she played Elma Radnor; the film revolved around a labor union organizer going into a mining community that is violently dominated and harassed by its mining company, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography. In 1988, Mary starred alongside Patrick Swayze in the drama Tiger Warsaw, in which she played Paula Warsaw. She would next appear in an episode of A Man Called Hawk as Mrs. Kirkpatrick and, on Broadway, as the main character of Heidi Holland in The Heidi Chronicles from March 1989 until September 1990, which also starred David Hyde Pierce and Tony Shalhoub.
Dances with Wolves
In 1990, Mary would appear in the western drama Dances With Wolves as Stands With A Fist, starred and directed by Kevin Costner. The film is considered her breakthrough performance, which gave her the first nomination to an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The next year, she would play Alexandra Bergson in the television movie O Pioneers! before the theatrical release of Grand Canyon, where she starred as Claire, the wife of the protagonist (Kevin Kline). In 1992, Mary portrayed Liz in the crime drama Sneakers, starring Robert Redford, then Passion Fish as Mary-Alice Culhane, a soap-opera actress who is victim of an accident which leaves her paraplegic and having to learn to adapt to her new life. That role would earn her second Academy Award nomination, the victory went to Emma Thompson. Her lone project in 1993 was the television movie The America Clock, a film about Arthur Miller’s recollection of events of the 1930s Depression.
1994 was the year of the film Blue Chips, where Mary played Jenny Bell alongside Nick Nolte. Her next recurring role on a television show came as Dott Emerson on the the comedy High Society in 1995, also starring Jean Smart. The show was unfortunately cancelled after only one season. Mary would next play the part of Teri Hansen in the television movie Woman Undone, before serving as the First Lady Marilyn Whitmore in the Will Smith blockbuster film Independence Day in 1996. She also returned to the Broadway stage to play Alma Winemiller, a highly-strung and unmarried minister’s daughter, in Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke from September – October 1996. Variety praised her as she gave the production its center and that “any initial flaws” in the production faded with her performance. Mary would continue to appear in television movies such as Two Small Voices, 12 Angry Men, and Evidence of Blood through 1997 and 1998, as well as 1999’s Behind the Mask and Replacing Dad. Her next feature film would come by playing Diane in the dramatic comedy You Can Thank Me Later in 1998, which also starred Ellen Burstyn and Ted Levine. Later that year, she would lend her voice for the film Spanish Fly as Zoe’s Mother. In 1999, Mary narrated an episode titled “Fly Girls” for the documentary television series “American Experience”.
The episode told the story of the Women Air Force Service (WASP) during World War II. She would play the role of Rachel Caulfield for two episodes of the television series “Ryan Caulfield: Year One”, a series revolving around the first year of a young rookie officer in the Philadelphia Police Department. The same year, she would be a part of the comedic drama Mumford, as Althea Brockett and also return to the stage to begin performing in The Vagina Monologues for the next four years.
In 2000, Mary played Susan Shaw in the television movie A Father’s Choice, followed by For All Time, as Laura Brown; as well as Jules O’Grady in a couple episodes of the series That’s Life. The next year, she would jump into the role of Rose Darko in Donnie Darko, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, a project which immediately captivated her as she read the script and she felt to completely understand from the beginning. Going back to television she took the role of Jane Eastman in the tv movie Chestnut Hill and appearing in a few episodes on the series “ER” as Eleanor Carter in 2001, for which she would end up winning an Emmy nomination.
James and the Handless Maiden
She would continue to appear on television as Sister Theodore Claire in an episode of “Touched by an Angel”, along with the television movie The Locket as Helen Staples. But Mary really never left the stage and came back to it in An American Daughter, playing Dr. Lyssa Dent Hughes at the L.A. Theatre Works; followed by 2002’s James and the Handless Maiden, which was also directed by her husband, Randle Mell. In 2003, Mary appeared in the romantic comedy Nola as Margaret Langworthy, a film about an aspiring songwriter leaving her abusive home and making her journey to New York to find her biological father.
But the biggest change came in 2003 with the role of (President) Laura Roslin in the mini-series of Battlestar Galactica, a reinvented remake from the popular 1978 show, which soon became a full series of four seasons in 2004, and followed by the television movie Battlestar Galactica: Razor in 2007. She received worldwide recognition for her performance in the show, part of which was shown when she was invited to the United Nations for a retrospective and discussion with fellow actor Edward James Olmos, who would also become of of her closest friends. Following the end of the show and waiting for the next big gig, Mary played different roles such as Amy Banks in the film Crazy Like a Fox in 2004, a dramatic comedy about an 8th generation Virginian farmer living in the past, and a small part in the television movie Mrs. Harris, where the played Vivian Schulte. 2006 brought Mary back to the L.A. Theatre stage playing Beatrice in A View from the Bridge, also starring Harry Hamlin and Ed O’Neill. A review by Stephen Marino stated she, Ed O’Neill, and Amy Pietz proved as a “strong trio in illustrating Eddie’s lust for Catherine, Catherine’s emerging sense of womanhood, and Beatrice’s delicate dance between her love for husband and her maternal feelings for Catherine.”
In 2008, Mary appeared in a few episodes of the Shonda Rhimes heavyweight series “Grey’s Anatomy” playing Dr. Virginia Dixon. She continued on television with a couple movies, Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover, before her next recurring role as Captain Sharon Raydor on the show The Closer, starring Kyra Sedgwick. In 2011, she appeared in the feature films Margin Calls and Scream 4 respectively. Once The Closer ended, Mary was offered the leading role in the series’ spin-off Major Crimes, reprising her role as Sharon Raydor, transitioning from antagonist to protagonist.
Gloria: A Life
In 2015, she also performed in Emily Mann’s adaption of Anthon Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard, starring as Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya, with David Strathairn and her daughter; Frank Burd praises her performance as “charming and kind, trying to please everyone with a smile, a touch, a genuine concern for all around her, even though it is folly to think she can survive without money.” Mary went straight from one series to the next, having another small recurring role in the third season of the FX series Fargo as Ruby Goldfarb and a little cameo in the fourth season of Kristen Bell’s Veronica Mars. Her big love for theatre brought Mary once again on the stage in Princeton, New Jersey, when her good friend Emily Mann contacted her to star as Gloria Steinem in Gloria: A Life, the biography Mann wanted to present about Gloria raising her voice to ask for equality for all. A lifetime dream-role for Mary.
During the past months of 2021, McDonnell participated in a regular role as Helen in the ABC’s drama Rebel, which sadly was cancelled right away, and gave her voice for the anime movie The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf as Lady Zerbst. It has been announced she will be participating in two new projects: The Fall of the House of Usher and A.K.A. Blackbird.
Mary currently resides in Los Angeles; she is still working to this day both as an actress and a podcast host.