Grace Zabriskie was born in New Orleans in 1942. She came to prominence as Sally Field’s mother in the movie “Norma Rae” in 1979. Her other films include “An Officer and a Gentleman” as the mother of Debra Winger, “Drugstore Cowboy” and “The Burning Bed”.
A character actress given to tasty bit parts, Grace Zabriskie vacillates between erotic exhibitionists and colorful, brassy mothers. Since making her feature debut in “Norma Rae” (1978), the New Orleans-born actress has gone on to leave an indelible mark on both the small and big screens. She has been particularly effective in movies playing mothers, albeit not the kind that would be embraced by June Cleaver. In “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982), Zabriskie portrayed Debra Winger’s mom while in “Drugstore Cowboy” (1989), she was the rejecting parent of Matt Dillon. The actress drew on her roots as Dennis Quaid’s Cajun mom in “The Big Easy” (1986) and was another Southern mother, this time to Sissy Spacek, in “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” (1994). Two of her most memorable feature parts were as a crazed killer (in a role tailored specifically for her) in David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” (1990) and as Malcolm McDowall’s wife in “Chain of Desire” (1993), for which she donned a maid’s uniform and wig for a softly sadistic sex scene. Aong with a steady string of low-profile indie filsm, Zabriskie has appeared in “A Family Thing” (1996), “Armageddon” (1998), “Gone In Sixty Seconds” (2001), “The House on Turk Street” (2002) and, in a particularly effective turn, as the near catatonic victim of “The Grudge” (2004).
On the small screen, the actress has lent her unique talents to a variety of memorable roles. Zabriskie was effective as a snake-handler who attempts to romance a detective in a two-part 1986 installment of NBC’s “Hill Street Blues” and as the supportive wife of Admiral Elmo Zumwalt in the CBS biopic “My Father, My Son” (1988). Zabriskie went on to play the grandmother of a child stricken with AIDS in “The Ryan White Story” (ABC, 1989), and the therapist of a sexually abused teen in “A Deadly Silence” (ABC, 1989). The following year, David Lynch tapped her to portray the excessively sobbing mother of murder victim Laura Palmer in the quirky primetime serial “Twin Peaks” (ABC), which she reprised in the confusing 1993 feature prequel “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”. Zabriskie had the recurring role of the mother of Susan Ross, George Costanza’s ill-fated fiancee in several episodes of “Seinfeld”. She also offered an effective supporting turn as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s mother in the controversial but critically-praised “Bastard Out of Carolina” (Showtime, 1996). She also had a recurring stint as Yellow Teeth on the sci-fi series “John Doe” (UPN, 2002-2003) and appeared as The Crone on the popular WB witchcraft-lite series “Charmed.”
The above TCM overview can also be accessed online here.