Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was born in Illinois in 1958. She made her major film debut in 1982 in “Scarface” with Al Pacino. She also starred in “The Colour of Money” with Tom Cruise and Paul Newman, “The Abyss”and “Class Action” with Gene Hackman. She gave a brilliant performance opposite David Straithairn in “Limbo” in 1999. She is married to the noted Irish film director Pat O’Connor.
A gifted actress and singer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was blessed with a striking beauty and undeniable screen presence that brought her recognition alongside some of filmdom’s biggest stars. After making her impressive, blood-soaked feature film debut in Brian De Palma’s controversial gangster epic “Scarface” (1983), she performed on the stages of New York for a time before returning to the screen opposite multi-generational screen idols Paul Newman and Tom Cruise in Martin Scorsese’s “The Color of Money” (1986). However, consequent efforts such as “Slam Dance” (1987) and “The January Man” (1989) failed to capitalize on that early success. Although visionary director James Cameron’s ambitious undersea epic “The Abyss” (1989) placed the actress back in the spotlight, the exhausting and dangerous experience on the set of the adventure may have also soured her taste for blockbuster filmmaking. Early 1990s work included starring turns in respectable films like “Class Action” (1991) and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991), followed by participation in the easily forgotten “White Sands” (1992) and “Consenting Adults” (1992). While her output decreased in the years that followed, the actress resurfaced occasionally in high-profile projects like “The Perfect Storm” (2000). Even though her films were not all met with rave reviews, Mastrantonio’s innate talent allowed her to retain a highly respected reputation as one if Hollywood’s more dependable actresses.
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was born on Nov. 17, 1958 in Lombard, IL to Italian immigrant parents. Her mother, Mary, suffered terribly with rheumatoid arthritis for most of her adult life, and her father, Frank Mastrantonio, ran a bronze foundry. The fifth of six daughters, Mary Elizabeth was raised in the town of Oak Park, where she originally cultivated a desire to become a professional opera singer. An early acting role came in a production of “Oklahoma!” while attending Oak Park-River High School, and later in several stage performances at the University of Illinois, where the talented soprano studied music and voice. During a summer between years at college, Mastrantonio worked as a singer and performer at Nashville’s Opryland, before ultimately dropping out of school and making the move to Chicago. There, she landed a small part in the touring production of “Amadeus” before transitioning to New York City and serving as an understudy for the part of Maria in the Broadway revival of “West Side Story.” Eventually Mastrantonio began to move away from musicals, focusing instead on more dramatic works, including a Broadway mounting of “Amadeus,” starring Frank Langella as Salieri.
After seeing her brief appearance in director Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” (1982) left on the cutting room floor, Mastrantonio made her feature film debut in Brian De Palma’s bloody remake of “Scarface” (1983). Cast as Gina, the beautiful, yet doomed sister of drug kingpin Tony Montana (Al Pacino), the young actress shone in a film largely derided by critics of the time for its extreme brutal violence and graphic language. In what would become a frequent occurrence throughout her career, Mastrantonio would appear in films that drew overall criticism, while her particular performance was singled out appreciatively. De Palma and screenwriter Oliver Stone had the last laugh, however, when in the years that followed, “Scarface” went on to achieve cult status. The burgeoning actress returned to Broadway for a production of the musical “The Human Comedy” in 1984, as well as two consecutive seasons with venerated producer Joseph Papp for mountings of “Henry V” and “Measure for Measure” at the New York Shakespeare Festival. At the same time, she made her television debut opposite George C. Scott in the historical biopic “Mussolini: The Untold Story” (NBC, 1985).
Perhaps regretting having to cut her out of his previous film, Scorsese cast Mastrantonio opposite Paul Newman and Tom Cruise in the pool shark movie “The Color of Money” (1986), a sequel to Newman’s “The Hustler” (1961). As Carmen, Cruise’s “tough cookie” girlfriend-slash-manager in the film, she more than held her own against her famous co-stars. In addition to critical raves for her turn in the film, the role also earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Focusing more on projects that interested her rather than chasing a blockbuster movie, Mastrantonio next co-starred with Tom Hulce in the quirky, punk-infused neo-noir “Slam Dance” (1987), as the wife of an unfaithful husband (Hulce) framed for the murder of his lover (Virginia Madsen). Next came “The January Man” (1989), a comedy-thriller starring Kevin Kline as a brilliant, but disgraced ex-cop trying to catch a serial killer. Mastrantonio played Kline’s love-interest in a film that not only bombed at theaters, but was described by film critic Roger Ebert as “one of the worst movies of all time.”
In spite of the box office failure of “The January Man,” it did result in one happy coincidence for Mastrantonio – her introduction to the film’s director, Pat O’Connor, whom she would marry one year later. Considerably better received than the year’s previous film, director James Cameron’s epic deep sea adventure “The Abyss” (1989) placed the actress in a big-budget, crowd-pleasing blockbuster for the first time in her career. Visually stunning, the film not only pushed the boundaries of filmmaking technology, but pushed its cast, including Ed Harris and Michael Biehn, beyond their limits of endurance. Long hours, boredom, and dangerous working conditions – much of “The Abyss” was filmed underwater inside a seven million gallon water tank – over several months of shooting resulted in a severe emotional breakdown for Mastrantonio. Tough guy Harris even claimed to have broken into uncontrollable sobs one night after a grueling day of filming for alleged “taskmaster” Cameron. Both actors publicly expressed their displeasure with the shoot, with Harris stating he would never work for Cameron again. Needing to recharge her emotional and artistic batteries, Mastrantonio returned to the New York Shakespeare festival with a lauded performance as Viola in “Twelfth Night” alongside her “January Man” co-star, Kevin Kline.
Mastrantonio returned to the screen under the direction of recent husband O’Connor for the Irish period drama “Fools of Fortunes” (1990), and took part in a television adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” (PBS, 1991) in the role of Yelena. She kept busy with two mainstream feature films that same year. First came director Michael Apted’s courtroom thriller “Class Action” (1991), in which she played a corporate attorney opposing her estranged lawyer father (Gene Hackman) in a high-stakes automotive defect case. Next came a star-studded reinvention of the classic adventure tale “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991), featuring Kevin Costner as the titular folk hero and Mastrantonio as his Maid Marian. Although the latter movie met with decidedly mixed reviews, it went on to become one of Mastrantonio’s more successful films at the box office. Less notable were her follow up projects in the coming year. The stylistic noir mystery “White Sands” (1992), starring Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke left audiences scratching their heads, while the suburban sexual thriller “Consenting Adults” (1992) simply left moviegoers underwhelmed, despite a strong cast that once again paired Mastrantonio with Kline, in addition to rising star Kevin Spacey.
Settling in London with O’Connor, Mastrantonio slowed her output while she took time to enjoy her newest role as a mother, before returning to film with the treacly fantasy-romance “Three Wishes” (1995), opposite Patrick Swayze. Also that year was the little-seen period drama “Two Bits” (1995), which reunited her with her “Scarface” co-star, Pacino. After another multi-year break, she took on leading roles in the John Sayles Alaskan drama “Limbo” (1999) and appeared with Colin Firth for the British period piece “My Life So Far” (1999). Next, Mastrantonio took part in her first big-budget hit film in nearly a decade with the based-on-fact adventure “The Perfect Storm” (2000), starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg as crew members on a doomed fishing vessel off the coast of Massachusetts. Working sporadically for much of the next decade, she focused her efforts primarily on television in such projects as “The Brooke Ellison Story” (A&E, 2004), a biopic directed by Christopher Reeve about a girl’s struggle to succeed, despite her disability as a quadriplegic. Other work included recurring roles on two popular police procedurals: “Without a Trace” (CBS, 2002-09) during the 2005-06 season, and several episodes of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (NBC, 2001- ) in 2010.