Happy birthday, Illeana Douglas! Today is just the day to celebrate this fabulous actor and filmmaker.
Raised in New England, Illeana grew up visiting relatives in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York; her grandparents in particular no doubt inspired her career in the arts. Illeana’s grandmother, a former Rockette, took Illeana to the movies frequently throughout her childhood, instilling in her a love for film from a young age.
Her grandfather was Hollywood actor Melvyn Douglas. She often spent time at her grandfather’s Manhattan apartment as well as his home in Hollywood Hills in LA, where he introduced her to his interests such as theater, reading, and art, and where she got to spend time amongst many artists and creatives. In fact, she has said that Melvyn’s performance in the 1979 film Being There was influential in her career.
After graduating high school, Illeana moved to New York City. There she pursued acting as she studied at Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater with the teacher Richard Pinter, and stand up comedy as she worked briefly at Stand Up New York.
She then began working with the publicist Peggy Siegal. Through Peggy, Illeana met filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who was editing his film Last Temptation of Christ in an office down the hall from Peggy and enlisted Illeana to provide the sound effect for Mary Magdalene screaming in the film.
Illeana played a small role in Martin Scorsese’s New York Stories (1989), and then went on to play Lori Davis in his 1991 film Cape Fear. She also appeared in three more of his films, but her characters were cut.
Illeana met director Alison Anders through Sundance Film Festival. The two of them went on to collaborate on what is perhaps Illeana’s most well-known role in Grace of My Heart. Grace of My Heart is a musical comedy about the fictional career of Denise Waverly, an aspiring singer who writes for other pop stars in the sixties.
In a review of the film, FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner says, “Through all their career highs and lows, plus romances, marriages, pregnancies, and divorces, ‘Denise’ and her friends run through a fabulous array of period costumes and hairdo’s that are almost as much fun as the nostalgic music.”
Throughout her acting career, Illeana also guest starred on many beloved television shows like Seinfeld, Frasier, and Six Feet Under (for which she received two Emmy nominations for Guest Actress in a Drama). In 2007, she joined the cast of Ugly Betty.
Illeana has also written and produced several works, including the documentary Everybody Just Stay Calm—Stories in Independent Filmmaking (1994), a comedic doc about the struggles of indie filmmaking which she directed, and Boy Crazy, Girl Crazier (1995), a satire about two roommates competing to make it in Hollywood. From 2008-2012, she played herself in a web series sponsored by IKEA called Easy to Assemble about a former actor who goes to work at IKEA.
Beyond her own creative projects, Illeana has been a fierce advocate for women’s rights
Beyond her own creative projects, Illeana has been a fierce advocate for women’s rights in entertainment throughout her career. In 2018, Illeana was one of six women to speak up about the sexual misconduct of former CBS chief Les Moonves, resulting in his resignation.
Additionally, Illeana worked with the advocacy group Women in Film to present a series on the Turner Classic Movies, which presented work by female pioneers in film such as her friend Allison Anders, Agnès Varda, Amy Heckerling, and others.
FF2 Media has been proud to cover several of the films from this series. Illeana was inspired to become involved in the project and honor women’s contributions to cinema after learning that the American Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest American movies did not include a single film by a woman.
Although Illeana’s own films are mostly lighthearted and comedic, she also knows when it’s time to get serious, allowing her to make an impact even deeper than that of her films. Illeana is a fierce entertainer and an even more fierce advocate for women. Happy birthday, Illeana!
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read about Illeana’s inspiration from Being There here.
Check out Illeana’s filmography here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Illeana Douglas. Credit: Maximum Film / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2JD980C
Middle Photo: Illeana Douglas. Credit: “Streamy Awards Photo 1352” by The Bui Brothers is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Bottom Photo: Grace of My Heart Director Alisonn Anders. Credit: RGR Collection / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: K36BGC