When Marisa Tomei won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for My Cousin Vinny in 1993, it must have seemed more of a curse than a blessing as afterwards she disappeared from accolade short lists. However, her gripping turn in 2001's In The Bedroom earned her a second Academy Award nomination, and also gave her a second chance at lasting success in Tinseltown.
Marisa was born on December 4, 1964, the great-granddaughter of Italian immigrants and the second child of Gary, a lawyer, and Patricia, an English teacher. After seeing A Chorus Line
on stage as a pre-teen Marisa set her sights on a career in entertainment. "I was 12 and I came away with a reverence for the magic," she says.
Dropping out of Boston University to enroll at NYU, she quit academia completely when she landed a role on long-running soap opera As The World Turns.
She continued to go to every audition she could, and eventually landed a one-liner in 1984's The Flamingo Kid
, where she made her big screen debut exclaiming: "You're so drunk!".
In 1987, she moved to LA for a prime-time gig on The Cosby Show
spinoff A Different World.
She left after just one year on the show, however, reemerging in 1991 in her first serious film role as Sylvester Stallone's daughter in Oscar.
Marissa had done small roles in half a dozen films including an uncredited turn in 1985's cult flick Toxic Avenger
when she won the Academy Award for her scene-stealing portrayal as gum-chewing Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny.
Her victory must have been especially sweet, coming as it did over an impressive list of film vets including Vanessa Redgrave
, Joan Plowright, Judy Davis and Miranda Richardson.
Yet despite her critically acclaimed performance as silent film star Mabel Normand alongside Robert Downey Jr
, the Oscar triumph seemed to lead her into cinematic obscurity. An effect so dramatic the New York Times
once labelled her Academy Award a "cement life preserver". "Sometimes I feel as if I'm supposed to be defending myself," she said in 1994. "In some ways, I do think the Oscar was premature, but I also feel I have the potential to be a great actress. For me now, it's a matter of fulfilling the potential I have inside."
Riding out the ups and downs of her career, Marisa continued to work in Hollywood, following her first Oscar with charming performances in Only You
and Untamed Heart,
while also pursuing a stage career. Her film efforts caught critics' attention once again in the late Nineties with standout roles in Unhook The Stars
and Slums Of Beverly Hills.
Having worked her way back, Marisa was upbeat about her second round of success. "I don't call it a comeback," she said in 2002. "I feel a shift in the way people are taking me more seriously... I guess people didn't know I was a real actress."