|November 8, 1972|
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Gretchen Mol was born Nov. 8, 1972, in Deep River, CT, a small town within commuting distance of New York City, NY. Her mother was an artist and teacher and her father was a school principal. Both parents encouraged her and her brother, Jim, to pursue their interest in the arts, taking their children to plays and museums in the city. Mol knew from an early age that she wanted to act, so naturally, she moved to New York City as a teenager, attending The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She followed up with even more rigorous theatrical training, graduating from the prestigious William Esper Studio in New York. She did summer stock in Vermont before returning to New York. With a wealth of arts education on her resume, Mol did what most aspiring actors do - she took a minimum wage job, went on auditions, and prayed for a big break.
While working as a hat check girl at Michael's, a trendy New York restaurant that catered to the literary and arts crowd, Mol was discovered by a talent agent who was struck by her wholesome beauty. The agent helped Mol land a Coke commercial, and while hardly a big movie or TV role, she did get paid handsomely and could now call herself a working actress. She did a little modeling on the side and auditioned for roles on daytime dramas, resisting the urge to move from New York to try her luck in Los Angeles until it was no longer viable not to. Mol's reluctance to relocate proved a wise decision when director Spike Lee cast her as Girl #12 in his film "Girl 6." Mol played a phone sex operator; a role that caught the attention of another New York director, Abel Ferrara, who in turn cast Mol in his film "The Funeral" (1996). Playing the girlfriend to Vincent Gallo's gangster was not exactly a star turn for Mol, but it kept the momentum going in her career and landed her a similar role as the girlfriend to Michael Madsen's gangster in "Donnie Brasco" (1997) - a high-profile Hollywood movie starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino; the kind of film actors dream of being involved with.
The film also helped introduce Mol to the power players in Hollywood and led to her getting cast as Matt Damon's girlfriend in "Rounders." The neo-noir poker drama also starred Ed Norton, when both he and Damon were just emerging as major film stars. The entertainment press hyped the pairing of the two young actors as if it was the second coming of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. The Hollywood hype machine swept Mol up in the avalanche of publicity for the film as well, culminating in her Vanity Fair cover and profile. When the film failed to capture a wide audience, its two male stars continued their ascent to stardom, while Mol was labeled box office poison; in effect, not having lived up to all Hollywood had been so gracious to bestow on her.
Why Mol became the scapegoat for the failure of "Rounders" was never clear, but nobody ever accused Hollywood of being fair to women. The big parts that were promised her suddenly evaporated, but Mol soldiered on. Woody Allen took a chance and cast her as yet another girlfriend - this time to Leonardo DiCaprio - in "Celebrity" (1998). She continued her trend of working with soon-to-break male stars when she played opposite Jude Law in the romantic comedy "Music from Another Room" (1998). She also acted in several forgettable movies during this period, but her talent attracted some first-rate directors. Tim Robbins, an Oscar nominee for directing "Dead Man Walking" (1995), gave her a small role in his next film, "Cradle Will Rock" (1999), followed by Allen again casting her in his comedy, "Sweet and Lowdown" (1999). While critics liked these movies enough, they were not blockbusters, and for the most part, Mol was off the Hollywood radar.
By 2000, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow were the leading movie actresses of their generation, while Mol - who seemingly missed her window of opportunity - was relegated to supporting roles. However, she continued to work in a wide variety of projects, including "Picnic" (CBS, 2000) and "The Magnificent Ambersons" (A&E, 2002); television remakes of prestigious movies that Mol graced with her strong performances. David E. Kelley, the powerful TV producer whose hit series "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002) made Calista Flockhart a star, gave Mol the lead in his new female lawyer series, "Girls Club" (Fox, 2002), but that show tanked after just one season.
A veteran of the vagaries of show business, Mol shrugged off the show's cancellation and joined the ensemble cast in director Neil LaBute's screen adaptation of his play, "The Shape of Things" (2003). She had created the role of Jenny on stage when the play had premiered in London in 2001, and she found that working in theater was a welcome respite from the pressures of Hollywood. In 2004, she took a year off from films and TV to star as Roxie Hart in the Broadway production of "Chicago." Then, just when she was ready to commit herself to more stage work, she received the call to play Bettie Page in director Mary Harron's long gestating biopic, "The Notorious Bettie Page" (2006). At first glance, Mol was an odd choice to play Page, the fetish queen whose photos and "loops" (short films) titillated viewers during the 1950s. The Tennessee-born Page was dark-haired and ostensibly crude; Mol was blonde, clearly refined and from Connecticut. But Harron saw in Mol the same vulnerability and resiliency that made Page a sympathetic survivor in an exploitative business and went with Mol, who won the best reviews of her career for the role. And while the film did not catapult her onto the Hollywood A-list, it cemented her reputation as a truly versatile character actress with a surprising range who deserved a second chance at stardom.
She continued to work steadily, appearing in James Mangold's Western remake "3:10 to Yuma" (2007), which won critical raves and performed well at the box office. The following year, Mol starred in the Lifetime television adaptation of "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" (2008), a best-selling novel about a couple torn apart after the birth of a child with Down's Syndrome. Mol returned to series television in the fall of 2008 with a supporting role as an underutilized female member of a sexist 1970s New York police force in "Life on Mars" (ABC, 2008-). Hot on the heels of the well-received show, Mol snared a co-starring role as a college professor in the indie comedy "Tenure" (2009), opposite Luke Wilson and Dave Koechner as competitive professors looking to sabotage her career. She also landed a role on the much-anticipated new HBO series co-created by Martin Scorsese, "Boardwalk Empire" (2010- ), playing an Atlantic City showgirl who is the mother of Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), an old friend of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and the former lover of Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza).