|April 11, 1973|
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Born April 11, 1973 in Brooklyn, NY, Jennifer Esposito was the daughter of Phyllis, an interior decorator, and Robert Esposito, a computer consultant and music producer. Always dreaming of becoming an actress, she enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Institute and held a series of odd jobs to support herself, including waiting tables and dancing on "Club MTV" (MTV, 1985-1992). Esposito's breakthrough came in 1995, when she landed small roles on the soap opera "The City" (ABC, 1995-97) and in Neil Simon's TV reworking of "The Sunshine Boys" (CBS, 1997). The beautiful Brooklynite capitalized on the New York indie boom by filming a string of small roles in "A Brother's Kiss" (1997) with Rosie Perez, Cathy Moriarty and Marisa Tomei; "Kiss Me, Guido" (1997); and Edward Burns' "No Looking Back" (1998). She ascended a level professionally by hooking up professionally with Spike Lee, starring in "He Got Game" (1998). She reached her biggest movie audiences then to date with a splashy role - and even splashier death scene - in the Brandy-infused horror sequel "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" (1998).
Esposito had already made a name for herself on television, joining the cast of "Spin City" (ABC, 1996-2002) in the second season as Michael J. Fox's tough-talking, Brooklyn-bred secretary, although she would only stick around for two seasons. Off-screen, she was in the midst of dating Benjamin Bratt prior to his high-profile romance with Julia Roberts, after the two met when she made a guest appearance in a 1996 episode of "Law and Order" (NBC, 1990-2010). Luckily, her departure from the popular "Spin City" freed her up to reunite with Spike Lee in his dark take on the real-life New York City-based serial killer rampage, "Summer of Sam" (1999). Originally cast as the female lead in the sex-and-drugs-soaked story of several neighborhood friends driven to extremes during the murder spree of "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz, Esposito was instead given a more colorful supporting role while Mira Sorvino took the lead. The actress made an impression on critics in her intense role of a lovelorn young woman who falls in love - and dangerous lust - with a proto-punk (Adrien Brody) suspected of being a murderer. She filmed a memorable, charming cameo as the cop ex-girlfriend of Chris O'Donnell in "The Bachelor" (1999), and essayed a grueling dramatic role as a reporter determined to have her own rapist brought to justice in an episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ).
After playing several small dramatic roles in major pictures like Gerard Butler's toothy turn as "Dracula 2000" (2000), starring in the low-budget independent thriller "The Proposal" (2001), and making a delightful cameo in the Jon Favreau/Vince Vaughn buddy picture "Made" (2001), Esposito landed a juicy supporting role of a tough cop in the Michael Douglas/Brittany Murphy thriller "Don't Say a Word" (2001). True to Hollywood form, on the strength of her momentum, she earned the female lead in a big-budget production, but unfortunately, that production turned out to be the Dana Carvey "turtle, turtle, turtle" flop "Master of Disguise" (2002). Still, Esposito had reason to rejoice that year, acting alongside William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell and George Clooney in the Russo Brothers' caper comedy "Welcome to Collinwood" (2002).
In late 2004, Esposito returned to series television with a recurring role on the courtroom drama "Judging Amy" (CBS, 1999-2005) playing Crystal Turner, a social worker who runs an outreach program for homeless children. She followed up on the big screen as a member of the top-flight acting ensemble assembled for the racially charged, multi-plot drama "Crash" (2004), playing the partner and lover of a police detective (Don Cheadle) embroiled in a racially sensitive homicide case. The film went to win the Best Picture Oscar, as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble, for which Esposito was honored. She added to her gallery of police officers by playing a high-level cop charged with keeping low-level Jimmy Fallon in line in the Queen Latifah comedy misfire "Taxi" (2004), as well as a forceful seductress in the Jamie Foxx sex comedy "Breakin' All the Rules" (2004). Her success led to the lead role on the comedy drama "Related" (The WB, 2005), about a clan of Brooklyn sisters navigating their professional and personal lives, as well as their own changing relationships with each other. Although it was highly promoted, the show failed to catch on, but Esposito continued to book guest-starring roles on a variety of shows, including recurring appearances on "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2000) and "Rescue Me" (FX, 2004-2011).
In late 2006, the actress married her boyfriend, a pre-fame Bradley Cooper, but filed for divorce in April of the following year. On a better professional note, she seemed finally to have landed a scene-stealing regular role on a successful sitcom when she was cast on "Samantha Who?" (ABC, 2007-09). The show followed the titular Samantha (Christina Applegate), who developed amnesia after a coma and, as she began reconstructing her life, realized just how evil she used to be. The very funny, Emmy-winning comedy received excellent reviews, with many aimed at Esposito as Applegate's bad-girl best friend, Andrea, who was not sure what to make of Samantha's rehabilitation - or her dorky new nice-girl friend Dena (Melissa McCarthy). Although the show started off incredibly strong on all fronts, the WGA strike forced it to split production, losing viewers and momentum in the meantime. Sadly, the excellent show that seemed to be destined for success fell prey to circumstances beyond anyone's control, and it disappeared after two seasons. Esposito, however, bounced back with a recurring role on the medical drama "Mercy" (NBC, 2009-2010).
By Jonathan Riggs