Also Credited As:Joan Mary Cusack
|Joan Mary Cusack on October 11, 1962 in New York City, New York, USA|
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Born Oct. 11, 1962 in Evanston, IL, Cusack was raised in an Irish Catholic home headed by her father, Richard, a screenwriter, actor and advertising executive, and her mother, Nancy, a math teacher. She was encouraged by her parents to be creative, which led her to join the Piven Theater Workshop as a child. After learning improvisation at the Story Theatre, Cusack made her feature film debut in "My Bodyguard" (1980), before joining another improv group, The Ark, where she honed her latent comedy skills. She continued to land small roles in Chicago-based movies, including "Sixteen Candles" (1984), while attending the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she earned her bachelor's degree in English in 1985. After graduation, she hit the big time by joining the cast of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) for its 1985-86 season, though like many of the female players during its early years, she was vastly underused. Cusack departed the show after one season and returned her focus toward feature films, co-starring in the teen comedy "The Allnighter" (1987) before announcing her arrival as a comic force to be reckoned with in "Broadcast News" (1987). In the classic James L. Brooks film, she delivered a strong supporting turn as a harried, sprinting production assistant who memorably says to her boss (Holly Hunter), "Except for socially, you're my role model." Her rush to get a tape dub back to the studio in time for a live broadcast - including her manic slide under an opening file cabinet - became one of the most famous scenes in the film.
In "Married to the Mob" (1988), Cusack was featured as a Long Island Mafia wife who helps gang up on the wife of a hitman (Michelle Pfeiffer) in a memorable grocery store scene. Cusack then gave an Oscar-nominated performance in Mike Nichols' winning romantic comedy, "Working Girl" (1988), playing a big-haired Staten Island secretary who can not fathom why an executive (Sigourney Weaver) would pay thousands of dollars for a dress when "it's not even leatha." After co-starring with younger brother John - playing his sister, of all things - in his breakout film, "Say Anything" (1989), she continued to build her reputation with an atypical dramatic portrayal of a mature seductress in "Men Don't Leave" (1990). Cusack was the perfect comic foil to Steve Martin's wisecracking mobster-turned-state's evidence in "My Blue Heaven" (1990), playing a stick-in-the-mud district attorney who grudgingly falls for a nerdy FBI agent (Rick Moranis) protecting him. Becoming pigeonholed as a comic sidekick or supporting player, Cusack nonetheless continued to impress with roles in "Hero" (1992), "Toys" (1992) and particularly "Addams Family Values" (1993), playing a voluptuous blonde nanny who is less benign than she seems to be.
After a fine turn as a loyal secretary to a youthful hit man (John Cusack) in "Grosse Point Blank" (1997), Cusack graduated to leading lady in Frank Oz's "In & Out" (1997). Scripted by Paul Rudnick, "In & Out" provided the actress with a rich role as the trusting fiancée of a fellow teacher (Kevin Kline) who is exposed as being gay by a former student (Matt Dillon) at the Academy Awards. In a role that could have devolved into a cartoon, Cusack imbued the character - a 30ish, formerly overweight and still insecure woman - with equal amounts of warmth and empathy. Meanwhile, Cusack ventured into more straightforward dramatic territory, appearing as Tim Robbins' wife in the paranoiac thriller "Arlington Road" (1999) and working with Robbins the director in "The Cradle Will Rock" (1999), playing a clerk whom an anti-Communist ventriloquist (Bill Murray) attempts to seduce while coaching to inform on her left-leaning superiors. But Cusack also kept her comedic chops sharp, playing Julia Roberts' best friend Peggy, a hair stylist who reads omens in the flights of geese, in director Garry Marshall's "Runaway Bride" (1999), then received kudos for her voice performance as the lonely cowgirl puppet, Jesse, in Disney/Pixar's winning CGI-animated sequel, "Toy Story 2" (1999).
Rejoining her brother in "High Fidelity" (2000) for a brief, but nicely etched role as Liz, best friend to the ex-girlfriend of a romantically challenged record shop owner (John Cusack), Cusack followed up with a strong co-starring turn as a hard-boiled talent agent in the otherwise meandering comedy, "Where the Heart Is" (2000). In a return to regular series work - her first stint since he days on "SNL" - Cusack starred in her own sitcom produced by James L. Brooks, "What About Joan?" (ABC, 2000-02). Shot entirely in her native Chicago, the show focused on Cusack as high school teacher Joan Gallagher, who deals with problems through close friends and co-workers while putting the breaks on a quickly-developing romance with a fellow teacher (Kyle Chandler). While the mid-season replacement series received some critical support, Cusack was also criticized for playing too big for television's intimate scale. The series failed to lure many viewers and was axed just a few months into the fall season, despite a summertime revamp. Turning to a sweet-natured TV movie project, Cusack next appeared in "It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie" (NBC, 2001), playing miserly banker Rachel Bitterman, who gives the Muppets till Christmas Eve to come up with the money they owe or else she will foreclose on the beloved Muppet Theater.
After an absence from major screen roles, Cusack made a welcome return in the excellent comedy, "School of Rock" (2003), playing a seemingly stern and imperious private school principal whose humanity and insecurities are revealed after she is tricked into hiring wannabe rocker (Jack Black) as a substitute teacher who recruits his students to form a rock band. Following an appearance as Mother in the lackluster live action-animated feature, "Loony Tunes: Back in Action" (2003), she provided a brittle comedic edge to the lightweight comedy "Raising Helen" (2004), playing the disapproving older sister of Helen (Kate Hudson), a party girl who finds herself raising three children of their late sibling. After voicing a character in the animated "Chicken Little" (2005), she played the mother of a teenage girl (Michelle Trachtenberg) who dreams of becoming a championship skater against her mother's wishes in "Ice Princess" (2005). Cusack followed with a supporting role in the adult comedy of manners, "Friends With Money" (2006), then co-starred alongside her brother once again in "War, Inc." (2008), an irreverent satire about war profiteering in a Middle Eastern country. After joining young star Abigail Breslin for the family-oriented "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" (2008) and the Nick Cassavetes' drama "My Sister's Keeper" (2009), Cusack reprised the voice of Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl for the animated hit "Toy Story 3" (2010). Back on the small screen, she made a guest appearance in an episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) while playing the recurring role of Sheila Jackson on "Shameless" (Showtime, 2011- ), an agoraphobic who serves as the love interest to an unabashed alcoholic and head of a dysfunctional family (William H. Macy). Her role on "Shameless" earned Cusack an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress on a Drama Series.