A list of what I consider to the best 40 actresses in film and television, both living and dead.
America's Sweetheart and star of the wildly popular Hunger Games series, Jennifer Lawrence is the first, and thus far only, person born in the 1990s to have received an acting Oscar (for Silver Linings Playbook
). Lawrence was born Jennifer Shrader Lawrence on August 15, 1990 in Louisville, Kentucky, to Karen (Koch)...
Considered by many critics to be the greatest living actress, Meryl Streep has been nominated for the Academy Award an astonishing 20 times, and has won it three times. Meryl was born Mary Louise Streep in 1949 in Summit, New Jersey, to Mary Wolf (Wilkinson), a commercial artist, and Harry William Streep...
One of the brightest, most tragic movie stars of Hollywood's Golden Era, Judy Garland
was a much-loved character whose warmth and spirit, along with her rich and exuberant voice, kept theatre-goers entertained with an array of delightful musicals. She was born Frances Ethel Gumm on 10 June 1922 in Minnesota...
The woman who will always be remembered as the crazy, accident-prone, lovable Lucy Ricardo was born Lucille Desiree Ball on August 6, 1911 in Jamestown, New York. Her father died before she was four, and her mother worked several jobs, so she and her younger brother were raised by their grandparents...
Taylor Schilling (born July 27, 1984) is an American actress. She is known for her role as "Piper Chapman" on the Netflix original comedy-drama series, Orange Is the New Black
(2013-present), for which she won the 2013 Satellite Award for Best Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy, and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress...
Emma Thompson was born in London on April 15, 1959, into a family of actors - her father was Eric Thompson
, who has passed away, and her mother, Phyllida Law
, has co-starred with Thompson in several films (her sister, Sophie Thompson
, is an actor as well). Her father was English-born and her mother is Scottish-born...
Jessica Michelle Chastain was born in Sacramento, California, and was raised in a middle-class household in a northern California suburb. Her mother, Jerri Chastain, is a vegan chef whose family is originally from Kansas, and her stepfather is a fireman. She discovered dance at the age of nine and was in a dance troupe by age thirteen...
Born May 12, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut, she was the daughter of a doctor and a suffragette, both of whom always encouraged her to speak her mind, develop it fully, and exercise her body to its full potential. An athletic tomboy as a child, she was also very close to her brother, Tom, and was devastated at age 14 to find him dead...
Judi Dench was born in York, England, to Eleanora Olive (Jones), who was from Dublin, Ireland, and Reginald Arthur Dench, a doctor from Dorset, England. She attended Mount School in York, and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She has performed with Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre...
One of the world's most famous and distinguished actresses, Dame Maggie Smith was born Margaret Natalie Smith in Essex. Her Scottish mother, Margaret (Hutton), worked as a secretary, and her English father, Nathaniel Smith, was a teacher at Oxford University. Smith has been married twice: to actor Robert Stephens
and to playwright Beverley Cross
Dame Helen Mirren was born in Queen Charlotte's Hospital in West London. Her mother, Kathleen Alexandrina Eva Matilda (Rogers), was from a working-class English family, and her father, Vasiliy Petrovich Mironov, was a Russian-born civil servant, from Kuryanovo, whose own father was a diplomat. Mirren attended St...
Katherine Kiernan Mulgrew, or Kate Mulgrew, was born on April 29, 1955. She grew up in Dubuque, Iowa, being the oldest girl in an Irish Catholic family of 8. When Kate, as a 12-year-old, expressed an interest in acting, her mother, Joan, brought home biographies of great actresses and sent Kate to summer acting schools...
Natasha Lyonne is an American stage, film, and television actress. As a young child, she was signed by the Ford Modeling Agency and, at the age of six, was cast as a role in Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Natasha remained busy with appearances in almost 30 films over the next 10 years, including some starring roles in independent films...
Aduba began earning recognition for her work in 2003, with a performance in "Translations of Xhosa" at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that won her a Helen Hayes Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Play. Her Broadway debut was in 2007 as Toby in "Coram Boy". She was...
Emmy-winning talk show host Ellen Lee DeGeneres was born in Metairie, Louisiana, a New Orleans suburb. She is the daughter of Betty DeGeneres
(née Elizabeth Jane Pfeffer), a speech therapist, and Elliott Everett DeGeneres, an insurance agent. Her brother is musician and producer Vance DeGeneres
. Her parents divorced when she was sixteen years old...
Elizabeth Banks was born Elizabeth Mitchell in Pittsfield, a small city in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts near the New York border, on February 10, 1974. She is the daughter of Ann (Wallace), who worked in a bank, and Mark P. Mitchell, a factory worker. Elizabeth describes herself as having been seen as a "goody two-shoes" in her youth who was nominated for the local Harvest Queen...
Madeline Kahn was born Madeline Gail Wolfson on September 29, 1942 in Boston, Massachusetts, to Freda (Goldberg) and Bernard B. Wolfson, a garment manufacturer. She was of Russian Jewish descent. Madeline began her acting career in high school and went on to university where she trained as an opera singer and starred in several campus productions...
Rosemary Clooney was born in Maysville, Kentucky, to Marie Frances (Guilfoyle) and Andrew Joseph Clooney. She was one of five children. Her father was of Irish and German descent, and her mother was of Irish and English ancestry. She grew up in Maysville, where she and her sister Betty Clooney
used to sing in her grandfather's mayoral election campaigns...
Ask Kate Winslet what she likes about any of her characters, and the word "ballsy" is bound to pop up at least once. The British actress has made a point of eschewing straightforward pretty-girl parts in favor of more devilish damsels; as a result, she's built an eclectic resume that runs the gamut from Shakespearean tragedy to modern-day mysticism and erotica...
Cate Blanchett was born on May 14, 1969 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, to June (Gamble), an Australian teacher and property developer, and Robert DeWitt Blanchett, Jr., an American advertising executive, originally from Texas. She has an older brother and a younger sister. When she was ten years old...
Toni Collette is an Academy Award-nominated Australian actress, best known for her roles in The Sixth Sense
and Little Miss Sunshine
. Collette was born Toni Collett (she later added an "e") on November 1, 1972, in Blacktown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. She is the first of three children of Judith (Cook)...
Frances Louise McDormand was born on June 23, 1957 in Chicago, Illinois. She was adopted by Canadian-born parents Noreen Eloise (Nickleson), a nurse from Ontario, and Vernon Weir McDormand, a minister from Nova Scotia, who raised her in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. She earned her B.A. in Theater from Bethany College in 1979 and her MFA from Yale in 1982...
Probably the most celebrated of all actresses, Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926, in the charity ward of the Los Angeles General Hospital. Prior to her birth, Marilyn's father bought a motorcycle and headed north to San Francisco, abandoning the family in Los Angeles. Marilyn grew up not knowing for sure who her father really was...
Charlize Theron was born in Benoni, a city in the greater Johannesburg-area, in South Africa, the only child of Gerda Theron
(née Gerda Jacoba Aletta Maritz) and Charles Jacobus Theron. She was raised on a farm outside the city. Theron is of Afrikaner (Dutch, with some French Huguenot and German) descent, and Afrikaner military figure Danie Theron was her great-great-uncle...
Hilary was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, to Judith Kay (Clough), a secretary, and Stephen Michael Swank, who served in the National Guard and was also a traveling salesman. Her maternal grandmother, Frances Martha Dominguez, was of Mexican descent, and her other roots include German, English, and Scottish...
Emily Olivia Leah Blunt is a British actress known for her roles in The Young Victoria
and The Devil Wears Prada
. Blunt was born on February 23, 1983, in Roehampton, South West London, England, the second of four children in the family of Joanna Mackie
, a former actress and teacher, and Oliver Simon Peter Blunt...
Embeth Davidtz was born on August 11, 1965 in Lafayette, Indiana. She is known for her role as Miss Honey in the film Matilda
. Her parents, Jean and John Davidtz, were South Africans, with Dutch, English, and French ancestry. The family moved to Trenton, New Jersey, before returning to her parents' native country...
Kathy Najimy was born and raised in San Diego, California. She is the daughter of Samia (Massery) and Fred Najimy, a postal worker, both of Lebanese ancestry. Kathy attended Crawford High School, and began her film career in the early 1990s, with several minor roles. Kathy got her breakthrough screen role as "Sister Mary Patrick" in Sister Act
One of America's most prolific actresses was born Doris Mary Ann Von Kapplehoff on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Alma Sophia (Welz), a housewife, and William Joseph Kappelhoff, a music teacher and choir master. Her grandparents were all German immigrants. She had two brothers, Richard, who died before she was born and Paul, a few years older...
Sigourney Weaver was born Susan Alexandra Weaver in Leroy Hospital in Manhattan, New York City. Her father, TV producer Sylvester L. Weaver Jr.
, originally wanted to name her Flavia, because of his passion for Roman history (he had already named her elder brother Trajan). Her mother, Elizabeth Inglis
(née Desiree Mary Lucy Hawkins)...
Multi Grammy Award-winning singer/comedienne/author Bette Midler has also proven herself to be a very capable actress in a string of both dramatic and comedic roles. Midler was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on December 1, 1945. She is the daughter of Ruth (Schindel), a seamstress, and Fred Midler, a painter...
Emma Charlotte Duerre Watson was born in Paris, France, to English parents, Jacqueline Luesby and Chris Watson, both lawyers. She moved to Oxfordshire when she was five, where she attended the Dragon School. From the age of six, Emma knew that she wanted to be an actress and, for a number of years, she trained at the Oxford branch of Stagecoach Theatre Arts...
Anna Kendrick was born in Portland, Maine, to Janice (Cooke), an accountant, and William Kendrick, a teacher. She has an older brother, Michael Cooke Kendrick
, who has also acted. She is of English, Irish, and Scottish descent. For her role as "Dinah" in "High Society" on Broadway, Anna Kendrick was nominated for a Tony Award (second youngest ever)...
Jennifer Aniston was born in Sherman Oaks, California, to actors John Aniston
and Nancy Dow
. Her father is Greek, and her mother was of English, Irish, Scottish, and Italian descent. Jennifer spent a year of her childhood living in Greece with her family. Her family then relocated to New York City where her parents divorced when she was nine...
Brittany Murphy was born Brittany Anne Bertolotti on November 10, 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia, to Sharon Kathleen Murphy and Angelo Joseph Bertolotti. Her father's ancestry is Italian, and her mother is of Irish and Slovak descent. Her father moved the family back to Edison, New Jersey as a native New Yorker and to be closer to other siblings from previous marriages...
Actress Shailene Woodley was born in Simi Valley, California, to Lori (Victor), a middle school counselor, and Lonnie Woodley, a school principal. She has one brother, Tanner. She was educated at Simi Valley High School in California. When Woodley was four years old she began commercial modeling. Acting roles followed...
Laura Helene Prepon was born on March 7, 1980, in Watchung, New Jersey. She is the daughter of Marjorie (Coll) and Michael Prepon. Her father died in 1994. Laura is the youngest of five children--she has a brother named Brad and three sisters: Danielle, Jocelyn, and Stephanie. She attended Watchung Hills Regional High School...
Actress Elizabeth Anne "Lizzy" Caplan was born in Los Angeles, California, to Barbara (Bragman), a political aide, and Richard Caplan, a lawyer. She has two older siblings, Julie and Benjamin, and was raised in a Jewish household. Her mother was a cousin of publicist Howard Bragman
. Caplan was educated at Alexander Hamilton High School...