Raven-haired Julianna Margulies may have become an award-winning TV star on NBC’s phenomenally successful ER in the 1990s, but she was ready to exit the series to pursue movies and theater full time by decade’s end. Born in Spring Valley, NY, Margulies spent part of her childhood living abroad before settling back in her hometown for a bohemian life with her free-spirit mother. Though she earned a B.A. in art history from Sarah Lawrence College, Margulies performed in college plays and decided to pursue an acting career. Margulies landed her first movie role in 1991, playing a prostitute in the Steven Seagal flick Out for Justice.
With no more movie roles forthcoming, Margulies made a living with theater work and TV guest star stints on Law and Order and Homicide in the early ’90s. Margulies subsequently landed a role in the pilot for Michael Crichton’s new hospital drama ER in 1994, but her character was slated for death after that single episode. Due to a positive audience response, however, Margulies’ compassionate Nurse Hathaway survived the pilot. During her six seasons on the most popular TV drama of the 1990s, Margulies won the Emmy and the SAG Award and became a perennial nominee. Buoyed by her TV fame, Margulies returned to films during her hiatuses, starring as the would-be victim of Bill Paxton’s Irish con in Traveler (1996), a POW alongside Glenn Close and Cate Blanchett in the ensemble drama Paradise Road (1997), and as Matthew McConaughey’s girlfriend in Richard Linklater’s Western-esque bank robber saga The Newton Boys (1998). Continuing to avoid glossy big budget Hollywood fare in favor of a more independent sensibility, Margulies also appeared in Boaz Yakin’s A Price Above Rubies (1998) and Gurinder Chadha’s multiethnic Thanksgiving tale What’s Cooking? (2000). Margulies finally took on a blockbuster of sorts when she voiced one of the pre-historic reptiles in the animated Dinosaur (2000). Despite an offer that would have made her one of the highest paid actresses on TV, Margulies announced in 2000 that six years of ER was enough. While Hathaway departed to a future with George Clooney’s Dr. Ross, Margulies moved back to New York to hit the off-Broadway stage with Donald Sutherland in Ten Unknowns (2001). Margulies returned to the small-screen for the female-centric version of the King Arthur legend The Mists of Avalon, before appearing in The Man from Elysian Fields, and opposite Pierce Brosnan in the drama Evelyn. After an appearance in the horror film Ghost Ship, Margulies would not appear in another widely released motion picture until she landed one of the main parts in the 2006 summer phenomenon known simply as Snakes on a Plane.