One of the most versatile actresses working in film today, Lili Taylor is known for taking on complex, thorny roles that many of her more glamorous colleagues avoid. In the 1990s, she became a staple of the independent film circuit, turning in one engaging performance after another in films like The Addiction (1995), Girls Town (1996), and Pecker (1998).
A native of Glencoe, IL, where she was born on February 20, 1967, Taylor was raised in a comfortable middle-class household as the second youngest of six children. She started acting in grade school and briefly attended DePaul University’s Goodman Theater School before launching her professional career in local and regional theater. She acted for a time with Evanston’s Piven Theater, performing in the company of such future notables as John Cusack, Aidan Quinn, and Jeremy Piven. In 1987, she spent a season on-stage in Czechoslovakia, returning stateside the following year to make her New York City stage debut in a production of What Did He See?
That same year, Taylor ventured into feature films with a bit part in the John Hughes comedy She’s Having a Baby. Though the role brought Taylor little recognition, she scored big with her sophomore effort, a starring role in Mystic Pizza (1988) as one of three amorous pizzeria girls (the other two were Julia Roberts and Annabeth Gish) working in a small Connecticut coastal town. More recognition followed for Say Anything… (1989), in which Taylor played John Cusack’s hilariously obsessive best friend; she continued to shine in films like Bright Angel (1991), in which she was cast as the drifter sister of a jailbird, and in Dogfight (1991), in which she was the obligatory “ugly duckling” who both transformed and was transformed by her reluctant date, River Phoenix.
From the late ’80s through the 1990s, Taylor proved to be a willing and able ensemble player in the works of several respected directors: Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Nancy Savoca’s Household Saints (1993), Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993), and Alan Rudolph’s Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994). She also did notable work in independent films, starring in Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995); Girls Town (1996), a drama about four high school girls trying to cope with everyday hardship, for which she also co-wrote the screenplay; and I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), which cast her in one of her most memorable roles as the mad, murderous Valerie Solanas.
In 1998, Taylor played the uncharacteristically glamorous role of an art dealer who tries to seduce the young hero of John Waters’ Pecker, and also tried her hand at screwball comedy with Stanley Tucci’s The Imposters. Having demonstrated her range in a number of genres, Taylor then took on big-budget horror in 1999 with her starring role in Jan de Bont’s The Haunting. However, staying true to her indie loyalties, she could also be seen playing an ordinary woman who begins to lead an extraordinary life in Toni Kalem’s adaptation of Anne Tyler’s A Slipping Down Life, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of that year.