Actress. Born August 14, 1959, in La Jolla, California. Harden’s father was a captain in the United States Navy, and the family moved a good deal during her childhood and adolescence. Harden attended college in Greece; Munich, Germany; and Baltimore, Maryland, before completing her degree in drama at the University of Texas in Austin. After college, she moved to New York City and did graduate studies at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
In 1990, Harden made her feature film debut in Miller’s Crossing, an unconventional take on the gangster movie written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Playing a tough moll named Verna, Harden held her own opposite costars Gabriel Byrne, John Turturro, and Albert Finney. Two years later, she starred in the independent feature Crush (1992), as a free-spirited woman who romances both a famous novelist and his daughter, then took her place among Oscar-winning actresses Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Tandy, and Kathy Bates in Used People. On the small screen, she radiated classic Hollywood glamour as Ava Gardner in the 1992 television miniseries Sinatra.
As her film career continued to heat up, Harden also built an impressive stage resume, starring in a 1992 production of The Skin of Our Teeth in Chicago and in the Off-Broadway play The Years in 1993. She earned a Tony nomination in 1993 for her portrayal of an emotional Mormon wife in the two-part epic Angels in America and costarred opposite Ed Harris and Beverly D’Angelo in a production of Sam Shepard’s Simpatico in 1994 at the Public Theater in New York City.
Harden gave an affecting performance in 1996’s The Spitfire Grill, also featuring Ellen Burstyn, and costarred opposite the unpredictable comic force Robin Williams in Flubber (1997). She appeared as one of the daughters of Anthony Hopkins’ character in the dramatic bomb Meet Joe Black (1998), costarring Brad Pitt. Harden won new fans with her role as Susan Silverman, the girlfriend of private eye Spenser (played by Joe Mantegna) in two TV movies, Small Vices (1999) and Thin Air (2000).
In 2000, Harden appeared on the big screen as the romantic interest of Tommy Lee Jones’ aging astronaut in the surprise hit Space Cowboys, costarring Clint Eastwood and James Garner. Most notably, she turned in her best performance to date as Lee Krasner, the artist and long-suffering wife of tortured genius Jackson Pollock, played by Ed Harris, in Pollock, an ambitious biopic directed by Harris. With a strong Brooklyn accent and a scene-stealing screen presence, Harden earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. On Oscar night, Harden pulled off the night’s biggest upset, beating out several favored actresses to win her first Academy Award.
Harden is married to Thaddaeus D. Scheel, a prop man she met during the filming of The Spitfire Grill. They have one daughter, Eulala Grace.