Actress. Born December 4, 1964, in Brooklyn, New York. While attending Boston University, Marisa Tomei was cast in the CBS daytime soap opera As the World Turns; she subsequently left school and played the teenager Marcy Thompson on the show from 1983 to 1985. She made her feature film debut in 1984 in The Flamingo Kid, starring Matt Dillon. After leaving As the World Turns, she appeared in Off-Broadway productions like Daughters (1985) before moving to Los Angeles. In 1987, she landed a role as a roommate of Lisa Bonet’s character during the first season of the sitcom A Different World, a short-lived spinoff of The Cosby Show.
After her next major film, Oscar (1991), starring Sylvester Stallone, bombed, Tomei gave what appeared to be a bona fide star-making performance in the 1992 comedy My Cousin Vinny, costarring Joe Pesci and The Karate Kid’s Ralph Macchio. Critics agreed that Tomei’s sharp comedic performance as Mona Lisa Vito, the wisecracking auto mechanic who falls in love with Pesci’s Vinny, merited good reviews and even the Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress she received. When the 27-year-old Marisa Tomei’s name was read aloud on Oscar night as the winner, however (she beat out four well respected British actresses: Judy Davis, Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson, and Vanessa Redgrave), the shock was almost universal, and nasty rumors persisted that the award’s presented, the elderly Jack Palance, had read the wrong name.
Tomei’s Oscar win failed to produce the kind of career boost usually expected, as she went on to star in a number of films that didn’t do justice to her talents and that barely made it onto the radar screen at the box office. She gave a good performance as the silent screen actress Mabel Normand in Chaplin (1992), starring Robert Downey Jr., but her first project as a romantic lead, in the weepy romance Untamed Heart (1993), costarring Christian Slater, was a critical and commercial disappointment. Tomei next appeared opposite Michael Keaton in The Paper and reteamed with Robert Downey Jr. in Only You (both 1994).
After costarring with veteran actresses Anjelica Huston (1995’s The Perez Family) and Gena Rowlands (1996’s Unhook the Stars), she earned her best reviews since My Cousin Vinny for the eccentric comedy Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), in which she played the flaky cousin of the main character, a precocious teenage girl played by Natasha Lyonne. Also in 1998, she returned to the small screen for the Showtime feature My Own Country (also featuring her younger brother Adam) and the CBS miniseries Erich Segal’s Only Love, and made her first appearance on Broadway in a revival of Wait Until Dark, with the director and actor Quentin Tarantino.
Tomei’s fortunes improved with a string of film roles in 2000, beginning with the small independent film Happy Accidents, costarring Vincent D’Onofrio, which screened at Sundance in 2001. She also costarred opposite Keanu Reeves and James Spader in the more mainstream thriller The Watcher, and had a featured role in the hit comedy What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. In early 2001, she appeared as the sidekick of Ashley Judd’s character in the romantic comedy Someone Like You.
In 2001, Marisa Tomei emerged as a serious dramatic actress with an acclaimed performance in In the Bedroom, playing a mother of two whose estranged husband kills her younger lover. Tomei’s affecting supporting performance earned her rave reviews, and a second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
The next several years saw Tomei in many light-hearted films, including a voice role in the children’s animated feature, The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002), and lead roles in the Mike Myers comedy, The Guru (2002) and the Adam Sandler vehicle, Anger Management (2003).
Tomei also proved her mettle as a romantic lead in the film remake of the 1966 romantic comedy, Alfie (2004), as well as the indie film, Factotum (2005).
After a stint on the small screen in Dennis Leary’s firefighter drama, Rescue Me, and the comedy The Rich Inner Life of Penelope Cloud, Tomei returned to feature films. Her recent role across from Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (2008), has earned her Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations.