- Birth name:
- Date of Birth:
- 20 June 1931 Lowell, Massachusetts, USA
- 5' 3" (1.60 m)
Long a vital, respected lady of the classic and contemporary stage and the epitome of Mediterranean-styled weariness, this grand lady with the perpetually forlorn look and worldly wise demeanor did not become a household name and sought-after film actress until age 56 when she turned in a glorious, Oscar-winning perf as Cher's sardonic mother in the romantic comedy Moonstruck (1987). Since then movie (and TV) fans have discovered what the East coast theater-going audiences had uncovered decades before -- an acting treasure. Her adaptability to various ethnicities (Greek, Italian, Jewish, Eastern European, etc.), as well her chameleon-like versatility in everything from cutting edge comedy to stark tragedy, has kept her in high demand for the past 30 years as of one of Hollywood's topnotch character players.Olympia Dukakis was born on June 20, 1931, in Lowell, Massachusetts), the daughter of Greek immigrants (Constantine and Alexandra (nee Christos) Dukakis). Her father in particular sparked an early passion in acting by having her perform with his amateur theater troupe as a teen. She majored, however, in physical therapy for a time at Boston University, where she graduated with a BA. This came in quite handy later during her fledgling acting days where she was able to support herself as a physical therapist in between acting lessons and jobs. She later returned to her alma mater and entered the graduate program in performing arts and attained an MFA.Olympia took the long road to success by distinguishing herself first on stage performing in summer stock and with several repertory and Shakespearean companies throughout the county. She made her Broadway debut as an understudy in "The Aspern Papers" at age 30, but did not make the grade there with very short runs in the plays "Abraham Cochrane" (1964) and "Who's Who in Hell" (1974) following.Olympia married Yugoslav-American actor Louis Zorich in 1962. The New York-based couple went on to co-found The Whole Theatre Company in Montclair, New Jersey, and ran the company for 15 years (1973-1988). As actress, director, producer and teacher, she still found the time to raise their three young children. She also became a master instructor at New York University for lengthy periods during the 1960s, '70s and '80s. Preferring the smaller, more intimate stage, she scored theater triumphs in "A Man's a Man," for which she won an Off-Broadway Obie Award in 1962; several productions of "The Cherry Orchard" and "Mother Courage"; "Six Characters in Search of an Author"; "The Rose Tattoo"; "The Seagull"; "The Marriage of Bette and Boo" (another Obie Award); and, more notably, her many performances as the title role in "Hecuba." A good portion of her successes was launched within the walls of her own theater company, which encouraged the birth of new and untried plays. Her prolific directing credits include many of the classics: "Orpheus Descending," "The House of Bernarda Alba," "Uncle Vanya" and "A Touch of the Poet," as well as the more contemporary ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Kennedy's Children"). She also adapted such plays as "Mother Courage" and "The Trojan Women" for the theater company. Over the duration of their marriage, she and husband Zorich have experienced shared successes, appearing together in "Long Day's Journey Into Night," "Camino Real," The Three Sisters" and "The Seagull," among many others. Both are master interpreters of Chekhovian plays -- one of their more recent acting collaborations was in "The Chekhov Cycle" in 2003.Making an inauspicious debut in a bit role as a mental patient in Lilith (1964), she tended to gravitate toward off-the-wall films with various offshoots of the ethnic mother. She played mom to such leads as Dustin Hoffman in John and Mary (1969), Joseph Bologna in the cult comedy Made for Each Other (1971) and Ray Sharkey in The Idolmaker (1980). Interestingly, it was her scene-stealing work on Broadway in the comedy "Social Security" (1986) that caught director Norman Jewison's eye and earned her the Moonstruck (1987) movie role. The Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actress was the last of a stream of awards she earned for that part, including the New York Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics, British Film and Golden Globe awards. From then on, silver-haired Olympia was first in line for a number of cream-of-the-crop matron roles: Steel Magnolias (1989), Dad (1989), Look Who's Talking (1989), The Cemetery Club (1993), Mr. Holland's Opus (1995) and Mother (1996/I). On TV, she received kudos of the highest order, especially for her sympathetic transgendered landlady in the acclaimed epic miniseries "Tales of the City" (1993) and its sequel (the latter earning her an Emmy nomination).An ardent liberal and Democrat, she is the cousin of one-time presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. Moreover, she is a strong advocate of women's rights and environmental causes. Olympia finally published her best-selling warts-and-all autobiography "Ask Me Again Tomorrow: A Life in Progress" in 2003, a searing, introspective chronicle chocked full of her trademark candor and wry humor. These days, she is also a well-oiled figure on the lecture circuit covering topics as widespread as life in the theater to feminism and osteoporosis. A hardcore New Yorker, she still resides there with her husband. In 2007, she revived her solo turn in the play "Rose" (2000), which initially earned her an Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award nomination.