Largely underappreciated for years in Hollywood before her Oscar-nominated turn as the First Lady in Nixon (1995), Joan Allen has had a distinguished career encompassing the stage, screen, and television. A native of Rochelle, Illinois, where she was born August 20, 1956, the blond, swanlike actress developed an interest in acting while in high school. Voted Most Likely to Succeed by her senior class, Allen went on to study theatre at Eastern Illinois University. She then moved to Chicago, where she became one of the founding members of the vaunted Steppenwolf Theatre Company, along with such respected talents as Gary Sinise and John Malkovich.
Allen made her screen debut with a small role in the 1985 film Compromising Positions and a year later played two wildly different characters in Manhunter and Peggy Sue Got Married. Her portrayals of a tragically confused young woman who attempts to seduce a serial killer in the former film and a brainy high school student in the latter impressed a number of critics, but it was on the stage that Allen was most appreciated. In 1988, she won a Tony award for her Broadway debut performance in Burn This, and a year later she earned her second Tony nomination for her role in Wendy Wasserstein's highly acclaimed The Heidi Chronicles.