Plucky Brooklyn-born actress Marisa Tomei was one year into her college education at Boston University when she was tapped for a co-starring role on the CBS daytime drama As the World Turns. Her role on that show, as well as work on another soap, One Life to Live, paved the way for her entrance into film: In 1984, she made her film debut with a bit part in The Flamingo Kid.
Three years later Tomei became known for her role as Maggie Lawton, Lisa Bonet's college roommate, on the sitcom A Different World. Her real breakthrough came in 1992, when she co-starred as Joe Pesci's hilariously foul-mouthed girlfriend in My Cousin Vinny, a performance that won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Later that year, she turned up briefly as a snippy Mabel Normand in director Richard Attenborough's mammoth biopic Chaplin, and was soon given her first starring role in Untamed Heart (1993). A subsequent starring role -- and attempted makeover into Audrey Hepburn -- in the romantic comedy Only You (1994) proved only moderately successful. Tomei's other 1994 role as Michael Keaton's hugely pregnant wife in The Paper was well-received, although the film as a whole was not. Worse luck hit with her participation in the critically thrashed Four Rooms in 1995. Fortunately for Tomei, she was able to rebound somewhat the following year with a solid performance as a troubled single mother in Nick Cassavetes' Unhook the Stars. She turned in a similarly strong work in Welcome to Sarajevo in 1997, and in 1998 did some of her best work in years as the sexually liberated, unhinged cousin of Natasha Lyonne's Vivian Abramowitz in Tamara Jenkins' The Slums of Beverly Hills. Appearing in no less than five movies in 2000, Tomei continued her journey back to the top with a memorable performance in 2001's In the Bedroom. An emotionally wrenching tale of loss and grief, Tomei's performance as a recently separated wife who begins a tragic affair with a college student struck a common cord with critics and filmgoers alike, in addition to earning the talented actress her second Oscar nomination.