The daughter of first generation Italian-Americans, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was born in Oak Park, IL. Oak Park was also the home town of Ernest Hemingway; some of his "don't mess with me" spirit seems to have been passed on by osmosis to Mastrantonio, who has made her career playing a number of feisty, strong-willed women. Trained for an operatic career, she studied voice at the University of Illinois, Champaign, and had one of her first gigs in an Opryland production of Showboat. Once in New York, Mastrantonio was hired for the 1981 revival of West Side Story, and was lauded in the press for her peppery portrayal of Viola in a New York Shakespeare Festival staging of Twelfth Night.
Mastrantonio's first film was Scarface (1983), in which she played Al Pacino's sister (the incestuous subtext was just as pronounced here as in the original 1931 version). She then essayed the role of Benito Mussolini's embittered daughter Edda in the TV miniseries Mussolini: The Untold Story, which starred George C. Scott in the title role. In both of these productions, Mastrantonio tended to be overshadowed by her male co-stars, but she more than held her own opposite such heady company as Paul Newman and Tom Cruise in The Color of Money (1986), an assignment which won her both a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe nomination.