Since her first leading role, as a convict's loyal girlfriend, in her friend Rob Weiss' debut film Amongst Friends (1993), Mira Sorvino has been on the fast track to stardom, playing a wide variety of multifaceted characters. Her breakthrough role displayed her willingness and ability to take on unusual parts; Sorvino shocked and delighted audiences as a crass New York streetwalker in Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite (1995). The stretch paid off, not only did her performance steal the show, it also earned Sorvino an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Born in Tenafly, NJ, on September 28, 1967, Sorvino is the daughter of character actor Paul Sorvino, best known for roles in films like Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990). Initially, her father attempted to steer Sorvino and her two siblings away from the acting profession. He was particularly adamant that his offspring not do any professional acting during childhood, so Sorvino contented herself with appearing in various school productions. Following her high school graduation, she earned a degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard University; she spent one year of her education as an exchange student in Beijing, China, where she became fluent in Mandarin.
Upon graduation, Sorvino still wanted to act and she moved to New York to pursue her career. Between small acting gigs, she waited tables and worked as a production assistant until 1992, when Weiss hired her as a third assistant director on the low-budget, independent Amongst Friends. She proved so adept at her job that he promoted her to associate producer and eventually cast her as his leading lady. She appeared in two short films, Susan Seidelman's The Dutch and the satirical The Second Greatest Story Ever Told (both 1993), in which she played a contemporary Virgin Mary. In 1994, Whit Stillman hired her to play a two-faced party girl in Barcelona, while Robert Redford cast her as Rob Morrow's wife in Quiz Show.
After winning her Oscar for her performance in the following year's Mighty Aphrodite, Sorvino started finding steady work in Hollywood. After a turn as Matt Dillon's anorexic girlfriend in Beautiful Girls (1996) and an Emmy nomination for her performance in the made-for-TV Norma Jean and Marilyn (1996), Sorvino went on her first big-budget outing as a scientist trying to save New York from giant cockroaches in Mimic. Unfortunately, the film was rejected by critics and audiences alike. Her other major project that year, the comedy Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, attained a level of cult status thanks to its 1980s soundtrack and over-the-top costumes. The following year, Sorvino made two small, offbeat features -- Paul Auster's Lulu on the Bridge and Wonsuk Chin's Too Tired to Die, which cast her as Death -- and another big-budgeted action thriller, The Replacement Killers. Starring opposite Hong Kong action star Chow Yun-Fat, Sorvino was able to put her past experiences in China and her fluency in Mandarin to use; unfortunately, critics and audiences alike had little use for the film. In 1999, Sorvino decided to try her hand at romantic drama, starring opposite Val Kilmer in At First Sight. The multi-handkerchief weepie was something of a critical and commercial disappointment, although Sorvino did win some positive attention for her performance as the architect who helps restore her blind lover's sight. Later that year, she won more acclaim for her starring role as John Leguizamo's estranged wife in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam, a story revolving around the long, hot summer of 1977, when New York was terrorized by serial killer David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz.
Little seen performances in a made for television adaptation of The Great Gatsby and the period comedy The Triumph of Love found Sorvino's star dimming in stateside theaters in 2001, though her supporting performance in Tim Blake Nelson's acclaimed holocaust drama The Grey Zone served as a notable reminder of what the young starlet was truly capable of when given the opportunity. A pair of bombs both domestic and foreign dropped in the year that followed, and after appearing opposite Glitter star Mariah Carey in Wisegirls Sorvino's Semana Santa somehow managed to get even worse reviews that even Carey's afformentioned solo effort. Of course by this point Sorvino had almost mastered the art of balancing the bad with the good, and her portrayal of a conflicted war photographer in Between Strangers at least drew fair reviews. By this point stateside fans were likely left wondering whether Sorvino had forsaken her film career for a behind-the-scenes approach to filmmaking, and although she had indeed stepped into the producer's chair with Griffin Dunne's 2000 comedy drama Famous she returned to the silver screen in a big way with a role in the sweeping civil war drama Gods and Generals. As she prepared for roles in the sci-fi thriller The Final Cut and the large scale adventure Instant Karma, Sorvino appeared to be edging towards something of a comeback on stateside screens. Fans eager to catch a glimpse of the actress were pleasantly surprised when Sorvino turned in a winning guest appearance in the popular sitcom Will and Grace in 2003. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi