Born November 10, 1977, in Atlanta, GA; daughter of Sharon Murphy (in advertising).
Addresses: Office—c/o Dimension Films, 375 Greenwich St., 4th Fl., New York, NY 10013.
Began career as a child actor in television commercials. Television appearances include: Drexell's Class, 1991-92; Murphy Brown, 1991; Kids Incorporated, 1992; Parker Lewis Can't Lose, 1992; Blossom, 1993; Almost Home, 1993; Sister, Sister, 1994-95; Frasier, 1994; Party of Five, 1994; Boy Meets World, 1995; Murder One, 1995; The Marshall, 1995; SeaQuest DSV, 1995; Double Jeopardy (movie), 1996; Nash Bridges, 1996; Clueless, 1996; Disney's Pepper Ann (voice), 1997; King of the Hill (voice), 1997—; David and Lisa (movie), 1998; The Devil's Arithmatic (movie), 1999; Common Ground (movie), 2000. Film appearances include: Family Prayers, 1993; Clueless, 1995; Freeway, 1996; Drive, 1997; The Prophecy II (straight-to-video), 1998; Bongwater, 1998; Phoenix (straight-to-video), 1998; Zack and Reba, 1998; Falling Sky, 1998; Drop Dead Gorgeous, 1999; Girl, Interrupted, 1999; Angels!, 2000; Trixie, 2000; Cherry Falls, 2000; The Audition, 2000; Summer Catch, 2001; Riding in Cars with Boys, 2001; Sidewalks of New York, 2001; Don't Say a Word, 2001; Spun, 2002; 8 Mile, 2002; Just Married, 2003; Uptown Girls, 2003; Good Boy, 2003; Little Black Book, 2004. Stage appearances include: Really Rosie, c. 1986; A View from the Bridge, New York, NY, 1997-98.
Blond screen vixen Brittany Murphy emerged as one of Hollywood's leading names after her appearance in the 2002 Eminem biopic 8 Mile. Prior to that, Murphy had logged an impressive roster of rather tough roles, and earned high marks despite her lack of formal dramatic training. She segued easily from supporting parts to leading ones, though some of her films have tanked at the box office; critics seem to like the bit of edginess she brings to her characters. Writing in Newsweek, journalist Devin Gordon asserted that Murphy "has specialized in taking one-note parts and shaping them into memorable creations."
Murphy was born in 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up an only child in a single-parent household. After her parents divorced when she was a toddler, her mother, Sharon, took her to New Jersey, where they had relatives. They settled in the town of Edison, and the young Murphy emerged as a born performer. Her mother struggled to make ends meet and pay for her dance classes as well. "Financially, I don't know how she swung it," Murphy said of her mom, who held various advertising and sales jobs, in an interview with Marie Claire's David A. Keeps. "But the most important thing she did was teach me that 'poor' is a state of mind—and that we were rich in love. It's been my mom and me against the world for as long as I can remember. And it still is."
Murphy had a hard time in regular school, she also told Keeps. "They made fun of my size, because I was always the shortest, and the clothes that I wore," she recalled. "I was picked on to death in school." Her first taste of fame came when she appeared in a community theater production at the age of nine, and was interviewed by the local television news outlet. She asserted that she hoped to become a film actress, work on Broadway, and become a singing star, too. "If someone had asked me when I was young what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said Madonna," she told Cosmopolitan writer Lesley Goober. "I hate to admit it, but I always wanted to be famous."
After appearing in television commercials for Pizza Hut and Skittles, the 13-year-old Murphy went to Los Angeles, California, with a chaperone to try to break into show business there. She endured many auditions, but did not land any parts at all. Depressed and distressed, she called her mother and asked her if they could just move there permanently. Sharon Murphy acquiesced, and just a week later Murphy was cast in her first role in Drexell's Class, a 1991-92 FOX series that also featured a young Jason Biggs. The sitcom starred Dabney Coleman as a disgraced stockbroker who becomes an elementary school teacher. Murphy played one of his two daughters, who try to help their dad in his drastic career transition.
After Drexell's Class was not picked up again by the network for the 1992-93 season, Murphy did not land another steady part until 1993, when she appeared in another short-lived series called Almost Home. The show was based on earlier sitcom, The Torkelsons, about a single mom in Oklahoma with three kids. The name change reflected a change of venue for the family, when they relocated to Seattle so that the mother can take a job as a nanny for the two children of an attorney. Murphy played one of the rich, spoiled new kids.
Murphy's breakout role came in the 1995 film Clueless, an Alicia Silverstone comedy. Loosely based on the plotline of the Jane Austen novel Emma, the film skewered Beverly Hills teens and their devotion to fashion and fun. Murphy was cast as Tai, the hapless, style-challenged pal whom Silverstone's character decides to make over. Murphy returned to the FOX Network in 1997 for a new animated series that year, King of the Hill. She was the voice of Luanne Platter, and later said she modeled the beauty-school student's Texas twang on Jessica Lange's character in the 1994 film Blue Sky.
In 1997, a 20-year-old Murphy realized her Broadway ambitions when she appeared in a revival of an Arthur Miller play, A View from the Bridge. She starred in it alongside Anthony LaPaglia and Allison Janney, who played the aunt and uncle who have raised her as their own daughter. But LaPaglia's Eddie, a Brooklyn dockworker, finds himself pathologically attracted to Murphy's character, Catherine. When two young men, distant relatives from Italy, come to visit, Eddie becomes jealous and sets in motion a tragic chain of events.
A television executive who saw the Broadway play offered Murphy her next role, in the 1998 television film David and Lisa. The love story, set in a school for troubled teens, was a remake of an acclaimed 1962 film, and was produced by Oprah Winfrey's company. Murphy appeared alongside Lukas Haas, playing a girl who speaks only in rhyme. Ray Richmond reviewed it in Variety and, citing her earlier work in Clueless, termed her "terrific here as well, turning in sparkling work as a complex lost soul. She pulls off the difficult trick of blending coquettish sensuality with aimless angst, in the process supplying the film's true backbone."
Murphy was next cast in 1999's Girl, Interrupted alongside Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. The film, based on a true story, was set in a Massachusetts psychiatric hospital in the late 1960s. Murphy was riveting as Daisy, a fellow patient who keeps whole roasted chicken carcasses under her bed and talks about the apartment her father will pay for when she leaves the hospital. Shortly afterward, she was asked by Interview's Graham Fuller about the difficulties in taking on such roles. "I don't take my characters home," she reflected, "but they stay inside you. I'm not eloquent talking about acting and I never intellectualize a script. Sometimes I just know how to do a character, but I don't know why. It's as if you know what the spirit of the person is, though not consciously, and everything else floats into you."
The number of roles began multiplying for Murphy after that point. In 2000, she appeared in Trixie, an Alan Rudolph film that starred Emily Watson, and went on to make a horror-flick spoof called Cherry Falls that was not released in theaters. She also appeared in another little-seen work, the female copcaper Angels!. The following year proved a bit more rewarding: she had a supporting role in the Freddie Prinze Jr. movie Summer Catch, and turned in a solid performance as the teenage best friend of Drew Barrymore in Riding in Cars with Boys. Next, writer-director Ed Burns cast her as a likable waitress who tries to extricate herself from an affair with a married man in Sidewalks of New York, and she chilled moviegoers with her portrayal of a razor-wielding psychiatric patient in the Michael Douglas thriller Don't Say a Word. Douglas played a New York City psychiatrist whose young daughter is kidnapped, and the ransom involves a jewel heist and a murder-gone-awry. Bent on vengeance, the kidnappers give the doting father just a day to unlock the secret, to which only Murphy's disturbed character can provide the clues to solve.
Murphy took another memorable part as a member of a circle of methamphetamine addicts in the 2002 dark comedy Spun. That same year she also appeared in the immensely successful Eminem biopic, 8 Mile. She was cast as Alex, the love interest and aspiring model who betrays the working-class rapper. There were rumors that she and Eminem were romantically involved off the set as well, to which her co-star, whose real name is Marshall Mathers, would reply to press inquiries by delivering her famous line from Don't Say a Word: "I'll never tell."
After the success of 8 Mile, Murphy began winning more leading roles. She starred in Just Married, a ditzy romantic comedy that paired her with heart-throb Ashton Kutcher. They play newlyweds who have married despite vastly dissimilar backgrounds and interests, and set off on a predictably disastrous European honeymoon. Murphy and Kutcher also began dating off-screen, but only after the film had wrapped. There was certainly chemistry beforehand, though: when Cosmopolitan's Goober asked Murphy about her vision of a dream wedding, she replied that the one in that film "will always be my first wedding, and Ashton will always be my first husband [W]e both had meltdowns before we walked down the aisle. I was crying hysterically in my trailer because my mom wasn't there. I didn't want her to miss the wedding in case I never got married again!" While the film was dismissed by critics, it did respectable numbers at the box office.
Murphy also starred in Uptown Girls in 2003, which critics trounced on. She was cast as a young New York City party girl who learns that her accountant has embezzled the small fortune left to her when her father, a rock legend, died in a plane crash with her mother. To make ends meet, Murphy's character must take a job as a nanny to the daughter of a brittle record executive. Her charge, played by Dakota Fanning, is a decidedly serious and no-nonsense youngster, but the pair manage to bring out each other's better halves.
In 2004, Murphy appeared in another quickly vanished box-office disaster, Little Black Book. She played the nosy girlfriend of Ron Livingston (Sex and the City), a worrier who suspects he may be seeing his ex-girlfriends. When he departs on a business trip, she snoops through the PDA (personal digital assistant) he mistakenly left behind. Her co-worker at the schlock-shock television show encourages her to phone some of the exes listed and use her skills as a producer to interview them for a possible show.
Murphy was slated to appear in Sin City, scheduled for 2005 release, a noir story that put her alongside a roster of all-star acting names, including Elijah Wood and Benicio del Toro. She was also doing another voice-over, this time for a project titled Happy Feet in which she served as a singing penguin. Though critics have not always liked the fare in which she appeared, Murphy usually earns positive reviews. Film Journal International writer David Noh commented that she remains "perhaps too distinctive a talent to be squeezed into a leading-lady mold," and noticed "something a bit raffish and unseemly about her raspy voice, thin physique, and huge, dissipated-looking features in that tiny face." Noh compared her instead to Ann-Margret, the kittenish lead in several films from the 1960s. Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman, on the other hand, asserted she could be a younger Meg Ryan. "Up until now, she has made a calling card of her baby-doll lewdness," Gleiberman declared, "but if Murphy wants a future in mainstream romantic comedy, she appears to have the chops for it."
Realizing her final ambition, to make a record, Murphy spent much of 2004 in the studio. There are rumors that she has appeared, uncredited, on singles from more than one rap act, but she refuses to divulge which ones. Known for her boundless energy and affectionate enthusiasm in person, Murphy works with Dress for Success, a charity organization that helps women prepare to return to the job market after difficult times. For the Marie Claire article, Keeps accompanied her to one event where she spoke with the women who were receiving some new job-interview clothes and grooming tips. Listening to their stories, Murphy said she felt a kinship with them. "I was always told, 'You'll never be in movies—you're not talented enough, you're not pretty enough,'" Keeps quoted Murphy as saying to them. "It hurt, but it was ammunition, fuel for my fire."
Cosmopolitan, June 2003, p. 236.
Entertainment Weekly, February 5, 1993, p. 43; July 14, 2000, p. 54; October 5, 2001, p. 110; October 12, 2001, p. 54; January 17, 2003, p. 54; August 22, 2003, p. 110; June 25, 2004, p. 119; August 13, 2004, p. 60.
Film Journal International, September 2003, p. 36.
Interview, May 2000, p. 152; October 2002, p. 60; December 2002, p. 100.
Marie Claire, September 2003, p. 122.
Newsweek, November 4, 2002, p. 56.
New Yorker, November 11, 2002.
People, November 2, 1998, p. 127.
Time, July 31, 1995, p. 65.
Variety, December 15, 1997, p. 68; October 26, 1998, p. 79.