Rowlands, Gena 1930–
Rowlands, Gena 1930–
Full name, Virginia Cathryn Rowlands; born June 19, 1930, in Cambria, WI; daughter of Edwin Merwin (a banker and state senator) and Mary Allen (a painter; maiden name, Neal) Rowlands; married John Cassavetes (actor, director, producer, and writer), March 19, 1958 (died, February 3, 1989); children: Nicholas (an actor and director), Alexandra, Zoe R. (an actress and director). Education: Attended the University of Wisconsin, 1947-50; American Academy of Dramatic Arts, 1950-51. Avocational Interests: Playing the piano, painting, sculpting, swimming, tennis, and astrology.
Agent—International Creative Management, 10250 Constellation Way, 9th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Manager—The Pitt Group, 9465 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 420, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Actress. Performed in stock companies, 1951-53.
Actors' Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, American Guild of Variety Artists.
New York Film Critics Award nomination, best actress, 1971, for Minnie and Moscowitz; National Board of Review Award, best actress, New York Film Critics Award nomination, best actress, 1974, Academy Award nomination, best actress in a leading role, Golden Globe, best motion picture actress—drama, and Prize San Sebastian, San Sebastian International Film Festival, best actress, 1975, all for A Woman Under the Influence; Golden Globe nomination, best motion picture actress—drama, Silver Berlin Bear, best actress, Berlin International Film Festival, 1978, both for Opening Night; Academy Award nomination, best actress in a leading role, Golden Globe nomination, best motion picture actress—drama, and Boston Society of Film Critics Award, best actress, 1981, all for Gloria; Golden Globe nomination, best performance by an actress in a miniseries or motion picture made for television, 1984, for Thursday's Child; Silver Ribbon, best foreign actress, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, 1984, for Love Streams; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or special, Golden Globe nomination, best performance by an actress in a miniseries or motion picture made for television, 1986, both for An Early Frost; Emmy Award, outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or special, 1987, and Golden Globe, best performance by an actress in a miniseries or motion picture made for television, 1988, both for The Betty Ford Story; Emmy Award, outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or a special, 1992, for Face of a Stranger; Golden Globe, best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a series, miniseries, or motion picture made for television, 1993, for Crazy in Love; Career Achievement Award, Sundance Film Festival, 1994; Career Achievement Award, National Board of Review, 1996; Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, outstanding performance by a female actor in a leading role, 1997, for Unhook the Stars; Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination, favorite supporting actress—drama or romance, and Lone Star Film and Television Award, best supporting actress, Dallas/Fort Worth Film Critics Association, both 1999, for Hope Floats; New American Cinema Award (with others), citation of excellence for ensemble cast performance, Seattle International Film Festival, 2000, for The Weekend; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or movie, 2000, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a miniseries or a motion picture made for television, International Press Academy, 2001, both for The Color of Love: Jacey's Story; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or a movie, 2002, for Wild Iris; Emmy Award, outstanding supporting actress in a miniseries or movie, Golden Globe Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a series, miniseries or motion picture made for television, 2003, both for Hysterical Blindness; Golden Starfish Award for Career Achievement, Hamptons International Film Festival, 2004; Daytime Emmy Award, outstanding performer in a children/youth/family special, 2004, for The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie; Golden Satellite Award, best actress in a supporting role, drama, 2005, for The Notebook; Mary Pickford Award, Satellite Awards, 2005; Lifetime Achievement Award, Ojai Film Festival, 2005; Saturn Award nomination, best supporting actress, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, 2006, for The Skeleton Key; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or movie, 2007, for What If God Were the Sun?.
(Film debut) Virginia Fry, The High Cost of Loving, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1958.
(Uncredited) Woman in nightclub audience, Shadows, 1959.
Jerri Bondi, Lonely Are the Brave (also known as Last Hero), Universal, 1962.
Sophie Widdicombe/Benham, A Child Is Waiting, United Artists, 1962.
Els, The Spiral Road, Universal, 1962.
Rita Kosterman, Tony Rome, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1967.
Jeannie Rapp, Faces, Continental, 1968.
The Vatican Affair, 1968.
Rosemary Scott, Gli Intoccabili (also known as Machine Gun McCain), Columbia, 1969.
The Happy Ending, 1969.
At Any Price, 1970.
Minnie Moore, Minnie and Moskowitz, Universal, 1971.
Mabel Longhetti, A Woman Under the Influence, Faces International, 1974.
Janet, Two-Minute Warning, Universal, 1976.
Myrtle Gordon, Opening Night, 1977.
Mary Pino, The Brink's Job (also known as Big Stickup at Brink's), Universal, 1978.
One Summer Night, 1979.
Gloria Swenson (title role), Gloria, Columbia, 1980.
Antonia Dimitrious, Tempest, Columbia, 1982.
Herself, … Almost Not Crazy … John Cassavetes: The Man and His Work, 1983.
Sarah Lawson, Love Streams, Cannon, 1984.
Jeanette Rasnick, Light of Day, TriStar, 1987.
Marion Post, Another Woman, Orion, 1988.
Herself, Hollywood Mavericks, 1990.
Victoria Snelling, Night on Earth (also known as Une nuit sur terre), Fine Line, 1991.
Marilyn Bella, Once Around, Universal, 1991.
Mrs. Turner, Linda's mother, Ted & Venus, Double Helix Films, 1991.
Anything for John (also known as Cassavetes: Anything for John), 1993.
Georgia King, Something to Talk About (also known as Grace Under Pressure), Warner Bros., 1995.
Aunt Mae, The Neon Bible (also known as La Biblia de neon), Strand Releasing, 1995.
Mildred "Millie" Hawks, Unhook the Stars (also known as Decroche les etoiles), Miramax, 1996.
Miss Green, She's So Lovely (also known as Call It Love), Miramax, 1997.
Ivy, Paulie, DreamWorks, 1998.
Ramona Calvert, Hope Floats, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1998.
Susan Pinneman, The Mighty, Miramax, 1998.
Hannah, Playing by Heart, Miramax, 1998.
Herself, The Making of "The Mighty" (documentary short), Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 1999.
Herself, A Constant Forge, 2000.
Laura Ponti, The Weekend, Strand Releasing, 2000.
Herself, Ljuset haaller mig saellskap (documentary; also known as Light Keeps Me Company), 2000.
Herself, A Constant Forge: The Life and Art of John Cassavetes, 2001.
Mrs. Asher, Taking Lives, Warner Bros., 2004.
Allie Calhoun, The Notebook, New Line Cinema, 2004.
Violet Devereaux, The Skeleton Key, Universal, 2005.
Gene, "Quartier Latin," Paris, je t'aime (also known as Paris, I Love You), First Look International, 2006.
Vivien Wilder-Mann, Broken English, Magnolia Pictures, 2007.
(English version) Voice of grandmother, Persepolis (animated), Sony Pictures Classics, 2007.
Television Appearances; Series:
Powell, Top Secret U.S.A. (also known as Top Secret), syndicated, 1954.
Paula Graves, The Way of the World, 1955.
Teddy Carella, 87th Precinct, NBC, 1961-62.
Adrienne Van Leyden, Peyton Place, ABC, 1967-68.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Nick Quarry, 1968.
Linda Ray Guettner, A Question of Love (also known as A Purely Legal Matter), ABC, 1978.
Abigail Mason, Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter (also known as Strangers), CBS, 1979.
Victoria Alden, Thursday's Child, CBS, 1983.
Katherine Pierson, An Early Frost, NBC, 1985.
Geinterwiewd actrice, Nederland C, 1985.
Title role, The Betty Ford Story, ABC, 1987.
Bess Guthrie, Montana, TNT, 1990.
Pat Foster, Face of a Stranger (also known as My Shadow), CBS, 1991.
Honora, Crazy in Love, TNT, 1992.
Dr. Peggy Sutherland, Silent Cries (also known as Guests of the Emperor), NBC, 1993.
Francie Pomerantz, Parallel Lives, 1994.
Mrs. Harriet Cahill, Best Friends for Life, CBS, 1998.
Grace Stiles, Grace and Glorie, CBS, 1998.
Georgia Porter, The Color of Love: Jacey's Story, CBS, 2000.
Minnie Brinn, Wild Iris, Showtime, 2001.
Virginia Miller, Hysterical Blindness, HBO, 2002.
Charlie Kate Birch, Charms for an Easy Life, Showtime, 2002.
Mrs. Evelyn Ritchie, The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie (also known a L'incroyable Mme Richie), Showtime, 2003.
Melissa, What If God Were the Sun?, Lifetime, 2007.
Television Appearances; Specials:
The 38th Annual Golden Globe Awards, CBS, 1981.
Edward G. Robinson: Little Big Man, 1996.
AFI 100 Years … 100 Stars, CBS, 1999.
The 3rd Annual Family Television Awards, CBS, 2001.
Intimate Portrait: Brooke Shields, Lifetime, 2001.
Women on Top: Hollywood and Power, AMC, 2003.
Stardust: The Bette Davis Story, TCM, 2006.
Edge of Outside (documentary), TCM, 2006.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Myrtle Wilson, "The Great Gatsby," Robert Montgomery Presents, NBC, 1955.
"Do It Yourself," Goodyear Television Playhouse (also known as Goodyear Playhouse), NBC, 1955.
"Time for Love," Armstrong Circle Theatre, NBC, 1955.
Betty, "A Chance at Love," Studio One (also known as Westinghouse Studio One), CBS, 1955.
"The Pirate's House," Appointment with Adventure, CBS, 1955.
"Caribbean Cruise," Appointment with Adventure, CBS, 1955.
Lily, "Ashton Buys a Horse," United States Steel Hour (also known as The U.S. Steel Hour), CBS, 1955.
"The Expendable House," Goodyear Television Playhouse (also known as Goodyear Playhouse), NBC, 1955.
"The Ways of Courage," Kraft Television Theatre (also known as Ponds Theatre), ABC, 1955.
Toast of the Town (also known as The Ed Sullivan Show), 1957.
Person to Person, 1958.
(As Gena Rowland) Dorothy Dickenson, "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair," General Electric Theatre (also known as G.E. Theater), CBS, 1958.
"The Run to Tumavaca," Laramie, NBC, 1959.
Nina, "Fly, Baby, Fly," Johnny Staccato (also known as Staccato), NBC, 1959.
"The Altar," Markham, CBS, 1959.
Rose Traynor, "Guns for Empire," Riverboat, NBC, 1959.
Dr. Abigail Brent, "The Death-Divers," Adventures in Paradise, ABC, 1960.
Lucille Jones, "The Doubtful Doctor," Alfred Hitchcock Presents, NBC, 1960.
Barbara/Penelope, "Double Trouble," The Tab Hunter Show, NBC, 1960.
Pepper Mint, "Island Witness," The Islanders, ABC, 1961.
Marian Praisewater, "The Poppy Vendor," Target: The Corrupters, ABC, 1961.
Teddy Carella, "The Floater," 87th Precinct, 1961.
Helen Martin, "Ride the Nightmare," The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, CBS, 1962.
Leslie, "A Personal Matter," The Lloyd Bridges Show, CBS, 1963.
Mrs. Canfield, "Project X," The Dick Powell Show (also known as The Dick Powell Theatre), NBC, 1963.
Louise Henderson, "The Lonely Hours," The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, CBS, 1963.
Barbara Adams, "Flight 307," 77 Sunset Strip, ABC, 1963.
Savannah, "No Tears for Savannah," The Virginian (also known as The Man from Shiloh), NBC, 1963.
Janet Cord, "One Step Down," Kraft Suspense Theatre, NBC, 1963.
Shelley Osborne Peters, "Heart of Marble, Body of Stone," Breaking Point, ABC, 1963.
June, "It's Mental Work," Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre (also known as The Chrysler Theater and Universal Star Time), NBC, 1963.
"Who Killed Victor Barrows?" Burke's Law (also known as Amos Burke, Secret Agent), ABC, 1963.
Regan Miller, "She Walks in Beauty," Bonanza (also known as Ponderosa), NBC, 1963.
Diana Justin, "Murder Case," The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, CBS, 1964.
Helen Scott, "To Walk in Grace," Dr. Kildare, NBC, 1964.
Mitzi Carlisle, "Who Killed Annie Foran?," Burke's Law (also known as Goodyear Playhouse), ABC, 1964.
Paullette Shane, "Who Killed What's His Name?," Burke's Law (also known as Goodyear Playhouse), ABC, 1964.
House Party (also known as Art Linkletter's "House Party" and The Linkletter Show), 1964.
Lois Baxter, "Won't It Ever Be Morning?," Kraft Suspense Theatre, NBC, 1965.
Charlotte Hyde, "The Rediscovery of Charlotte Hyde," Run for Your Life, NBC, 1965.
Karen Roberts, "From This Day Forward," The Long, Hot Summer, ABC, 1966.
Karen Collier, "Beyond the Hill," The Road West, NBC, 1966.
Baroness Ingrid Blangstead, "The Fountain of Youth Affair, " The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., NBC, 1967.
Duchess, "The Frame-Up," Garrison's Gorillas, ABC, 1968.
The Dick Cavett Show, 1968.
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, NBC, 1971.
Frances Delaney, "The Man in Hiding," Medical Center, CBS, 1971.
Kate Lucas, "The Concrete Captain," Ghost Story (also known as Circle of Fear), NBC, 1972.
Karen Coberly, "Child of Violence," Medical Center, CBS, 1973.
"The 266 Days," Marcus Welby, M.D., ABC, 1974.
Elizabeth Van Wick, "Playback," Columbo, NBC, 1975.
The Wicked Queen, "Rapunzel," Faerie Tale Theatre (also known as Shelley Duvall's "Faerie Tale Theatre "), Showtime, 1983.
Actors on Acting, PBS, 1984.
Champlin on Film, Bravo, 1989.
American Cinema, 1995.
Herself, "France-Amerique!," Campus, le magazine de l'ecrit (also known as Campus), 2004.
Erika Hellman, "Provenance," Numb3rs (also known as Num3ers), CBS, 2006.
The View, ABC, 2007.
Also appeared in Philco Playhouse, NBC; Danger, CBS; Suspense, CBS; Martin Kane, NBC.
Mistress of ceremonies, All About Love, Versailles Night Club Theatre, New York City, 1951.
(Broadway debut; first as understudy, then assumed role) The Girl, The Seven Year Itch, New York City, 1952.
Dangerous Corners, off-Broadway production, 1953.
Betty Price, The Middle of the Night, American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA), New York City, 1956-57.
The Girl, The Seven Year Itch, U.S. cities, 1953.
Also toured in Time Out for Ginger, U.S. cities.
"Quarter Latin," Paris, je t'aime (also known as Paris, I Love You), 2006.
Nationality: American. Born: Virginia Cathryn Rowlands in Cambria, Wisconsin, 19 June 1934 (some sources give 1936). Education: Attended Washington and Lee High School, Arlington, Virginia; University of Wisconsin, two years; American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York. Family: Married the director John Cassavetes, 1954 (died 1989), children: the actor/director Nick Cassavetes, Alexandra, Zoe. Career: Worked as wardrobe mistress and actress with the Provincetown Playhouse, New York; appeared in New York in the plays All about Love and Dangerous Corner, and on tour in Time Out for Ginger and The Seven Year Itch; made her television debut in The Great Gatsby, on Robert Montgomery Presents, followed by dramatic roles on other shows, 1955; had a successful role on stage in Middle of the Night, 1956; signed an MGM contract, 1957; made her screen debut in The High Cost of Loving, 1958; appeared on the TV series 87th Precinct, 1961–62; appeared in A Child Is Waiting, her first film directed by husband John Cassavetes, 1962; appeared on the TV series Peyton Place, 1967; starred in Unhook the Stars, directed and co-scripted by son Nick Cassavetes, 1996; had a small role in She's So Lovely, directed by Nick Cassavetes from a script by John Cassavetes, 1997. Awards: National Board of Review Best Actress, San Sebastian International Film Festival Best Actress, Best Motion Picture Actress-Drama Golden Globe, for A Woman Under the Influence, 1974; Berlin Film Festival Best Actress, for Opening Night, 1978; Italian Silver Ribbon for Best Foreign Actress, for Love Streams, 1983–84; Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special Emmy Award, Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV Golden Globe, for The Betty Ford Story, 1987; Outstanding Lead Actress in a Ministries or a Special Emmy Award, for Face of a Stranger, 1991; Natuional Board of Review Career Achievement Award, 1996. Address: 7917 Woodrow Wilson Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90046, U.S.A.
Films as Actress:
The High Cost of Loving (Ferrer) (as Virginia Fry)
A Child Is Waiting (John Cassavetes) (as Sophie Widdicombe); Lonely Are the Brave (Miller) (as Jerri Bondi); The Spiral Road (Mulligan) (as Els)
Tony Rome (Douglas) (as Rita Kosterman)
A qualsiasi prezzo (The Vatican Affair) (Miraglia); Faces (John Cassavetes) (as Jeanni Rapp); Gli intocabili (Machine Gun McCain) (Montaldo) (as Rosemary Scott)
The Happy Ending (Richard Brooks)
Minnie and Moskowitz (John Cassavetes) (title role)
A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes) (as Mabel Longhetti)
Two-Minute Warning (Peerce) (as Janet)
The Brink's Job (Friedkin) (as Mary Pine); A Question of Love (Thorpe—for TV)
Opening Night (John Cassavetes) (as Myrtle Gordon); Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter (Katselas—for TV)
Gloria (John Cassavetes) (title role)
Tempest (Mazursky) (as Antonia)
Thursday's Child (Rich—for TV) (as Victoria Alden)
Love Streams (John Cassavetes) (as Sarah Lawson)
An Early Frost (Erman—for TV) (as Katherine Pierson)
The Betty Ford Story (Greene—for TV) (title role); Light of Day (Schrader) (as Jeannete Rasnick)
Another Woman (Woody Allen) (as Marion Post)
Montana (Graham—for TV) (as Bess Guthrie)
Once Around (Hallström) (as Marilyn Bella); Night on Earth (Jarmusch) (as Victoria Snelling); Face of a Stranger(Weill—for TV) (as Pat Foster); Ted & Venus (Cort) (as Mrs. Turner)
Crazy in Love (Coolidge—for TV) (as Honora)
Silent Cries (Anthony Page—for TV) (as Dr. Peggy Sutherland)
Parallel Lives (Yellen—for TV) (as Francie Pomerantz); The Neon Bible (Terence Davies) (as Aunt Mae)
Something to Talk About (Hallström) (as Georgia King)
Unhook the Stars (Nick Cassavetes)
She's So Lovely (Nick Cassavetes) (as Miss Green)
Playing By Heart (Carroll) (as Hannah); The Mighty (Chelsom) (as Gram); Best Friends for Life (Switzer—for TV) (as Harriet); Paulie (John Roberts) (as Ivy); Hope Floats (Whitaker) (as Ramona Calvert); Grace and Glorie (Seidelman) (as Grace Stiles)
The Weekend (Skeet) (as Laura)
The Color of Love: Jacey's Story (Larry—for TV) (as Georgia Porter); Ljuset haller mig sallskap (Light Keeps Me Company) (Nykvist—doc) (as herself)
By ROWLANDS: articles—
"Gena Rowlands Is Gloria," interview with Rob Edelman, in Films in Review (New York), October 1980.
Interview with T. Jousse, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1992.
Interview with Gary Indiana, in Interview (New York), December 1992.
Tremois, C. M., "Portraits of Gena Rowlands," in Avant-Scene Cinema (Paris), June 1995.
Murat, Pierre, "La bible de néon/'Je n'aime pas les coeurs secs," in Télérama (Paris), 23 August 1995.
"Mississippi Yearning," interview with Geoff Andrew, in Time Out (London), 4 October 1995.
Webster, A., "Filmography," in Premiere (New York), May 1998.
On ROWLANDS: articles—
Current Biography 1975, New York, 1975.
Farren, J., "Gena Rowlands," in Cinéma (Paris), February 1977.
Walker, Beverly, "Woman of Influence: Gena," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1989.
Avant-Scène (Paris), June 1995.
Sight and Sound (London), October 1995.
Weisel, A., "Night of Shooting 'Stars,"' in Premier (New York), November 1996.
Jones, K., "Her Brilliant Career," in Village Voice (New York), 10 December 1996.
Darke, C., "In the Name of the Father," in Sight and Sound (London), July 1997.
* * *
Although Gena Rowlands made her film debut in 1958, she seemed to burst fresh onto the cinema screens with the 1968 release of John Cassavetes's Faces. Under the direction of her husband, she gave a performance of startling intensity as Jeanni Rapp, a prostitute who spends an evening with an errant husband played by John Marley.
Over the next 20 years, Rowlands's career was inextricably linked with that of her husband. She starred in an additional five films he directed, including three in which he co-starred; in 1982, they played husband and wife in Paul Mazursky's Tempest. Unlike any other director with whom Rowlands has worked, Cassavetes was able to successfully tap into the actress's ability to depict a wide variety of female experiences, particularly playing women at extreme points of stress. Three years after the release of Faces, Rowlands appeared in Minnie and Moskowitz as Minnie, a lonely, former prom queen about to turn 40 who, after being dumped by her married boyfriend (Cassavetes), takes up with Moskowitz, an aging hippie who works as a parking lot attendant.
Then, as the tortured housewife Mabel Longhetti in A Woman Under the Influence, Rowlands garnered her greatest critical reviews, her depiction of a lower-middle-class woman's struggle to maintain sanity striking a resonant chord with many viewers and critics. Sadly, Mabel lives her life through her husband and children; according to Rowlands, Mabel was "totally vulnerable and giving, she had no sense of her own worth, and was completely mirrored in the eyes of men." In an intensely physical performance, Rowlands convincingly depicted the erratic behavior of a woman who finds she cannot always express herself in words. Mabel struggles valiantly but ineffectually with her psychological condition; never does Cassavetes romanticize her martyrdom. Made at a time when challenging, fully-developed roles for actresses were becoming increasingly rare, A Woman Under the Influence (along with An Unmarried Woman, starring Jill Clayburgh) stands as a beacon amid a vast wasteland of onedimensional women's roles as mothers and whores.
The next Cassavetes-Rowlands collaboration—Opening Night—had Rowlands playing Myrtle Gordon, an unmarried actress on the verge of a nervous breakdown, who attempts to come to terms with her private life through her theatrical career. It just so happens that she is undergoing a crisis of confidence while playing a woman who is facing the same situation. Here Cassavetes also plays the dual role: Myrtle's former lover in real life, who also plays opposite her on stage.
Then, beginning with a statement that Rowlands made to her husband about her desire to work with a child, came the script of Gloria. As a hardened ex-showgirl and former girlfriend to a Mafia boss, Gloria is living on her own, with, as she claims, her own money and her own apartment. That is until her neighbor squeals on the mob and Gloria is left holding his son and the book of evidence his father had compiled. Gloria walks tough; Rowlands explained that much of the power of her performance was communicated in the way she carried herself as she moves about on the streets of New York. According to her, it was a walk that said, "They'd better watch out." Ultimately, Gloria is a trapped woman; she admits she hates kids, yet in following her code of what is right, she protects and eventually develops a certain motherly responsibility to this six-year-old Puerto Rican orphan. Lines of dialogue such as "I'm saving your life, stupid" encapsulate her confusion. Throughout, Rowlands never hedges in her meanness, despite the well-known acting school dictum that you must never be mean to kids or old people.
Their final project—Love Streams—is perhaps Cassavetes's most successful film. As brother and sister, Rowlands and Cassavetes depict characters going through individual crises, she of divorce and custody, he as a writer in the throes of researching a book on prostitution. Ultimately, Rowlands's Sarah loves too much, particularly those who are less fortunate than she; she herself has recently been incarcerated in a mental institution. She desperately tries to prove that she is happy, and can function on her own. Sarah and Robert meet up and through several tumultuous scenes, reawaken childhood affections.
It is unfortunate that Rowlands no longer has Cassavetes to direct her, for very few others have tapped into her unique capabilities. In 1988, just before Cassavetes's death, Woody Allen directed her in his Bergmanesque Another Woman, about a writer coming to terms with her life; the role was very much the kind Bergman wrote for Liv Ullmann. Unfortunately, the project lacked the piercing insights that mark Bergman's work, and Rowlands was never fully able to plumb the depths of the character.
One of Rowlands's most incisive performances outside her work with Cassavetes was as the mother dealing with her son's AIDS in the television movie An Early Frost. Here, her character, at a point in her life of extreme stress, compassionately acknowledges her love for her son. But her best 1990s role was in Terence Davies's The Neon Bible, cast as Aunt Mae, a blowsy swing band singer and aging Southern belle who comes to live with her young nephew and his family in a small town. Mae, like a character out of a Tennessee Williams play, fills the boy's ear with colorful stories, but beneath her surface bravado is a melancholy soul; she is like the forlorn subject of one of the blues songs she sings, as she goes on to impart her feelings and vulnerabilities to her nephew.
In the late 1990s and well into her sixties, Rowlands busily worked in various theatrical and made-for-television features—and added character and class to them all. She excelled as Sandra's Bullock's eccentric small-town Texas mother in Hope Floats, and was well-cast as Sean Connery's long-time mate in Playing By Heart. She still carried the Cassavetes banner, appearing in a bit role in She's So Lovely, directed by son Nick Cassavetes from a script by her late husband. And her most telling role—one that is a notch below her Aunt Mae—came in Unhook the Stars, a slice-of-life directed and co-scripted by her son. Here, Rowlands offered a finely modulated performance as a well-off sixtysomething widow who becomes immersed in the lives of a troubled neighbor and her young son while attracting the romantic interest of a French-Canadian truck driver.
—Doug Tomlinson, updated by Rob Edelman