As much of an issue as the nepo-baby trend is in Hollywood, it’s good to note there is a spectrum of actors in that category that range from cashing in to true love of the medium. Jennifer Jason Leigh falls into the latter category with those like Nic Cage and Maya Hawke, thankfully.
Born in the Business
Born in 1962 to actor Vic Morrow and screenwriter Barbara Turner as Jennifer Leigh Morrow, she would eventually change her name once getting into the business to make her own way without relying on family clout. She would start early though, with her debut at the age of nine as an extra.in Death of a Stranger.
Jennifer Jason Leigh would bounce around guest roles in television while attending school, eventually quitting acting school to get her first feature film role in forgotten slasher Eyes of a Stranger in 1981. This caught the attention of producers for a small production about to film called Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where Leigh was cast as lead girl Stacy.
Unfortunately, while she would receive praise for her part in the film and her career would launch from here, tragedy struck her personal life. A blatant disregard for safety on-set led to the death of Leigh’s father.
An Avoidable Tragedy
While filming his segment for The Twilight Zone Movie, director John Landis was directing Vic Morrow and two child actors during a chase scene when he instructed the helicopter chasing them to fly lower than the safe distance from the pyrotechnics being used. This led to the helicopter crashing, immediately killing Morrow and the two children.
Naturally, that’s not something that anyone would take easily. Leigh and her sister would sue not only Warner Brothers, but producer Steven Speilberg and director John Landis, leading to an out-of-court settlement. Unfortunately, John Landis would continue his blatant disregard for safety practices and curse the world with Max Landis just years later.
Leigh would keep her career moving, becoming a noted scream queen in her own way with cult classics like The Hitcher and Sister, Sister. She would keep steady work throughout the end of the 80s and into the 90s, being noted by co-stars and crew for her dedication to research and deep dives into her roles.
Leigh would hit a stride in the 90s, taking on roles at her leisure with directors like Ron Howard and David Cronenberg (eXistenz is overlooked). She could go anywhere and do anything she wanted by the turn of the century, leading to roles in films like Synedoche, New York, and Road to Perdition.
Around 2000 she would also meet her future ex-husband Noah Baumbach, who she would marry in 2005. The two would go on to co-write his film Greenberg in 2010, the same year their son was born and Leigh would request a divorce.
Notably, this divorce was the inspiration for Baumbach’s film A Marriage Story, with the director confirming a lot of the events of the film were taken from his own experience such as his infidelity with Greta Gerwig and fights with Leigh. The two have seemed to make up now, but it must have been stressful going through all that while he was making the cinematic masterpiece Madagascar 3.
Jennifer Jason Leigh didn’t let anything stop her though, and powered on with guest spots on acclaimed shows like Weeds as well as films like The Spectacular Now and Kill Your Darlings. That was just the ramp-up, too. She would go on in the later half of the 2010s to star in hit after hit (with a couple of rough ones in between) with acclaim being given to her performance every time.
The Best Part of Every Movie
It doesn’t hurt that a lot of the great roles were from some well-known names, with a starring role in The Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino and Anomalisa by Charlie Kaufman kicking the run off in 2015. Then it became a running list of great performances with even more acclaimed names like David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Rob Reiner, and Brandon Cronenberg.
Somehow between all this, she had time for roles in acclaimed shows as well, with performances in Patrick Melrose alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and Twin Peaks: The Return. She would turn in gripping performances in everything, even making the abysmal Amityville Awakening slightly tolerable. Certainly not the worst film in the last five years to have the Amityville name (there’s an extensive list).
Even more unbelievable during that time is Leigh was taking the time to also be a mother, earning full custody of her son during the divorce proceedings with Baumbach. Jennifer Jason Leigh somehow managed all of that while taking on full parenting duties, and damn if that’s not impressive.
She still is, too! Leigh continues to act, already starting this year off with a bang in the second season of Hunters on Amazon Prime and the upcoming season of Fargo for FX. That’s in addition to the feature film she’s currently working on, directed by Chris Pine.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is an artist dedicated to her art, doing deep-dive research to make sure she’s authentic to every role. It’s a style of acting that’s more of a breath of fresh air when so many roles are phoned in or just money grabs. Hopefully, Leigh keeps making great choices with the roles she picks.