Celebrity Then And Now
Laurie Metcalf
Famous For: Jackie Harris on RoseanneCurrently Known For: Actress
Laurie Metcalf
Famous For Jackie Harris on Roseanne
Currently Known For Actress

“I’m hideously shy as myself, but on stage I can run around naked and bite the heads off fish.” Somewhat of an unknown name throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, everything changed for Laurie Metcalf in 1988 when she auditioned for and won the part of Jackie Harris on the long-running hit sitcom, Roseanne. Winning three Primetime Emmy Awards for her performance, Metcalf wrapped up the series in 1997 and has been working consistently ever since, which led to her biggest year yet in 2017. Admitting that it took Hollywood quite a while to recognize her talents, Metcalf received high praise with five Tony Award nominations and a win for Best Actress for her performance in the Broadway production of A Doll’s House, Part 2. She also earned nominations at the Academy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, the SAG Awards, and the BAFTA Awards for her outstanding performance in the comedy-drama film, Lady Bird. So, how did she get her start and make her way to Roseanne, Broadway, The Big Bang Theory, and the silver screen?

The eldest of three children born to a college budget director and a librarian, Laura Elizabeth Metcalf was born on June 16, 1955 in Carbondale, Illinois. She spent much of her childhood in the suburb of Edwardsville and later attended Illinois State University where she declared majors in German and Anthropology before discovering her true passion for theater. She paid most of her way through school working as a part-time secretary, a role she enjoyed because it suited her shyness. However, she couldn’t deny her passion for acting and mustered up the courage to audition for several college productions where she joined fellow students John Malkovich, Glenne Headly, Joan Allen, Terry Kinney, and Jeff Perry on stage.

After college, Metcalf knew her future was in acting, which is why she joined Perry, Kinney, and Gary Sinise in the famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company. “In the beginning, because we were all the same age and there weren’t many plays that we could all be in and be the same age, I would be John Malkovich’s mother in True West, then his 13-year-old niece in Fifth of July,” Metcalf recalled of her early career.

Quitting her job as a secretary, Metcalf appeared in an episode of Saturday Night Live in 1981 but didn’t truly earn praise for her talent until 1984 when she appeared in the Off-Broadway production of Balm in Gilead, which earned her a 1984 Obie Award for Best Actress and a Theater World Award for Best Debut in an Off-Broadway performance. The critical praise confirmed Metcalf’s talents and dreams as she moved to New York City and pursued acting full-time in film and on the stage. In 1985, she appeared in Desperately Seeking Susan and The Execution of Raymond Graham but found staying power in 1988 when she was cast as Jackie Harris on Roseanne, one of television’s most watched sitcoms.

Spending 10 seasons on the show, Metcalf took home three Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and earned two Golden Globe Award nominations. During her tenure on the series, she continued working in film and theater with credits on the stage in Educating Rita, My Thing of Love, and Libra. On the silver screen, she appeared in Uncle Buck, Internal Affairs, Pacific Heights, JFK, A Dangerous Woman, Leaving Las Vegas, Dear God, and Scream. “I work just as hard and have just as much fun whether in a 50-seat house or in a 1000-seat house,” Metcalf said of staying busy. “It’s a luxury to be in a tiny space every once in a while, and a rush to be on a giant stage every once in a while.”

That rush continued for Metcalf as she found recurring work on television on 3rd Rock from the Sun, The Norm Show, Charlie Lawrence, and Desperate Housewives and made one-episode appearances in Frasier, Absolutely Fabulous, Without a Trace, Monk, Grey’s Anatomy, and My Boys. Then, amid her busy schedule with film, television, and theater, she won the recurring role of Mary Cooper, Sheldon’s devout Christian mother from Texas, on The Big Bang Theory.

All About Mary: A Loving and Meddling Mother

Making her debut on the show in 2007 and still in the role today as The Big Bang Theory recently wrapped up its eleventh season, Metcalf gives a stellar performance as Mary Cooper, Sheldon’s loving and extremely religious mother. Although she’s incredibly proud of Sheldon, Mary is happy that her other children aren’t as smart and once admitted as much saying, “I thank the good Lord my other kids are as dumb as soup.” Of course, Mary isn’t the smartest and sometimes mixes up her words with inappropriate slurs, but she’s wise and tolerant of others and, more importantly, she’s able to manage Sheldon.

Leonard and Penny quickly pick up on Mary’s talent for handling Sheldon and refer to her as Sheldon’s “Kryptonite,” which makes her their first call when they need help with their friend. Often called to intervene when Sheldon acts out or does something outrageous (like being disrespectful to his new boss), Mary usually saves the day even if it means showing a little tough love. After all, she once smacked him on the head with a Bible for not eating his brussels sprouts! Of course, her meddlesome and nurturing parenting style clashes with Leonard’s mother, Dr. Beverly Hofstadter, which makes for an even more comedic storyline since the women’s relationship moves from civil to icy as the two belittle one another. Although they eventually agree to disagree, their peace treaty is only brief!

From The Big Bang Theory to Super Stardom: Laurie Metcalf Today

Amid her recurring role on The Big Bang Theory, Metcalf stays incredibly busy across all venues from theater to film and television. On the silver screen, she’s appeared in films like Georgia Rule and Stop-Loss in addition to voicing Mrs. Davis in Toy Story 2, 3, and 4. On television, she’s added in credits in Getting On, The McCarthys, Horace and Pete, Portlandia, Playing House, American Dad, and Supergirl with her most recent credit as Jackie Harris in the revival of Roseanne, which debuted in March 2018 and has been picked up for two more seasons. But, that’s only been the tip of the iceberg of Metcalf’s recent success!

After a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play for her performance opposite Bruce Willis in Misery on Broadway, Metcalf returned to the stage in 2017 in A Doll’s House, Part 2. Once again, her performance received widespread critical praise and earned her multiple award nominations including a win at the Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Play. The good news didn’t stop there, however, as Metcalf went on to star in Lady Bird, a 2017 comedy-drama directed by Greta Gerwig. Once again, Metcalf’s performance was incredible, and she earned nearly two dozen awards and over 13 nominations in a role that finally skyrocketed her to stardom! “I’d like to think that it’s karma,” Metcalf said of her sudden fame. “I’d like to think that, having treated every single project as the most important one in that moment, and having worked your ass off, and given 150 percent to each one, that maybe there’s a little payback.”

Proudly describing herself as a workaholic, the 62-year-old Metcalf shares her work ethic with her eldest daughter, actress Zoe Perry, who stars as a young Mary Cooper in The Big Bang Theory spinoff, Young Sheldon. Perry is Metcalf’s only child from her marriage to Jeff Perry from 1983 to 1992. After her divorce, Metcalf married her Roseanne costar, Matt Roth, in 1993 and added to their family with two sons and a daughter. In 2008, the couple officially separated and filed for divorce in 2011 with their divorce finalized in 2014. Today, Metcalf juggles motherhood with a hefty work schedule and wouldn’t have it any other way! In fact, she looks forward to her next part—big or small—and lives by the motto, “When one thing ends, you put it away and start from scratch on the next thing.”