By 1985, she was making inroads, guesting on the ABC police drama "Our Family Honor" and winning notice for her stage performances in "Coming of Age in SoHo" and "The Marriage of Bette and Boo" (both at the New York Shakespeare Festival's The Public Theater). Ruehl's career kicked into high gear in 1988 when she delivered two scene-stealing film performances. While she had only a small amount of screen time in "Big," as the mother of Josh, the little boy who wishes he were adult and morphs into Tom Hanks, the actress made an impression. Far more memorable, however, was her Mafia wife Connie Russo in "Married to the Mob." Her Connie was a terrific comic creation, part scorned wife and part avenger, convinced that her husband (Dean Stockwell) had taken as his mistress the wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) of a murdered colleague.Although Ruehl was on the verge of movie stardom, good roles were difficult to land and she returned to the stage creating the part of an attorney attempting to protect a family-run business from takeover in the Off-Broadway play "Other People's Money" (1989). In 1991, she landed one of the best roles of her career as a woman with a slight mentally handicap who attempts to break free from her domineering mother in Neil Simon's Pulitzer-winning "Lost in Yonkers." Despite the presence of such powerful co-stars as Irene Worth and Kevin Spacey, Ruehl shone and earned rave reviews and numerous accolades, including a Tony Award. That same year, she had her best screen role (to date) as Jeff Bridges' long-suffering girlfriend in "The Fisher King," a part that netted her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.Despite the numerous awards to her credit, Ruehl was unable to find suitable follow-up projects, which pointed to the dearth of well-written material for actresses of a certain age. She recreated her stage triumph to less acclaim in the muted film version of "Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers" (1993) and found some acceptance in back-to-back Broadway revivals of "The Shadow Box" (in 1994) and "The Rose Tattoo" (1995). After a stellar turn as the tenacious prosecutor in the based-on-fact HBO movie "Indictment: The McMartin Trial" (1995), Ruehl joined the cast of the hit NBC sitcom "Frasier" in the recurring role of station manager Kate Costas who was began as a nemesis of Kelsey Grammer's title character before becoming his paramour. She returned to the big screen as a dying Italian woman whose one desire is to be buried in her family's cemetery plot in "For Roseanna" (1997), but the role hardly tapped her talents. Ruehl was miscast as the harridan mother of the troubled model "Gia" in that 1998 HBO biopic. She fared better partnered onscreen with Brian Cox as an unhappily married couple who unwittingly take in a serial killer as a boarder in "The Minus Man" (1999). Ruehl shone as the matriarch of a large Hispanic family preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving in the Sundance-screened "What's Cooking?" (2000) before earning praise as an adoptee who discovers her Native American roots in the CBS "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation "The Lost Child" (also 2000). Though Ruehl continued to appear in feature films-albeit smaller independents-she began to have a stronger presence on television as the 20th century gave way to the new millennium. After appearing in "The Amati Girls" (2001) and the video-released "More Dogs Than Bones" (2001), she starred in the made-for-TV movie, "Guilt By Association" (Court TV, 2002), a real-life story about a woman who breaks off the relationship with her boyfriend after discovering he's a drug dealer, only to wind up in prison herself because of draconian mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Ruehl's talents were then wasted in a supporting role as the resilient wife of an FBI agent aiding the hunt for a notorious mobster in "Bad Apple" (TNT, 2004). In "Mom at Sixteen" (Lifetime, 2005), she played a domineering mother who forces her teenaged daughter to hide her pregnancy in order to pass off the child as her own. After costarring in "A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story" (Lifetime, 2006), playing the mother-turned-activist of a transgender teenager murdered by three young men, Ruehl made an appearance in the season three opener of "Entourage" (HBO, 2004-11) as the neurotic mother of star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) who's too afraid to leave the comfort of Queens, NY to attend the premiere of her son's blockbuster superhero movie directed by James Cameron.
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