Bowen was born Julia Bowen Luetkemeyer, and was raised in Baltimore, MD. Like many future actors, she spent her childhood putting on plays in the family yard, and she continued to act even as she attended Brown University where she earned a degree in Italian Renaissance studies. Bowen was featured in college productions of "Guys and Dolls" and "Stage Door," and paid work in commercials and low-budget independent films followed once she moved to New York City, where she studied drama at the famed Actors Studio. Bowen landed her first big break on the soap opera "Loving" (ABC, 1983-1995) prior to moving to Los Angeles, where her career continued to take off with a supporting role in ABC's TV movie drama "Where Are My Children?" (1994) and with a starring role as a carefree teen opposite Paul Rudd in the Showtime movie, "Runaway Daughters" (1994). The newcomer scored a regular primetime role the following year on the short-lived ABC adventure series, "Extreme" (ABC, 1994-95), playing the sweet but sassy love interest of a member of a Rocky Mountain rescue unit.The Adam Sandler comedy "Happy Gilmore" (1996) marked Bowen's mainstream feature debut, and her profile was raised significantly with her supporting turn as a sharp, strong-willed woman who sparks the romantic interest of an unorthodox golfer (Adam Sandler). In short order, Bowen appeared in minor roles in the less successful Michael Keaton comedy "Multiplicity" (1996), and "An American Werewolf in Paris" (1997), in which the actress rose to the challenge of performing in full monster makeup. However television proved to be the most fruitful outlet for Bowen, who was curiously cast as a grifter and martial artist on the short-lived adventure series "Three" (WB, 1998) before enjoying a recurring run on NBC's "ER" as a brittle insurance saleswoman and love interest of Noah Wyle's Dr. Carter. Following a starring role in the UPN TV movie "The Last Man on Planet Earth" (1999) and a few more one-off guest appearances, Bowen finally established her place as a television star when on "Ed" (NBC, 2000-04), a charming dramedy that cast her as small town high school teacher, Carol Vessey, opposite Tom Cavanagh as a former New York lawyer who returns to his hometown and falls again for his unrequited high school love - Vessey. Quick with a quip and particularly skilled in scenes that addressed her character's romantic uncertainty, Bowen helped to give Vessey the kind of multifaceted portrayal that was needed to make her an engaging character.While "Ed" earned Emmy nominations and kudos as television's freshest new series, Bowen found time to make a few theatrical appearances in comedies "Venus and Mars" (2001) and the Tim Allen vehicle "Joe Somebody" (2001). However it was not long before the bankable "Ed" "will they or won't they?" sexual chemistry became so on-again, off-again that it became tiresome, and the show's waning appeal led to its cancellation in 2004. The in-demand actress was immediately courted for recurring roles on the John Stamos sitcom "Jake In Progress" (ABC, 2005-06) and the hit drama "Lost" (ABC, 2004-2010), where she made recurring appearances over several seasons playing the injured bride of physician Jack (Matthew Fox). In the fall of 2005, Bowen was added as a regular to the retooled second season of "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), where she spent several seasons portraying Denise Bauer, an attorney whose love life often figured prominently into story arcs. Along with the cast, Bowen was nominated for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble Cast in a Drama by the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Bowen actually spent the final season of "Boston Legal" as a recurring character, following her offscreen maternity leave and the birth of her son with her software developer husband. When the series was cancelled, Bowen was back on the airwaves that fall in an eight-episode recurring run as a cheese shop owner who seduces a younger man on "Weeds" (2005-12), the dark suburban dramedy from Showtime. After the actress delivered a set of twins in the spring of 2009, she was back to work later that year with a starring role on one of the more popular fall debuts, "Modern Family" (ABC, 2009-), a critical hit in a rather depressing new television season. The suburban comedy found Bowen in familiar territory, playing a harried mother of three and a relative straight arrow next to a mildly odd-behaved husband (Ty Burrell) who fancies himself as "hip." Her performance rightly earned her Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series every year between 2010 and 2014; she won in 2011 and 2012. Between seasons, Bowen co-starred in the dark comedy "Horrible Bosses" (2011), romantic comedy-drama "Jumping the Broom" (2011) and Rob Lowe-led political thriller "Knife Fight" (2013). She also provided a voice in the animated sequel "Planes: Fire and Rescue" (2014). In 2018, she played the villain in "Life of the Party" (2018), a comedy co-written by and starring Melissa McCarthy, before it was announced that "Modern Family" would be ending the following year.