Maria Bello raised in a Polish/Italian household in working class Norristown, PA, where she attended a Catholic school which did not have a theater department. In fact, acting was not even on Bello's radar until she took a drama class at Villanova University as an elective in a schedule otherwise filled with political science and pre-law courses. After graduating with a political science degree in 1989, she threw her intended plans for law school aside, moving instead to New York, where she crashed on a friend's floor, got a bartending gig, and started gaining invaluable experience in off-Broadway plays. Bello struggled for years, making little or no money in independent theatrical productions and the occasional commercial, yet remained unwaveringly committed to her craft.In 1992, she combined her dedication to the arts with a passion for social causes that had previously informed her law career, by co-founding Harlem's Dreamyard Drama Project. The Dreamyard was a nonprofit arts and education program that paired working artists with at-risk kids, eventually giving a voice and a better chance at academic achievement to thousands of kids across the city.Maybe it was all her hard work; maybe it was a bit of good karma coming back her way, but by 1995, Bello began getting some professional breaks, landing small screen roles in the TV movie "The Commish: In the Shadow of the Gallows" (ABC, 1995). Her tough, smart exterior was the perfect choice to play a spy opposite Scott Bakula on the CBS action series "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (1996). With this offer, Bello relocated to Los Angeles and, although the series was ultimately short-lived, it led the actress to regular appearances on the respected medical drama "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), playing pediatrician Anna Del Amico. Bello showed Hollywood what she was made of with her stunning performance as a tough-loving, recovering junkie opposite Ben Stiller in the film adaptation of Jerry Stahl's harrowing Hollywood heroin memoir, "Permanent Midnight" (1998). Later in the year, Bello expanded on her earlier work with Dreamyard by accompanying a team of artists and teachers on a Save the Children-sponsored trip to Nicaragua, where they shared arts activities with survivors of Hurricane Mitch. In 1999, she embarked on a similar trip to Kosovo and eventually visited India and China, where she similarly documented the world's children through interviews and photographs.With her reputation as a dependable leading lady beginning to build, Bello subsequently began getting better offers, playing complicated women who were typically hard-as-nails on the outside but warm and vulnerable on the inside. She went mainstream with two memorable roles in quick succession: starring as a hooker with ties to Mel Gibson in "Payback" (1999) and bringing her real-life experience to the role of a leather-clad bar owner and den mother to a pack of midriff-baring barmaids in "Coyote Ugly" (2000). She also appeared as a vulnerable sexpot in director Bruce Paltrow's final film, "Duets" (2000), before abruptly switching gears for the IMAX film "China: The Panda Adventure," a film about a 1930s Chinese panda study excursion. Bello's next role was that of a real-life mother, having given birth to her first child Jackson Blue McDermott in 2001. Jack's father was Bello's longtime boyfriend Dan McDermott, the former head of Dreamworks Production-turned-screenwriter and producer.Bello returned to the screen in 2002 when Paul Schrader tapped her for "Auto Focus" (2002), his gritty film about the kinky secret sex life and eventual murder of "Hogan's Heroes" (CBS, 1965-1971) star Bob Crane, in which she played his sexy co-star-turned-girlfriend. That small but effective role was just a prelude, however, to her fine leading work in "The Cooler" (2003). Playing opposite William H. Macy - a loser so unlucky he is employed by a Las Vegas casino to spread his infectious misfortune whenever gamblers hit a hot streak - Bello's cocktail waitress Natalie emerged as his apparent salvation when their passionate love affair seemed to lift Macy's terminal bad luck. After earning raves on the festival circuit, "The Cooler" was at the center of controversy due to one of Bello's nude scenes; the scene was eventually trimmed to secure an R rating. But it was Bello's sensitive and bold performance that really raised eyebrows, and among other accolades, the actress received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture.It was truly a breakout role, and Bello quickly had several projects in the pipeline. She snared a small role in the unsettling Johnny Depp thriller "Secret Window" (2004), followed by a smart turn as a political reporter in John Sayles' sharply drawn political satire/mystery, "Silver City" (2004). Bello was also featured in the 2005 remake of the police thriller "Assault on Precinct 13" as a psychiatrist trapped inside a police precinct house during a violent invasion. The following year, she earned a New York Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actress award for her raw, emotional performance as a wife whose husband's (Viggo Mortensen) unknown past catches up with him in David Cronenberg's tautly crafted "A History of Violence" (2005). Bello's great performance in "Silver City" informed Jason Reitman's decision to cast her in the satirical 2006 release, "Thank You for Smoking" (2006), in which she played an alcohol spokesperson plotting to subvert cultural do-gooders. Her next film, Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" (2006), was ultimately more controversial, but for all the wrong reasons. Bello was outstanding as Donna McLoughlin, wife of a Port Authority sergeant (Nicolas Cage) trapped beneath the 9/11 rubble, but the film drew criticism for its debatable depiction of the "facts" of September 11th and for concerns raised by some of the film's real life counterparts.Having made a name for herself as no-nonsense women hellbent on independent survival, Bello began to explore softer territories with the family film "Flicka" (2006) and the well-received literary dramedy "The Jane Austen Book Club" (2007). She had a supporting role in "Towelhead" (2007), the Alan Ball directed suburban drama that screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and the following winter, appeared at the Sundance Film Festival in Udayan Prasad's thoughtful "The Yellow Handkerchief" (2008), playing the wife of an ex-con (William Hurt) who embarks on an unexpectedly life-changing road trip after being released from prison. From festival to multiplex, Bello followed up with a role in the massive summer blockbuster, "Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (2008), the third film in the "Mummy" franchise, in which Bello played the role of adventurer Rick O'Connell's (Brendan Fraser) wife, which was originated by Rachel Weisz in the earlier incarnations.While the overblown comic adventure was a box office hit, most critics were unkind, though she fared better with "Downloading Nancy" (2009), which was nominated for a Jury Prize at Sundance and starred Bello as a distraught married woman who hires a man (Jason Patric) to kill her, but the pair end up falling in love. For her work in the film, Bello would also earn an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Female Lead. Bello appeared in a small role as the flashback-seen mother of a woman going through a major mid-life crisis (Robin Wright Penn) in Rebecca Miller's "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee" (2009), and in 2010, joined an all-star cast including Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones in a timely examination of the lives of downsized executives, "The Company Men" (2010). Bello also had the chance to flex her comedic muscles as Kevin James' long-breastfeeding wife in the crowd-pleasing comedy "Grown Ups" with Adam Sandler and Salma Hayek.Making a return to weekly television the following year, Bello assumed the role of Det. Jane Timoney as the star of the police drama "Prime Suspect" (NBC, 2011-12). Described by the network as a "re-imagining" of the acclaimed BBC series that had starred Helen Mirren, the U.S. iteration featured Bello as an iconoclastic female detective struggling to fit in at a New York precinct. Despite heavy promotion by the network, the show was not a rating success and was canceled before the end of its first season. At the same time, audiences could also catch the actress on the big screen with a supporting role in the action-thriller "Abduction" (2011), playing a women posing as the mother of a teenager (Taylor Lautner) who, as an infant, was abducted by a secret agency for shadowy purposes. Following the end of "Prime Suspect," Bello joined the cast of the Kiefer Sutherland drama "Touch" (Fox 2012-13) for a 10-episode story arc. Bello then returned to the big screen for the comedy sequel "Grown Ups 2" and co-starred in the searing drama "Prisoners" as the mother of an abducted child. On November 29, 2013, Bello wrote an essay for The New York Times in which she revealed that she was in a long-term romantic relationship with Clare Munn, chairman of media company The Communication Group.
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