Award-winning stage performer Mary Beth Peil also enjoyed regular work as a character actress on television and the occasional film, most notably as Michelle Williams's grandmother on "Dawson's Creek" (The WB, 1998-2003) and Julianna Margulies's scheming mother-in-law on "The Good Wife" (CBS, 2009-16). Initially trained as an opera singer, Peil moved into musical theater and drama in the 1980s, eventually winning an Obie in 1994 for a trio of non-musical plays, including Paul Rudnick's "The Naked Truth." Though less prolific in film and on television, Peil worked frequently in small but showy parts for over a decade, with the "Dawson's" and "Good Wife" roles serving as her most widely seen screen efforts. By the 2000s, Peil's work on television and stage afforded her a degree of stardom that was reflected in her participation in major Broadway productions of "Nine" and "Follies," all of which underscored her status as an enduring talent in both mediums.
Born June 25, 1940 in Davenport, Iowa, Mary Beth Peil began her career as an opera singer. She trained at Northwestern University before winning the prestigious Young Concert Artists International Auditions and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. These led to roles with the Met's national company and the New York City Opera. In 1983, she was offered the role of Kate in a 1983 regional production of "Kiss Me, Kate," which prompted her to shift her interest to acting. Peil soon divided her time between dramatic theater and musicals, most notably in a 1983 national tour of "The King and I" with Yul Brynner. The production eventually moved to Broadway, where Peil earned a Tony Award nomination. From there Peil moved into television, making her screen debut in the little-seen comedy "Jersey Girl" (1992). More bit parts in features and television followed while her stage career blossomed with an Obie Award for her performance in three 1994 plays, "The Naked Truth," "Missing Persons" and "A Cheever Evening."
In 1997, Peil landed her breakout television role as "Grams" Ryan, the flinty grandmother to Michelle Williams's Jen Lindley on "Dawson's Creek." Peil was the only performer aside from the show's three leads to be credited as a regular during the teen drama's network run. The exposure afforded by "Dawson's" led to larger and more substantive turns on television, including the actress Edith Luckett, who was Nancy Reagan's mother, in the controversial miniseries "The Reagans" (CBS, 2003). Her stage work also flourished with major roles in revivals of "Sweeney Todd" at the Kennedy Center in 2002 and Antonio Banderas' mother in a Broadway production of "Nine" the following year. In 2009, Peil won the plum role of Jackie Florrick, the meddlesome mother of philandering governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) on "The Good Wife." She balanced her recurring appearances on the program with Broadways runs in "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" in 2010 and "Follies" in 2011.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Moved from opera to musical theater with regional production of "Kiss Me, Kate"
Received her first Tony nomination for her role as Anna in "The King and I"
Feature film debut in "Jersey Girl"
Recurring role as Jen's "Grams" on "Dawson's Creek"
Played Edith Luckett in CBS's "The Reagans"
Played Helen Devlin in "The Stepford Wives"
Minor role in Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers"
Cast as Anna Esseker in "Mirrors"
Starred as Chris Noth's mother, Jackie Florrick, on "The Good Wife"
Played a supporting role in Will Smith vehicle "Collateral Beauty"
Received a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical as Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in "Anastasia"
Appeared in Ari Gold-helmed drama "The Song of Sway Lake"
Cast as Dr. Marianne Holt in "Here and Now"