Family & Companions
One of the most promising actresses of the 1980s, Academy Award-nominated actress Meg Tilly won the hearts and minds of critics with her sensitive portrayals in such films as "The Big Chill" (1983) and "Agnes of God" (1985). The younger sister of flamboyant actress Jennifer Tilly, Meg Tilly semi-retired from acting in the mid 1990s to focus on other creative endeavors; most notably, her writing. Tilly's first novel, a well-received compilation of vignettes entitled Singing Songs, was published in 1994, followed by the tragically autobiographical, Gemma, in 2006.
Born in Long Beach, CA on Valentine's Day, 1960, Meg Tilly (neé Margaret Chan) was the third of four children born to Chinese-American businessman, Harry Chan, and his schoolteacher wife, Patricia Tilly. Following her parents' divorce when she was three, Tilly and her siblings moved to British Columbia, Canada, where they were raised by her mother and stepfather. Eager to escape a tumultuous and poverty-ridden life at home, Tilly began taking dance lessons at the age of 12. A highly gifted ballerina by her mid-teens, Tilly left home at age 16, returning to the States with the intention of becoming a professional dancer. In the mid-to-late seventies, Tilly joined the Connecticut Ballet Company and later toured with the international Throne Dance Theatre. Unfortunately, Tilly's dancing career was cut short after a serious back injury in 1979.
Forced her to give up her dancing, the ever vigilant Tilly re-focused her attention to the craft of acting instead. In 1980, Tilly made her screen debut, ironically enough, as an auditioning dancer in the 1980 musical-drama, "Fame." Though only a bit part, the role helped open doors to more work; most notably the movie, "Tex" (1982). Based on the novel by famed teen angst writer, S.E. Hinton, the Disney-produced coming-of-age drama starred Tilly and rising teen idol, Matt Dillon, in their first starring roles. Despite impressive performances all around, "Tex" died a lonely death at the box office.
Tilly's belated stardom came a year later, however, with roles in two of the year's most talked-about films. The first, and definitely least of the two, was "Psycho II" (1982), an ill-advised sequel to the 1960 Hitchcock masterpiece. The film opened to lukewarm reviews, but did well financially, spawning two further sequels. While many critics hated the movie, most were in uniform agreement about Tilly's effective performance as Mary Loomis. Ironically enough, Tilly was allegedly nearly fired before the end of shooting due to backstage tensions with the star of the original Hitchcock thriller, Anthony Perkins.
Tilly's more notable work that year was as the girlfriend of the deceased in Lawrence Kasdan's ensemble classic, "The Big Chill" (1983). One of the most influential films of the decade, "The Big Chill" heavily influenced television writing and, in effect, spawned the modern genre known as "dramedy." The story of seven college friends who reunite at the funeral of one of their own, "The Big Chill" starred a veritable who's who of fresh-faced baby boomer actors - many of whom would go on to major stardom soon after; among them: Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, Mary Kay Place, Jeff Goldblum, and an uncredited Kevin Costner. Nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture, "The Big Chill" gave Tilly's career the critical boost it needed.
In 1985, Tilly won the coveted role of the title character in Norman Jewison's gripping "Agnes of God." Adapted from the prestigious John Pielmeier stage play of the same name, "Agnes" starred Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Tilly as the novitiate nun who claims to have been party to an immaculate conception. In the performance of her career, Tilly delivered a magnificent portrayal of a tormented young woman experiencing the ultimate crisis of faith. Nominated for three Academy Awards, "Agnes of God" earned Tilly glowing critical praise and a nod for Best Supporting Actress. Though she did not win the Oscar, Tilly did take home a Golden Globe Award for the role in 1986.
Tilly's next most notable project was as the prudish Madame de Tourvel, in Milos Forman's opulent period piece, "Valmont" (1989). Based on the classic 1782 French novel, "Les Liaisons dangereuses," "Valmont" was the second adaptation of the book to be released within the same time period (The first, the Stephen Frears directed "Dangerous Liaisons," which was released just one year prior). While "Valmont" earned mostly positive reviews, it was mainly significant for introducing Tilly to her future longtime beau, co-star Colin Firth. In 1990, Tilly gave birth to their only child, Will. The union between Tilly and Firth, however, did not last and the two went their separate ways in 1994. Tilly continued to land roles, including a part in Abel Ferrara's remake "Body Snatchers," where she excelled as a zombie. On TV, Tilly could be found on "Winnetka Road" (1994), a short-lived steamy serial set in the angst-filled suburb of Oak Bluff. Playing a sad-eyed married woman given to the kind of attractive despair that arouses the men around her, Tilly contributed to the series' intelligent scripting when she penned the show's fifth episode. Perhaps armed with a new-found confidence from her writings, in 1995, Tilly stunned Hollywood and her fans by announcing her retirement from acting. Apart from the occasional guest-starring role on television, Tilly remained more or less low-key into the new millennium.
As it turned out, Tilly was toiling away at the computer, writing her first novel, Singing Songs in 1994. The freshman effort disturbingly depicted an incest survivor's progress. Although it took 12 years, Tilly returned to the spotlight with the publication of her second novel, Gemma. After reading the novel, it was not hard to see why. The story of a 12-year-old girl who is kidnapped and sexually abused, Gemma pulled no punches as a stark, harrowing tale. Narrated by the victim herself, the novel's theme was, ironically, an empowering one of survival. Though Tilly initially claimed Gemma was only a work of fiction, she eventually came clean during book promo rounds and confessed the novel was autobiographically-based.
Cast (Feature Film)
Made film debut as a background dancer in "Fame"
First film in a leading role, "Tex"
Breakthrough film, "The Big Chill"
Published first novel, "Singing Songs"
Sold the rights to her novel "Singing Songs" to United Artists