A staple of the independent film scene and television industry since the early 1990s, actress Cara Buono was best used as an outwardly strong but emotionally brittle character on projects like "Kicking and Screaming" (1994), "Third Watch" (NBC, 1995-2005), "The Sopranos" (HBO, 1999-2007) and "Mad Men" (AMC, 2008-15). Buono began her career on stage as a pre-teen and worked her way into features and on television over the next decade; early notices for "Kicking" and "Man of the Century" (1999) made her a favorite of art house features, and supporting roles on "Third Watch" and "Sopranos" brought her to a mainstream audience. Though she worked steadily, Buono did not earn a breakthrough role until her tenure on "Mad Men" as a psychiatrist and research consultant whose intelligence proved no defense against lothario Don Draper, followed by another series regular role on the '80s-set thriller "Stranger Things" (Netflix 2016- ). High profile roles such as those proved that Buono's career was finally gathering enough steam to make the leap to greater prominence.
Born March 1, 1971 in The Bronx, New York, Buono was raised in a blue-collar family and decided at an early age to make acting her life's ambition. At 12, she showed her connection to her family's work ethic by answering a casting call ad for Harvey Fierstein's "Spookhouse" and landing the role without any assistance from her family or other adults. Buono began landing roles on television and the New York stage while in her teens and early twenties, and earned a Daytime Emmy nomination as a young victim of sexual abuse in "Abby, My Love" (CBS, 1991), which aired as part of the "CBS Schoolbreak Special." She soon graduated to minor roles in Stephen Gyllenhaal's "Waterland" (1992), with Jeremy Irons and Ethan Hawke; as an illegal immigrant in "The Cowboy Way" (1994) with Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland; and in Noam Baumbach's much-loved indie comedy "Kicking and Screaming" (1994), which reunited her with his "Abby, My Love" co-star, Josh Hamilton. While cultivating her acting career, Buono also graduated from Columbia University with a double major in English and political science in 1993, which she earned in just three years.
After graduation, Buono concentrated largely on character roles in independent films and on television. She was the wife and confidante of prison guard Robert Sean Leonard, who served as an earpiece for monstrous 1930s criminal Carl Panzram (James Woods) in "Killer: A Journal of Murder" (1996), before playing an accident-prone opera singer in love with a young man (Gibson Frazier) with Jazz Era affectations in the offbeat "Man of the Century" (1999). She soon added behind-the-camera credits to her expanding resume, including a stint as director on the short "Baggage" (1997) with Liev Schreiber and Minnie Driver, and served as co-producer and star of the comedy "Two Ninas" (1999), about a pair of similarly monikered women (Buono and Amanda Peet) who fell for a very unlucky man.
Buono's screen credits grew more obscure at the launch of the new millennium - few outside of art house and film festival circles saw the lesbian drama "Chutney Popcorn" (1999), "Attention Shoppers" (2000) or "Happy Accidents" (2000) with Marisa Tomei and Vincent D'Onofrio. She soon turned to television for wider exposure, and earned it through supporting roles on high profile series like "Third Watch" and "The Sopranos." In the former, she played paramedic Grace Foster, whose hard exterior held in a troubled childhood with an addict mother, while in the latter, she was Kelli Moltisanti, wife to Michael Imperioli's troubled mobster Christopher Moltisanti. A dutiful wife and mother during the early years of their relationship, she soon suffered the same fate as many mob spouses: betrayed by her philandering husband, terrified by his violent business partners, and ultimately left alone after his murder by his own cousin, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). In 2007, she joined the cast of the cult favorite "The Dead Zone" (USA, 2002-2007) as Sheriff Anna Turner, who investigated the death of her predecessor (Chris Bruno).
During this period, Buono maintained her screen career in features as varied as Ang Lee's "Hulk" (2003), playing David Banner's mother, who was killed by his genetically induced rage, and "Beer League" (2006), and Artie Lange's hapless lay-about love interest. In 2010, she appeared as the divorced mother of Kodi Smit-McPhee in "Let Me In," the critically praised American remake of the Swedish vampire movie "Let the Right One In" (2008). That same year, she landed her most widely seen role to date on "Mad Men," playing Dr. Faye Miller, a cool, cerebral market research consultant who joins Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Initially resisting the advances of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), she eventually falls for his charms. Their relationship, however, foundered when she grew too close to the truth behind his secret identity, whereupon he left her emotionally crushed by impulsively marrying his younger secretary, Megan Calvert (Jessica Pare). For her efforts, Buono received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2011. Buono next appeared in the family comedy "The Discoverers" (2012), followed by a supporting role in the Stephen King thriller "A Good Marriage" (2014). Buono returned to television with a story arc on the procedural drama "Person of Interest" (CBS 2011-16), followed by a series regular role as suburban mother Karen Wheeler on the streaming hit "Stranger Things" (Netflix 2016- ).
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
TV acting debut, "Dream Street"
First Broadway supporting role, "Some Americans Abroad"
First starring TV role as Abby in "Abby, My Love"
Feature acting debut, "Gladiator"
First leading role in a feature, "The Cowboy Way"
Wrote, produced and directed the short film "Baggage," starring Liev Schreiber
Appeared in the indie film, "Next Stop Wonderland"
Co-starred in the film "Happy Accidents"
Starred on the final season of the NBC drama "Third Watch" as Grace Foster, a headstrong paramedic
Co-starred in the comedy, "Artie Lange's Beer League"
Joined the cast of the HBO mob drama, "The Sopranos" playing Christopher's (Michael Imperioli) new bride
Appeared in the horror film "Let Me In."
Played Martine Rousseau on several episodes of the procedural "Person of Interest."
Joined the cast of the series "Stranger Things."