Theresa Russell

Theresa Russell

Russell in 1976
Born Theresa Lynn Paup
(1957-03-20) March 20, 1957
San Diego, California, U.S.
Alma mater Lee Strasberg Institute
Occupation Actress
Years active 1976–present
Spouse(s) Nicolas Roeg (1982–?; divorced)
Children 2

Theresa Lynn Russell (born March 20, 1957) is an American actress. Russell made her film debut in The Last Tycoon (1976) directed by Elia Kazan, followed by a lead role opposite Dustin Hoffman in Straight Time (1978). She was then cast in Nicolas Roeg's controversial thriller Bad Timing (1980), which earned her critical praise. After marrying Roeg in 1982, she appeared in multiple films directed by him, mainly arthouse and experimental films, including Eureka (1983), Insignificance (1985), and Cold Heaven (1991).

Following lead roles in the controversial film Whore, Russell starred in Steven Soderbergh's Kafka, both films having been released in 1991. Russell was cast in the box-office hit thriller Wild Things (1998), starred in the critically acclaimed drama The Believer (2001) and in the later 2000s, she appeared in HBO miniseries Empire Falls (2005), and had a minor role in Spider-Man 3 (2007).

Early life

Russell was born Theresa Lynn Paup in San Diego,[1] the daughter of Carole Platt (née Mall) and Jerry Russell Paup.[2] Her parents divorced when she was five years old, and she relocated with her mother and stepfather to Burbank, where she was raised.[3] Russell is the oldest of five siblings.[3] According to Russell, she grew up in poverty, and her family was on food stamps to help support herself and her siblings.[3] She attended Burbank High School, but did not graduate.[4] At sixteen, she dropped out of high school and moved in with a 28-year-old boyfriend who was a primal scream therapist.[5] At age seventeen, Russell enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Institute in West Hollywood to study acting.[6]


1976–2001: Early work; critical acclaim

Russell in a headshot for The Last Tycoon (1976)

Russell had begun modeling at the age of 12, and became acquainted with photographer Peter Douglas (son of Kirk Douglas) as a teenager.[3] Through Douglas, she was introduced to film producer Sam Spiegel, who suggested her for the part of Cecilia Brady in Elia Kazan's The Last Tycoon (1976), starring Robert De Niro.[7] After meeting with Kazan, Russell was cast in the part, playing the daughter of Robert Mitchum.[3] Russell's next notable appearance was in the crime drama Straight Time (1978), opposite Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates in an early role.

In 1979, she was cast as Milena Flaherty in the thriller Bad Timing (1980), the first of six films starring Russell directed by Nicolas Roeg, whom she married in 1982. Though Bad Timing was controversial upon release, Russell's performance was praised by critic Roger Ebert, who wrote: "If there is any reason to see this film, however, it is the performance by Theresa Russell (who was Dustin Hoffman's lover in Straight Time). She is only 22 or 23, and yet her performance is astonishingly powerful. She will be in better films, I hope, and is the only participant who need not be ashamed of this one."[8]

Other Roeg/Russell collaborations include Insignificance, Eureka, Track 29, Cold Heaven, and Aria. In 1987, she played a psychotic killer on the loose in Seattle in the film noir thriller Black Widow, which earned her critical acclaim; Vincent Canby of The New York Times said Russell's "clear-eyed sweetness...adds unexpected dimension to the homicidal Catharine."[9] She has also been widely praised for her roles in The Razor's Edge (1984) and Impulse (1990). Russell and Roeg's film collaborations were overall box office failures and critically divisive.[3][10]

Russell was then cast in Ken Russell's Whore (1991), based on the play by David Hines, playing a Los Angeles prostitute.[11] Though the film received a mixed reception from critics, Russell's performance was praised by The New York Times[12] and Roger Ebert.[13] The same year, she was cast in a lead role opposite Jeremy Irons in Steven Soderbergh's Kafka (1991), a black-and-white surrealist adaptation of Franz Kafka stories.[14]

Russell at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.

In 1994, Russell appeared as the narrator of the British drama Being Human, starring Robin Williams,[15] followed by the British comedy The Grotesque (1995), opposite Alan Bates and Sting. Russell was then cast in the 1998 cult thriller Wild Things, playing the mother of Denise Richards,[11] which was a major box office success.[16] After appearing in the crime drama Luckytown (2000) opposite James Caan and Kirsten Dunst, Russell was then cast in The Believer (2001), a drama written and directed by Henry Bean, and starring Ryan Gosling as a Jewish man who becomes a KKK member. The film was critically acclaimed and received the Special Jury Prize—Drama at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.[17]

2002–present: Indie and mainstream films

In the early 2000s, Russell mainly appeared in low-budget and independent films, such as The House Next Door (2002), Now & Forever (2002), and The Box (2003). In 2005, she was cast in the role of Charlene in the HBO mini-series Empire Falls, opposite Ed Harris. She also appeared in the supporting role of Emma Marko in Spider-Man 3 as the wife of Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church).[18] Spider-Man 3 was a major box office success, grossing nearly $900 million worldwide.[19] The following year, she appeared in the independent drama Jolene, starring Jessica Chastain, and also had a minor role playing the mother of Scarlett Johansson's character in the romantic comedy He's Just Not That into You (2009), though her scenes were eventually cut from the film.[20]

In 2012, she appeared in the Lifetime television film Liz & Dick, playing Sara Taylor, the mother of Elizabeth Taylor (portrayed by Lindsay Lohan).

Personal life

Russell married English film director Nicolas Roeg in February 1982 in Westminster, London.[21] The couple had two sons, Statten (born 1983) and Maximillian (born 1985); Roeg and Russell divorced at an unspecified date.[22] Pete Townshend of The Who says that Russell was the inspiration for his song, "Athena", which was first called "Theresa".[23]



Year Title Role Notes
1976 The Last Tycoon Cecilia Brady
1978 Straight Time Jenny Mercer
1980 Bad Timing Milena Flaherty
1983 Eureka Tracy McCann Maillot Van Horn
1984 The Razor's Edge Sophie MacDonald
1985 Insignificance Actress
1987 Black Widow Catharine Petersen
1987 Aria King Zog
1988 Track 29 Linda Henry
1989 Physical Evidence Jenny Hudson
1990 Impulse Lottie Mason
1991 Whore Liz
1991 Cold Heaven Marie Davenport
1991 Kafka Gabriela
1994 Being Human The Storyteller
1995 Hotel Paradise Short film
1995 The Grotesque Lady Harriet Coal
1996 The Flight of the Dove Mary Ann Curran
1996 Public Enemies Kate "Ma" Barker
1996 A Young Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Morgan le Fay
1996 Proposition, TheThe Proposition Catherine Morgan
1998 Running Woman Emily Russo
1998 Wild Things Sandra Van Ryan
2000 Luckytown Stella
2001 The Believer Lina Moebius
2002 The House Next Door Helen Schmidt
2002 Passionada Lois Vargas
2002 Now & Forever Dori Wilson
2003 Water Under the Bridge Jackie O'Connor
2003 The Box Dora Baker
2003 Love Comes Softly Sarah Graham
2007 Spider-Man 3 Emma Marko
2007 On the Doll Diane
2008 Dark World Nicole
2008 Chinaman's Chance: America's Other Slaves Mrs. Williams
2008 Jolene Aunt Kay
2009 He's Just Not That into You Mrs. Marks Scenes deleted
2009 16 to Life Louise
2011 1 Out of 7 Lexi's Mom
2011 Rid of Me Mrs. Lockwood
2011 Born to Ride Frances Callahan
2012 The Legends of Nethiah Nethiah's Mother
2013 A Winter Rose Rachal Love
2013 Moving Mountains Trish Bragg


Year Title Role Notes
1979 Blind Ambition Maureen Dean TV miniseries
1993 A Woman's Guide to Adultery Rose Episodes: "1.1", "1.2", "1.3"
1994 Thicker Than Water Debbie / Jo TV film
1995 Trade-Off Jackie Daniels TV film
1996 Once You Meet a Stranger Margo Anthony TV film
1999 G vs E Reesa Tussel Episode: "To Be or Not to Be Evil"
2000 Nash Bridges Ellen Holiday / Sarah Williams Episodes: "Jackpot: Parts 1 & 2"
2001 Earth vs. the Spider Trixie Grillo TV film
2002 Glory Days Hazel Walker Main role (9 episodes)
2002 Project Viper Dr. Nancy Burnham TV film
2003 Chasing Alice TV film
2003 Love Comes Softly Sarah Graham TV film
2005 Blind Injustice Joanna Bartlett TV film
2005 Empire Falls Charlene TV miniseries
2006 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Regina Reid Episode: "On Fire"
2007 American Heiress Jordan Wakefield Episodes: "Lion King", "Crash and Burn", "Lions and Tigers and Bears..."
2009 Fringe Rebecca Kibner Episode: "Momentum Deferred"
2010 Cold Case Rachel Malone Episode: "One Fall"
2012 Liz & Dick Sara Taylor TV film
2013–15 Delete Fiona 2 episodes


  1. "Theresa L Paup was born on March 20, 1957 in San Diego County, California". California Birth Index. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Ebert, Roger (September 21, 1988). "Interview with Theresa Russell". Roger Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  4. Theresa Russell Biography – Yahoo! Movies
  5. "Theresa Russell Biography and Filmography". Retrieved June 30, 2016.
  6. Rea, Steven (February 8, 1987). "Valley Girl, Mother And Film Star on Screen And Off, Theresa Russell's Roles Run The Gamut". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved June 28, 2016.
  7. Kazan 2010, p. 312.
  8. Ebert, Roger (October 25, 1980). "Bad Timing Movie Review". The Chicago-Sun Times. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  9. Canby, Vincent (February 6, 1987). "Movie Review: Black Widow (1987)". The New York Times. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  10. Wasson, Sam (June 22, 2011). "A Conversation with Theresa Russell". Criterion. Retrieved July 3, 2016.
  11. 1 2 Burger, Mark (March 7, 2012). "Actress Theresa Russell recalls the wild ride that was Track 29". Yes Weekly. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  12. Canby, Vincent (October 4, 1991). "Review/Film; Ken Russell on a Day In 'the Life'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  13. Ebert, Roger (October 18, 1991). "Whore Movie Review". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  14. Jagernauth, Keith (May 29, 2013). "Steven Soderbergh Says His New Cut Of 'Kafka' Will Be "A Hardcore Art Movie"". Indiewire. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  15. Maslin, Janet (May 6, 1994). "Reviews/ Film; Annals of Everybody, by Bill Forsyth". The New York Times. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  16. "Wild Things (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  17. "The Believer (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  18. "Theresa Russell Joins Spider-Man 3". January 24, 2006. Retrieved November 2, 2006.
  19. "Spider-Man 3 (2007)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  20. McGranaghan, Mike. "He's Just Not That into You". Aisle Seat. Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  21. "England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837–2005," database, FamilySearch ( : October 8, 2014), Theresa L Paup and null, Feb 1986; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837–2005,” database, findmypast ( : 2012); citing 1986, quarter 1, vol. 15, p. 815, Westminster, London, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.
  22. Adams, Sam (March 6, 2012). "Theresa Russell". The A.V. Club. Random Roles. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  23. Snow 2015, p. 182.


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