Best known for her movies, Olympia won a variety of Academy Awards, Golden Globes and other accolades for her showstopping performances.
Stardom arrived for the actress when she was cast as the Italian-American mother of Cher’s character (Loretta Castorini) in the 1987 comedy Moonstruck.
Playing interfering matriarch Rose, in one stand-out scene she tells her on-screen daughter ‘your life’s going down the toilet’.
This is considered to be one of her most notable performances as she won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
Olympia also received the Los Angeles and New York Film Critics Awards due to her acting ability, with her performance including improvisation.
After a small role as a personnel director in the 1988 comedy Working Girl, Olympia starred alongside an all-star cast in 1989’s Steel Magnolias.
Alongside Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine and Sally Field, Olympia played Clairee Belcher in the film. In one memorable scene, she encourages a grieving Sally’s character (a grieving M’Lynn Eatenton) to slap Shirley’s character (Ouiser Boudreaux).
The venerable stage and film actress’ most revolutionary role of her career was as Anna Madrigal, the transgender landlady of a fictional house in San Francisco, in the 1993 miniseries Tales of the City.
She reprised the role in the sequels More Tales of the City in 1998 and Further Tales of the City in 2001.
Olympia told Out magazine in 2012 that she had interviewed a transgender woman who worked as a therapist in order to understand the role:
‘I finally said to her, “Look, I have read something about what you’ve been through, and I have to ask you, what was it that you wanted or needed so deeply, so profoundly, that made it possible for you to first of all have the courage to do it and secondly to endure it?”
‘And this is what she said to me: “All my life I yearned for the friendship of women.”
‘I cannot tell you… I instantly started to cry. I know what it is to want the friendship of women. I know how difficult sometimes that is to make happen, especially when you are competing heterosexually with women for men. There are all sorts of things that it brought out for me, and I understood something about Anna Madrigal and her relationship to other women that are around her.’
Some of her other noteworthy roles include Dolly Sinatra in the biographical series Sinatra and Mother Babette in the 1999 miniseries Joan of Arc.
She also starred in the TV series Bored to Death, where her character had an affair with Zach Galifianakis’ character.
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