A Field Guide to Jennifer Jason Leigh

February 5, 2019 | Posted in Celebrity by tucker-bankshot

 

One of the most well respected character actresses of the modern era, Jennifer Jason Leigh is celebrating her 57th birthday today, so what better time to revive the old classic column A Field Guide than by looking back at JJL's absolutely incredible body... of work! Jennifer is basically Hollywood royalty being the daughter of actor Vic Morrow—who was tragically killed while filming Twilight Zone: The Movie—and writer Barbara Turner (Pollock, Hemingway & Gellhorn), but she has forged her own path thanks to her proclivity for making bold, daring choices.

Jennifer started her career in her father's preferred media, television, but made the leap to the big screen with 1981's Eyes of a Stranger. The film is notable only for featuring Jennifer's nude debut, with her baring her breasts on film for the very first time at the ripe young age of 19...

 

This likely helped her land the leading role in Amy Heckerling's Fast Times at Ridgemont High the following year, a film that put her and several of her co-stars—including Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, and Forest Whitaker—on the map! Jennifer plays Stacy Hamilton, a naïve and innocent high schooler who puts too much faith in the wrong kind of guy. She loses her virginity to a stereo salesman in a little league dugout, and doesn't fare much better in her second go-around, ending up pregnant after a comically brief sex scene with her classmate Mike Damone (Robert Romanus).

 

Though her fantastic nude scenes are overshadowed by Phoebe Cates' legendary pool scene, they proved Jennifer the kind of actress who wasn't shy about baring everything along with her soul. Throughout the 80s she did this quite a bit in flicks like Death Ride to Osaka, Sister Sister, and Heart of Midnight. In 1985, she caught the eye of Dutch master Paul Verhoeven, who cast her as the female lead in his first American film, Flesh + Blood.

Set in Medieval Europe, Jennifer stars as Agnes, your stereotypical wide-eyed innocent of noble birth set to marry a wealthy landowner's son. When she is captured by a band of barbarous thugs, she becomes sexually liberated upon falling for her captor, played by Rutger Hauer. An hour and six minutes into the flick, she strips fully nude to join Hauer in a candlelit tub, though her cannonball routine quickly extinguishes most of the candles...

 

Jennifer closed out the 80s starring in Uli Edel's harrowing 1989 adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.'s Last Exit to Brooklyn. Replacing the pregnant Patricia Arquette in the role of Tralala, your average hooker with a heart of gold, Jennifer's ability to mine pathos from such a marginalized character really helped to set her apart from the crowd. In the film's climax, Jennifer flashes her breasts for a bunch of soldiers at a bar on Brooklyn's Navy Yard, and before long finds herself victimized by a seemingly never-ending parade of horny and aggressive young men...

 

It's tough for any actress to be typecast, but Jennifer's ability to play damaged goods made her sometimes the only logical choice for a role. Her follow-up to Last Exit found her in familiar territory, playing the sweet-natured but dense prostitute Susie Waggoner in George Armitage's hugely underrated flick Miami Blues. Susie gets mixed up with ex-con Fred Frenger (a never better Alec Baldwin) and becomes an accomplice to his newly invigorated life of crime. The two even sport matching haircuts...

 

Jennifer found herself on the right side of the law as an undercover cop dealing with addiction in the following year's Rush, but it was her role as the psycho-roommate from hell in Barbet Schroeder's 1992 smash hit Single White Female that brought her back into the big time. Jennifer took a diversion from her normally naïve characters to play the manipulative Hendra, roommate to Bridget Fonda's Allison, who is shocked by Hendra's devil may care attitude to her own detriment. It isn't long before Hendra is styling herself to look like Allison and even blowing her boyfriend Sam (Stephen Weber)...

 

If nothing else, it showed off Jennifer's incredible range which could see her playing both victim and aggressor with equal aplomb. Indie cred followed Jennifer into the 90s with her scoring critical acclaim for her work in such diverse films as The Coen Brothers' The Hudsucker Proxy, Robert Altman's Short Cuts, 1995's Georgia (written by her mother Barbara Turner), and the scathingly brilliant Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle where she played Algonquin Round Table literary legend Dorothy Parker...

 

The 2000s have seen Jennifer continuing to work with great directors like Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition), Jane Campion (In the Cut), Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York and Anomalisa), Todd Solondz (Palindromes), and her former husband Noah Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg). She earned her long overdue first Oscar nomination for Quentin Tarantino's 2015 western The Hateful Eight, and starred in two of the best films in the last two years—Josh and Benny Safdie's Good Time and Alex Garland's Annihilation.

She also hasn't left nudity totally in her rearview—pun fully intended—baring her butt in the 2013 flick The Moment...

 

So take some time today to appreciate Jennifer Jason Leigh and all the many amazing performances—and nude scenes—she's given us over the years. What's your favorite JJL performance, film, or nude scene? Let us know in the comments section below!

All photos and GIFs in this post courtesy of MrSkin.com

Tagged in: celebrity nudity , fast times at ridgemont high , field guide , field guides , jennifer jason leigh , mr. skin ,

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