Ellen Barkin was born on April 16th, 1954 in The Bronx, New York. Her mother worked as a hospital administrator to a New York hospital while her father worked as a salesman. After expressing interest in theater and performing arts, Barkin attended Manhattan’s High School of Performing Arts, which she graduated from. After graduation, Barkin earned a double-degree in history and drama from Hunter College. While continuing to study acting and performance, Barkin considered becoming a specialized ancient history teacher. However, she ultimately decided to continue studying acting, and even attended the famous New York Actors Studio.
In 1982, Barkin was cast in Barry Levinson’s comedy-drama Diner. This is considered to be her break-out role, as the role earned her positive reviews from critics. After Diner was released, she landed an audition for a film directed by Bruce Beresford; Beresford was reportedly very impressed during her audition, and ultimately cast her in the drama Tender Mercies, which was released in 1983. Barkin acted alongside the famous Robert Duvall in the film, who later said of her performance: “She brings a real credibility to the part … [she] had a certain sense of edge, a danger to her that was good for that part.”
Her performance in Tender Mercies was widely acclaimed, and is credited for opening many doors for Barkin. She later appeared in other prominent films of the 1980s, including the big Easy and Sea of Love, which she performed in opposite Al Pacino. During this time period, Barkin also began to act in several off-Broadway plays. Her most notable theater role from this time period was her role in Eden Court, which earned her stunningly positive reviews from theater critics. Famous New York Times critic Frank Rich wrote of her performance: “If it were really possible to give the kiss of a life to a corpse, the actress Ellen Barkin would be the one to do it. … Miss Barkin is tantalizingly alive[.]”
Barkin continued to act in film and television throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1997, she was cast in the made-for-TV film Before Women had Wings; her performance earned her the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. In 2011, Barkin finally made her Broadway Debut in The Normal Heart. Barkin ultimately earned the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her work.
Barkin married fellow actor Gabriel Byrne in the 1980s. The couple informally separated in 1993, and finally divorced in 1999, although Barkin describes them as “still close.” The couple had two children, Jack and Romy, who were born in 1989 and 1992. In 2000, Barkin married the multi-billionaire Ronald Perelman; however, in 2006, the couple divorced. One year later, Barkin sued Perelman; Barkin claimed that Perelman promised to invest $3.4 million in investment funds to her production company, which she founded in 2005 with her brother George as well as her husband at the time, Perelman. After a lengthy court battle, Perelman was ordered to pay Barkin $4.3 million dollars.