Joan Allen was born on August 20th, 1956 in Rochelle, Illinois. Her mother, Dorothea, was a stay at home mother while her father, James, owned a local gas station. Allen has three older siblings: two sisters and one brother.
Allen’s interest in theater started at a young age. When she was in high school, she took an interest in the high school theater program. She eventually attended Eastern Illinois University, where she participated in the college’s theater program; most notably, she performed in multiple plays with John Malkovich, who would later become a famous actor in his own right. Allen then earned a BFA in Theater from Northern Illinois University.
Allen’s early acting career was concentrated in theater. In 1977, John Malkovich urged her to join the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, one of the most famous theater companies in Chicago. She joined the Company and earned critical praise for many of her performances. She continued to act in theater–in Steppenwolf and outside the Company–throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1989, Joan Allen made her Broadway debut in the play Burn This. Her performance garnered much critical praise and earned Allen a Tony Award.
Shortly after earning her first Tony Award, Allen became interested in pursuing a film career. In 1995, she played Pat Nixon in the historical drama ‘Nixon.’ Her performance was universally praised by critics who saw the film and earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The next year, Allen played Elisabeth Proctor in the award-winning film adaptation of The Crucible; this role also earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
Many of Allen’s film and television appearances have earned her critical praise and nominations. In 1998, she played Betty Parker in the drama film, Pleasantville; this performance earned her multiple awards, including the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress, and the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress. In 2001, she was cast in a mini-series television adaptation of the fantasy book, The Mists of Avalon. Her performance was awarded an Emmy nomination. And in 2005, she earned more nominations for her starring performance in the TV series The Upside of Anger.
Allen’s latest film roles include that of Darcy Anderson in the thriller film A Good Marriage, and a starring role in a new series slated for 2015 called Flesh and Blood, in which Allen plays a villainous matriarch that decides to run for the mayor of her town after her son suddenly reappears after having been held captive for the past 12 years. This new series is being produced, written and helmed by writer Jenna Bans, who was previously a regular writer for several successful ‘Shonda Rhimes’ TV shows.
Allen prefers to keep her personal life as private as possible. In 1990, she married fellow actor Peter Friedman, with whom she had worked on several productions. However, the couple divorced in 2002 over irreconcilable differences. The couple had one daughter, Sadie, who was born in 1994.