Geena Davis

Virginia Elizabeth "Geena" Davis (born January 21, 1956)[3][4][5] is an American actress and activist.[6] Davis has received numerous accolades for her acting work in both film and television, and is noted for her portrayals of strong and authentic female characters as well as her involvement in advocacy for women in the industry.

Geena Davis
Davis at a NYC event in 2013
Virginia Elizabeth Davis

(1956-01-21) January 21, 1956
EducationNew England College
Boston University (BFA)
  • Actress
  • producer
  • writer
  • athlete
  • model
Years active1978–present
Height6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)[1]
Partner(s)Reza Jarrahy (2001–2017)[2]

Having graduated with a bachelor's degree in drama from Boston University in 1979, Davis signed with New York's Zoli modeling agency and started her career as a model. She made her acting debut in the film Tootsie (1982), in 1984 she starred in the thriller The Fly (1986), which proved to be one of her first box office hits. While the fantasy comedy Beetlejuice (1988) brought her to international prominence, the drama The Accidental Tourist (also 1988) earned her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. That same year, she also starred in Earth Girls are Easy, which was not a box office success. She cemented her leading actress status with her performance in the road film Thelma & Louise (1991), receiving a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Davis's roles in the box office failures Cutthroat Island (1995) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), both directed by then-husband Renny Harlin, were followed by a lengthy break and downturn in her career.

Davis starred as the adoptive mother of the titular character in the Stuart Little franchise (1999–2005) and as the first female president of the United States in the television series Commander in Chief (2005–2006), winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama for her role in the latter. Her later films include Accidents Happen (2009) and Marjorie Prime (2017). She has portrayed the recurring role of Dr. Nicole Herman in Grey's Anatomy (2014–2015, 2018), and also starred as Regan MacNeil-Angela Rance in the first season of the horror television series The Exorcist (2017).

In 2004, Davis launched the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which works collaboratively with the entertainment industry to dramatically increase the presence of female characters in media. Through the organization, she launched the annual Bentonville Film Festival in 2015, and executive produced the documentary This Changes Everything in 2018.

In 2019, in recognition of her work for gender equality, Davis received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[7]

Early life

Davis was born January 21, 1956, in Wareham, Massachusetts. Her mother, Lucille (née Cook; June 19, 1919 – November 15, 2001), was a teacher's assistant, and her father, William F. Davis (November 7, 1913 – April 2, 2009), was a civil engineer and church deacon; her parents were both from small towns in Vermont.[8] She has an older brother named Danforth ("Dan").[9][10]

At an early age, she became interested in music. She learned piano and flute and played organ well enough as a teenager to serve as an organist at her Congregationalist church in Wareham.[11][12] Davis attended Wareham High School and was an exchange student in Sandviken, Sweden, becoming fluent in Swedish.[11] She attended New England College and Boston University with a bachelor's degree in drama in 1979.[11][13][14] Following her education, Davis served as a window mannequin for Ann Taylor until signing with New York's Zoli modeling agency.[15]


Beginnings (1982–1987)

Davis was working as a model when she was cast by director Sydney Pollack in his film Tootsie (1982) as a soap opera actress whom she described as "someone who's going to be in their underwear a lot of time".[11][16] The film was the second most profitable screen production of 1982,[17] received ten Academy Awards nominations [18] and is considered a cult classic.[19] She next obtained the regular part of Wendy Killian in the television series Buffalo Bill,[20] which aired from June 1983 to March 1984; she also had a writing credit in one episode.[20] Despite the series' eleven Emmy Awards nominations, the lukewarm ratings led to its cancellation after two seasons. At the time, Davis guest-starred in Knight Rider, Riptide, Family Ties and Remington Steele, and followed with a series of her own, Sara, which lasted 13 episodes. During this period, she landed an audition for the 1984 science fiction/action film The Terminator reading for the lead role of Sarah Connor. A part which eventually went to Linda Hamilton. In Fletch (1985), an action comedy, Davis appeared as the colleague of a Los Angeles Times undercover reporter trying to expose drug trafficking on the beaches of Los Angeles, opposite Chevy Chase.[21] In 1985, she also starred in the horror comedy Transylvania 6-5000, as a nymphomaniac vampire alongside future husband Jeff Goldblum.[22] They would reunite professionally in the sci-fi thriller The Fly (1986), loosely based on George Langelaan's 1957 short story of the same name and in which Davis portrayed a science journalist and the love interest of an eccentric scientist. Caryn James, of The New York Times, found her to be "stiff" in The Fly, a film she considered "intense, all right, but not scary or sad, or even intentionally funny".[23] Nevertheless, it was commercial success and helped to establish her as an actress.[24] In 1987 she appeared with Goldblum again in the offbeat comedy "Earth Girls Are Easy".[25]

Recognition and critical acclaim (1988–1993)

Director Tim Burton cast Davis in his film Beetlejuice (1988),[26] as one half of a recently deceased young couple who become ghosts haunting their former house, alongside Alec Baldwin, Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder. The film made $73.7 million from a budget of $15 million, and Davis's performance and the overall film received mostly positive reviews from critics.[27]

Davis took on the role of an animal hospital employee and dog trainer with a sickly son in the drama The Accidental Tourist (1988), opposite William Hurt and Kathleen Turner. Critic Roger Ebert, who gave the film four stars out of four, wrote: "Davis, as Muriel, brings an unforced wackiness to her role in scenes like the one where she belts out a song while she's doing the dishes. But she is not as simple as she sometimes seems [...]".[28] The film was a critical and commercial success, and she received an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her appearance in it. She would work again with Jeff Goldblum in the sci-fi film Earth Girls Are Easy (also 1988), in which she was cast as a valley girl and manicurist.

Davis appeared as the girlfriend of a man who, dressed as a clown, robs a bank in midtown Manhattan, in the comedy Quick Change (1990), based on a book of the same name by Jay Cronley, and a remake of the 1985 French film Hold-Up starring Jean-Paul Belmondo.[29] Despite modest box office returns for the film,[30] the Chicago Tribune found the lead actors to be "funny and creative while keeping their characters life-size".[31] Davis next starred with Susan Sarandon in Ridley Scott's road film Thelma & Louise (1991), playing friends who embark on a road trip with unforeseen consequences. A critical and commercial success, the film is considered a classic, as it influenced other films and artistic works and became a landmark of feminist film. She received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her role.[11]

In 1992, Davis starred alongside Madonna and Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own as a baseball player on an all-women's team. It reached number one on the box-office, became the tenth highest-grossing film of the year in North America,[32] and earned her a Best Actress Golden Globe Award nomination.[33] She played a television reporter in the comedy Hero (also 1992), alongside Dustin Hoffman and Andy Garcia. While the film flopped at the box office, Roger Ebert felt that Davis was "bright and convincing as the reporter (her best line, after surviving the plane crash, is shouted through an ambulance door: "This is my story! I did the research!")".[34]

Action roles, voice work, hiatus, sitcom and other television roles (1997–2009)

In 1994's Angie, Davis played an office worker who lives in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn and dreams of a better life. The film received mixed reviews from critics, who felt she could have been better in this movie or another set in Brooklyn,[35] and was a commercial failure. In her other 1994 release, Speechless, Davis reunited with Michael Keaton to play insomniac writers who fall in love until they realize that both are writing speeches for rival candidates in a New Mexico election. Despite negative reviews and modest box office returns, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Musical or Comedy for her performance.

Davis teamed up with her then-husband, director Renny Harlin, for the films Cutthroat Island (1995) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), with Harlin hoping that they would turn her into an action star. While The Long Kiss Goodnight managed to become a moderate success, Cutthroat Island flopped critically and commercially and was once listed as having the "largest box office loss" by Guinness World Records.[36] The film is credited to be a contributing factor in the demise of Davis as a bankable star. She divorced Harlin in 1998 and took an "unusually long" two years off to reflect on her career, according to The New York Times.[37] She appeared as Eleanor Little in the well-received family comedy Stuart Little (1999), a role she reprised in Stuart Little 2 (2002) and again in Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild (2005).[38]

By the mid and late 1990s, Davis's film career had become less noteworthy and critical acclaim had waned. In a 2016 interview with Vulture, she recalled: "Film roles really did start to dry up when I got into my 40s. If you look at IMDb, up until that age, I made roughly one film a year. In my entire 40s, I made one movie, Stuart Little. I was getting offers, but for nothing meaty or interesting like in my 30s. I'd been completely ruined and spoiled. I mean, I got to play a pirate captain! I got to do every type of role, even if the movie failed."[39]

Davis starred in the sitcom The Geena Davis Show, which aired for one season on ABC during the 2000–01 U.S. television season.[40] She went on to star in the ABC television series Commander in Chief, portraying the first female president of the United States.[41] While this role garnered her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama Series in 2006, the series was cancelled after its first season; Davis admitted she was "devastated" by its cancellation in a 2016 interview. "I still haven't gotten over it. I really wanted it to work. It was on Tuesday nights opposite House, which wasn't ideal. But we were the best new show that fall. Then, in January, we were opposite American Idol. They said, 'The ratings are going to suffer, so we should take you off the air for the entire run of Idol, and bring it back in May. I put a lot of time and effort into getting it on another network, too, but it didn't work".[39] She was also nominated for an Emmy Award and a SAG Award for Outstanding Female Actor in a Drama Series. She was awarded the 2006 Women in Film Lucy Award.[42]

Davis was the only American actor to be cast in the Australian-produced film Accidents Happen (2009), portraying a foul-mouthed and strict mother. She stated that it was the most fun she had ever had on a film set, and felt a deep friendship and connection to both of the actors who played her sons.[43] Written by Brian Carbee and based on his own childhood and adolescence, the film received a limited theatrical release and mixed reviews from critics. Variety found it to be "led by a valiant Geena Davis", despite a "script that mistakes abuse for wit".[44]

Professional expansion (2010s)

Following a long period of intermittent workload, Davis often ventured into television acting, and through her organization, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, saw her career expanded during the 2010s. In 2012, Davis starred as a psychiatrist in the miniseries Coma, based on the 1977 novel Coma by Robin Cook and the subsequent 1978 film. She played a powerful female movie executive in the critically acclaimed comedy In a World... (2013), the directorial debut of Lake Bell.[45] Bell found Davis's only dialogue to be her favourite in the film and called it her "soapbox moment".[45]

In 2014, Davis provided her voice for the English version of the Studio Ghibli animated film When Marnie Was There, as she was drawn to the film's abundant stories and strong use of female characters.[46] She played the recurring role of Dr. Nicole Herman, an attending fetal surgeon with a life-threatening brain tumor, during the 11th season of Grey's Anatomy (2014–15). In 2015, Davis launched an annual film festival to be held in Bentonville, Arkansas, to highlight diversity in film, accepting films that prominently feature minorities and women in the cast and crew. The first Bentonville Film Festival took place from May 5–9, 2015.[47] Davis appeared as the mother of a semi-famous television star in the comedy Me Him Her (2016).

In the television series The Exorcist (2016), based on the 1973 film of the same name, Davis took on the role of grown-up Regan MacNeil, who has renamed herself Angela Rance to find peace and anonymity from her ordeal as a child. The Exorcist was a success with critics and audiences. In 2017, Davis starred in the film adaptation Marjorie Prime, alongside Jon Hamm, playing the daughter of an 85-year old experiencing the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease,[48] and appeared as the imaginary god of a heavyset 13-year-old girl in the comedy Don't Talk to Irene. Vanity Fair felt that she "shine[d]" and stole "every scene" in Marjorie Prime,[49] while Variety, on her role in Don't Talk to Irene, remarked: "There’s no arguing the preternatural coolness of Geena Davis —a fact celebrated in self-conscious fashion by Don’t Talk to Irene, a familiar type of coming-of-age film whose most distinguishing feature is the presence of the actress".[50]

In 2018, Davis returned to Grey's Anatomy, reprising the role of Dr. Nicole Herman in the show's 15th season,[51] and executive produced the documentary This Changes Everything, in which she was also interviewed about her experiences in the industry. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was named first runner-up for the People's Choice Award: Documentaries.[52] In 2019, she joined the voice cast of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power as Huntara.[53]

Personal life

Marriages and family

Davis has been married four times.[54] Previously to Richard Emmolo (1982–1983); actor Jeff Goldblum (1987–1990); and Renny Harlin (1993–1998).

On September 1, 2001, Davis married Reza Jarrahy (b. 1971). They have three children: a daughter, Alizeh (born April 2002), and fraternal twin sons, Kaiis and Kian (born May 2004).[55][56] In May 2018, Jarrahy filed for divorce from Davis; listing their date of separation as November 15, 2017.[57] Davis responded by filing a petition in which she claimed that she and Jarrahy were never legally married.[2]


Davis is a supporter of the Women's Sports Foundation and an advocate for Title IX, an Act of Congress focusing on equality in sports opportunities, now expanded to prohibit gender discrimination in United States' educational institutions.[58][59]

In 2004, while watching children's television programs and videos with her daughter, Davis noticed an imbalance in the ratio of male to female characters. Davis went on to sponsor the largest research project ever undertaken on gender in children's entertainment (resulting in four discrete studies, including one on children's television) at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. The study, directed by Stacy Smith, showed that there were nearly three males to every one female character in the nearly 400 G, PG, PG-13, and R-Rated movies the undergraduate team of Annenberg students analyzed.[60] In 2005, Davis teamed up with the non-profit group, Dads and Daughters, to launch a venture dedicated to balancing the number of male and female characters in children's television and movie programming.[61]

Davis launched the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2007.[62] The Institute's first focus is an on-the-ground program that works collaboratively with the entertainment industry to dramatically increase the presence of female characters in media aimed at children and to reduce stereotyping of females by the male-dominated industry.[63] It seeks to address inequality in Hollywood. For her work in this field she received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Bates College in May 2009[64] and the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, an Honorary Oscar, in 2019.[65]

In 2011, Davis became one of a handful of celebrities attached to USAID and Ad Council's FWD campaign, an awareness initiative tied to that year's East Africa drought. She joined Uma Thurman, Chanel Iman and Josh Hartnett in television and internet ads to "forward the facts" about the crisis.[66]


In July 1999, Davis was one of 300 women who vied for a semifinals berth in the U.S. Olympic archery team to participate in the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics.[6][11] She placed 24th and did not qualify for the team, but participated as a wild-card entry in the Sydney International Golden Arrow competition.[67] In August 1999 Davis stated that she was not an athlete growing up and that her introduction to archery was in 1997, two years before her tryouts.[6]



Year Title Role Notes
1982 Tootsie April Page
1985 Fletch Larry
Transylvania 6-5000 Odette
1986 The Fly Veronica "Ronnie" Quaife
1988 Beetlejuice Barbara Maitland
Earth Girls Are Easy Valerie Gail
The Accidental Tourist Muriel Pritchett
1990 Quick Change Phyllis Potter
1991 Thelma & Louise Thelma Dickinson
1992 A League of Their Own Dottie Hinson
Hero Gale Gayley
1994 Angie Angie Scacciapensieri
Speechless Julia Mann Producer
1995 Cutthroat Island Morgan Adams
1996 The Long Kiss Goodnight Samantha Caine / Charlene "Charly" Baltimore
1999 Stuart Little Mrs. Eleanor Little
2002 Stuart Little 2
2005 Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild Voice
2009 Accidents Happen Gloria Conway
2013 In a World... Katherine Huling
2014 When Marnie Was There Yoriko Sasaki Voice; English version
2016 Me Him Her Mrs. Ehrlick
2017 Marjorie Prime Tess
Don't Talk to Irene Herself
2018 This Changes Everything Herself Documentary; executive producer
TBA Ava Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
1983 Knight Rider Grace Fallon Episode: "K.I.T.T. the Cat"
1983–1984 Buffalo Bill Wendy Killian 26 episodes
1984 Fantasy Island Patricia Grayson Episode: "Don Juan's Lost Affair"
Riptide Dr. Melba Bozinsky Episode: "Raiders of the Lost Sub"
1984–1986 Family Ties Karen Nicholson 3 episodes
1985 Secret Weapons Tamara Reshevsky / Brenda Television movie
Remington Steele Sandy Dalrymple Episode: "Steele in the Chips"
Sara Sara McKenna 13 episodes
1989 Trying Times Daphne Episode: "The Hit List"
1990 The Earth Day Special Kim Television special
2000–2001 The Geena Davis Show Teddie Cochran 22 episodes
2004 Will & Grace Janet Adler Episode: "The Accidental Tsuris"
2005–2006 Commander in Chief President Mackenzie Allen 18 episodes
2009 Exit 19 Gloria Woods Television movie
2012 Coma Dr. Agnetta Lindquist 2-episode miniseries
2013 Untitled Bounty Hunter Project Mackenzie Ryan Unsold TV pilot
Doc McStuffins Princess Persephone (voice) Episode: "Sir Kirby and the Plucky Princess"
2014–2015, 2018 Grey's Anatomy Dr. Nicole Herman 13 episodes
2015 Annedroids Student Episode: "Undercover Pigeon"
2016 The Exorcist Regan MacNeil / Angela Rance 10 episodes
2019 She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Huntara (voice) 4 episodes
GLOW Sandy Devereaux St. Clair 6 episodes

Music videos

Year Song Artist Notes
1986 "Help Me" Bryan Ferry Footage from The Fly
1991 "Part of Me, Part of You" Glenn Frey Footage from Thelma & Louise
1992 "This Used to Be My Playground" Madonna Footage from A League of Their Own
1992 "Now and Forever" Carole King
1996 "F.N.T." Semisonic Footage from The Long Kiss Goodnight
1999 "You're Where I Belong" Trisha Yearwood Footage from Stuart Little
1999 "I Need to Know" R Angels
2002 "I'm Alive" Celine Dion Footage from Stuart Little 2

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
1987 Saturn Awards Best Actress The Fly Nominated
1989 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress The Accidental Tourist Won
1991 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actress Thelma & Louise Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Nominated
National Board of Review Best Actress (with Susan Sarandon)' Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actress (with Susan Sarandon) Nominated
1992 Academy Awards Best Actress Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best Female Performance Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best On-Screen Duo (with Susan Sarandon) Nominated
People's Choice Awards Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture Actress N/A Nominated
1993 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy A League of Their Own Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best Female Performance Nominated
1995 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Speechless Nominated
1997 Saturn Awards Best Actress The Long Kiss Goodnight Nominated
2000 Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actress Stuart Little Nominated
2005 Satellite Awards Best Actress – Television Series Drama Commander in Chief Nominated
2006 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Television Series Drama Won
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
2015 San Diego Film Festival Reframed Humanitarian Award Life's Work Won
2017 Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best TV Actress The Exorcist Nominated
2019 Academy Awards Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award N/A Won


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