Scene-stealing actress Kathy Bates has loved acting for as long as she can remember, but swears she doesn't know how exactly she caught the bug for stage and screen. "My mother used to tell this corny story about how the doctor smacked me on the behind when I was born and I thought it was applause," she says, "and I have been looking for it ever since."
The youngest of three daughters, Kathleen Doyle Bates was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to a homemaker and a mechanical engineer on June 28, 1948. After getting into acting via a high school play, Kathy went on to major in theatre at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1969.
The following year the aspiring actress opted to head to the Big Apple to pursue her career. Following her feature film debut in 1971, however, she got off to a slow start with more than one casting agent opining she wasn't sufficiently attractive to play the types of roles she wanted.
"I was never an ingenue," she says. "I've always just been a character actor. When I was younger, it was a real problem, because I was never pretty enough It was hard, not just for the lack of work, but because you have to face up to how people are looking at you."
Over the next five years she concentrated on stage roles and TV bit parts, including a cameo on an episode of The Love Boat. In 1980, her Broadway career kicked off, and she went on to originate Stella May in Come Back To The Five And Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, reprising the part for the Robert Altman film version in 1982. She was soon known as one of theatre's top actresses, scooping a Tony nomination for her turn as a suicidal daughter in 'Night Mother. (She would lose out to Sissy Spacek when it came to casting the film version, however.)
In the mid-Eighties Kathy's hit a slow patch. For a few years, her main roles were supporting parts on TV, including a brief appearance in the US soap All My Children. Meanwhile, she lost another important part the role written for her as a tough but dumpy waitress in the off-Broadway hit Frankie And Johnny went to Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1987 big screen adaptation.
Once again, however, Kathy's career took a turn for the better. After 20 years in the industry, the then 42-year-old actress became an "overnight" Hollywood star after her role as a psychotic fan in Misery earned her a best actress Academy Award.
Around the time of her win, she reflected on the double-edged sword of Hollywood casting. "You're either young and glamorous and you're going to get the lead or it's the opposite: you're not attractive enough so you're playing the friend or the killer or the lesbian or the doctor or whatever," she said. "But the one who gets to play the young, pretty, gets-the-boy-at-the-end role doesn't have any power. And vice-versa: a character can have power, but not femininity."
After starring in the well-received Fried Green Tomatoes, the veteran actress made her TV directorial debut on the PBS production Talking With. As she continued her acting career with memorable roles in Dolores Claiborne, Titanic and Primary Colors, she continued to pursue her interests behind the camera, helming episodes of Homicide: Life On The Street, NYPD Blue, Oz and the hugely successful TV series Six Feet Under.
Ten years after her first best actress Oscar, Kathy was shortlisted in the category a second time for About Schmidt. In the film, the star experienced another first a nude scene. The "hot tub" sequence, played for laughs, quickly became one of the most-talked about moments in the movie.
"People either laugh or cheer," says Kathy of her topless turn. "I was at the premiere... and there are a lot of women who are shouting, 'You go, girl!'. I think there are a lot of women in the audience who are thrilled to see a real woman up on the screen in all her glory."