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Tess Harper
Born August 15, 1950 (1950-08-15) (age 59)
Mammoth Spring, Arkansas

Tess Harper (born August 15, 1950) is an American actress.


Early life

Tess Harper was born Tessie Jean Washam in Mammoth Spring, Arkansas.[1] She attended Missouri State University (formerly Southwest Missouri State University) in Springfield, Missouri. Harper married Ken Harper in 1971, but the couple divorced in 1976.


Tess Harper began acting in theater production and appearances in theme parks, dinner theatres and children's theatre. She was performing theater in Texas when she attended a casting call for a minor female role in the film Tender Mercies. Director Bruce Beresford was impressed with Harper and cast her instead in the lead female role of Rosa Lee, the young widow and mother who marries country singer Mac Sledge. Beresford said previous actress who auditioned for the role brought to it a sophistication and worldliness inappropriate for the part, whereas Harper brought a kind of rural quality without coming across as simple or foolish. Beresford said of Harper, "She walked into the room and even before she spoke, I thought, 'That's the girl to play the lead.'"[2]

Tender Mercies was Harper's feature film debut. Harper said she was so excited about the role that she literally bit her script just to make sure it was real, and was so nervous that during her first take she feared the filmmakers would "come to their senses and say, 'We're sorry, we made a terrible mistake.'"[2] Actor Robert Duvall, who played the lead role of Mac Sledge, did his best to help Harper in her first film role. During one scene in which Mac Sledge and Rosa Lee were fighting, Duvall yelled at a make-up artist in front of Harper specifically to make her angry for the scene; Duvall apologized to the make-up artist after the scene was shot. After filming, Duvall said Harper did a very good job, and he felt her rural past in Arkansas helped her in the part.[2] She earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for her the role. Duvall won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.

Harper appeared in the TV mini-series Chiefs (1983) and Celebrity (1984), as well as many television movies including Starflight: The Plane That Couldn't Land (1983) and Reckless Disregard (1985). In 1983, she appeared in the full-length feature Silkwood.

In 1986, Harper was nominated for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work as Chick Boyle in Crimes of the Heart. She would later play parts in such films as Ishtar (1987), Far North (1988), The Man in the Moon (1991), The Jackal (1997) and Loggerheads (2005).

Harper had a regular role in a CBS television series, Christy, from 1994-95. Her roles have frequently been that of a Southern lady, although she had worked to lose her Arkansas accent. She also had a recurring role on another CBS television series, Early Edition, from 1996-2000. She portrayed the mother of lead character Gary Hobsen. Harper shared a Screen Actors Guild Award (in the Best Ensemble Cast category) with her fellow cast members in the Oscar-winning film No Country for Old Men, in which she played the wife of Tommy Lee Jones.


  1. ^ Tess Harper Biography
  2. ^ a b c Bruce Beresford (actor), Robert Duvall (actor), Tess Harper (actor), Gary Hertz (director). (2002-04-16). Miracles & Mercies. [Documentary]. West Hollywood, California: Blue Underground. Retrieved 2008-01-28.  

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