Olympia Dukakis didn’t become a movie star till she was 56. She’d spent most of her career till then doing independent theater productions in and around New York. Then she got cast as Rose Castorini, the put-upon Italian mother, in Moonstruck. That’s when fame struck.
The role won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1988, while Cher, who played her daughter Loretta, won the Best Actress award. The two—a Greek and Armenian, by ancestry—played an Italian mother and daughter with great gusto. “Ms. Dukakis stole scene after scene as Rose, Loretta’s sardonic mother, who saw the world clearly and advised accordingly,” The New York Times wrote in her obituary.
At the time Moonstruck was released, Cher was 41, only 15 years younger than Dukakis. But Dukakis brought a certain world-weariness to her characters that made her seem older. She herself had another explanation. “I always played older,” she told the New York Times in 2004. “I think it was the voice.”
Olympia Dukakis: Showing Her Steel
After Moonstruck, she went on to other memorable roles. As Clairee Belcher in Steel Magnolias, she was surrounded by heavy Hollywood hitters—Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts—and more than held her own. It was a treat hearing the native New Englander put on a drawl.
Her television roles included the transgender landlady Anna Madrigal in the 1993 miniseries “Tales of the City.” She reprised the role in the sequels. In fact, the fourth follow-up, 2019’s “Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City,” was her last television role. Her final film is Not to Forget, which is scheduled to open this year; in it, she plays a judge who sentences a millennial to care for his grandmother.
Dukakis’s career demonstrates that even in an industry that bows down to youth and beauty, good things can come to those who plug along, putting in the work and seizing their moment when it arrives. We appreciate her for many reasons, but especially because she was a late bloomer; it should give all of us a big goose in the pants, knowing that the best—recognition, fulfillment, opportunities—might still be ahead.