What the Hell Happened to Jennifer Jason Leigh?
Jennifer Jason Leigh first caught audience’s attention as part of the talented cast of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In the early 90’s, she became a critical darling and flirted with mainstream success. But she became bored with the roles she was offered in typical Hollywood movies and gravitated towards edgier fare. As a result, she never quite caught on with the general public. What the hell happened?
Actually, there’s not a big mystery here. The intro gives it all away. Leigh eschewed standard “girlfriend” roles in favor of the kind of movies she found more interesting. But let’s walk through her career anyway to see how it all went down.
Jennifer Jason Leigh was born Jennifer Leigh Morrow. Early in her career, she changed her stage name to honor family friend, Jason Robards. If that last name seems familiar, it’s because Leigh is the daughter of actor Vic Morrow. Tragically, Morrow was killed in a helicopter accident while filming Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1982.
Leigh and her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Warner Brothers, director John Landis and producer Stephen Spielberg for Morrow’s death. The suit was settled out of court. Leigh was 20 years old at the time.
Leigh started acting herself when she was 16. She started with roles in TV shows like Baretta and The Waltons. This led to a number of TV movies. Most notably, Leigh starred as an anorexic teen in The Best Little Girl in the World in 1981.
Leigh replaced Jodie Foster who was originally slated to star. At the time, Leigh weighed 98 pounds, but she dieted to get down to 86 pounds for the role.
Fast Times was written by Cameron Crowe based on his book of the same name. Crowe based the book on his experiences going undercover at a San Diego high school. As a result, it’s much edgier than your average John Hughes high school comedy.
At the time, critics didn’t care for Fast Times. In a one-star review, Roger Ebert compared the movie to Porky’s and complained that it was “so raunchy” that “the audience can’t quite believe it”. Despite the negative reviews, Fast Times was a hit at the box office and propelled many of its young cast on to stardom.
In 1983, Leigh tried to earn some respect (sorry, couldn’t resist) playing Rodney Dangerfield’s spoiled daughter in the comedy, Easy Money.
The critics were not kind to Easy Money. But Leigh’s part was small anyway. She was paying her dues.
Leigh continued dues paying opposite Jamie Lee Curtis, Patrick Swayze and C. Thomas Howell in the 1984 comedy-drama Grandview USA.