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Beverly D'Angelo

Portia De Rossi Biography

Home > Actresses > D > De Rossi, Portia > Biography

Birth Name: Portia De Rossi
Born: 01/31/1973
Birth Place: Melbourne, Victoria, AU

Though many assumed that de Rossi was American, she was actually born Amanda Lee Rogers in Horsham, the largest city in the Wimmera region of Victoria, Australia on Jan. 31, 1973. Her father, Barry, died when she was nine, so her mother, Margaret, struggled to put her and her brother through boarding school on her limited secretary salary. At age 11, de Rossi became involved with modeling as a child and soon began acting in television commercials. She eventually earned enough money to rent her own apartment while still a teenager, but endured brutal evaluations of her body and worth by agents and photographers, which resulted in a slow-building obsession to be thin. At 15, she legally changed her name, taking her first name from Shakespeare's heroine in "The Merchant of Venice," while "De Rossi" came from a desire to sound more sophisticated.

De Rossi gave her first performance in a school play at the age of 14, but the profession held little interest for her initially. After high school, she attended the University of Melbourne as a law student, but left before completing her studies. A casting agent that had remembered her from her commercial days reached out to her for an Australian period comedy called "Sirens" (1993), which was based loosely on the life and work of Australian artist Norman Lindsay, who courted controversy for his lifelike nudes. De Rossi made her film debut as Lindsay's (Sam Neill) maid, who eventually joins Elle MacPherson and Kate Fischer in modeling for him.

In 1996, de Rossi moved to the United States to try her hand at Hollywood. After working tirelessly to eradicate her Australian accent, she began landing supporting roles in television series and features. Neither of her initial sitcom efforts - "Too Something" (Fox, 1995-96) and "Nick Freno, Licensed Teacher" (The WB, 1996) - made it past their debut season, though she enjoyed some exposure as a vindictive sorority sister in "Scream 2" (1997). The following year, de Rossi vaulted to national attention as icy legal whiz Nelle Porter on "Ally McBeal." Arriving at the beginning of the show's second season in 1998, Nelle drives a wedge between the men and women at the legal firm of Cage, Fish and Associates; her beauty and legal acumen pose a direct threat to the female lawyers, while her aggressiveness makes her one of the boys. Nelle was a solid showcase for de Rossi's knack for comedy and drama, and it earned her and her castmates a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 1999.

An unfortunate by-product of the show's popularity during its early years was the spotlight cast by the press on de Rossi's personal life. Tabloids had a field day with her weight, which, like that of series lead Calista Flockhart and others on the show, appeared well below healthy levels. The speculation was, in fact, true; de Rossi battled anorexia while on the series, which at one point caused her weight to dip to only 82 pounds on a 5' 8" frame. She eventually gained control over the issue through therapy and competitive horse riding. More problematic were romantic photos that showed de Rossi with Francesca Gregorini, daughter of actress Barbara Bach and stepdaughter to ex-Beatle Ringo Starr. De Rossi, who had been married to filmmaker Mel Metcalfe from 1996-99 in order to acquire a green card, had never made her sexual orientation public, even to her family.

De Rossi stayed with "McBeal" until its demise in 2002. During that period, she worked steadily in features and on television in a wide variety of roles that were often markedly different from her role on the series. She played a strung-out model who engaged in a talky affair with a rock star in the indie "The Invisibles" (1998), then played the late Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, wife of John F. Kennedy, Jr. in the TV movie "America's Prince: The John F. Kennedy, Jr. Story" (Fox, 2003) before shifting tone again to play a fortune teller in Wes Craven's werewolf thriller, "Cursed" (2005). During this period, de Rossi actively searched for a new series that would meet the level of quality and quirk she enjoyed on "McBeal." In 2003, she found it in "Arrested Development."

As Lindsay Bluth-F√ľnke, the hopelessly self-obsessed female sibling in the show's dysfunctional Bluth family, de Rossi displayed even greater comedic chops than on "McBeal;" most notably in her ability to play against her physical beauty by throwing herself into Lindsay's hapless attempts to seduce other men - any men, it seemed, including TV stars, family lawyers and even her own adopted brother Michael (Jason Bateman), much to the chagrin of her hapless husband, Tobias (David Cross). For her work on "Development," de Rossi earned two Screen Actors Guild nominations (for Outstanding Ensemble) and a Golden Satellite Award for Best Actress in 2005. Though never a strong ratings contender, "Development" enjoyed a passionate cult following during its three seasons, and in 2010, de Rossi signed on for the much-awaited big screen version, due in theaters in 2012.

In 2004, de Rossi and Gregorini split, after which she met comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres at a celebrity event. The two soon became an item, and de Rossi began to open up about her sexual orientation to the press in 2005. Part of the reason for her silence in the past had been her concern that she would be typecast as a lesbian, a situation which she addressed head-on as a recurring character in 10 episodes of "Nip/Tuck." De Rossi played Olivia Lord, a specialist in Eastern medicine who becomes Julia McNamara's (Joely Richardson) girlfriend after her split from husband Sean (Dylan Walsh). In 2007, de Rossi and DeGeneres were married at a civil ceremony in their home in 2008. The following year, she added another fine comic performance to her CV as Veronica Palmer, the steely office manager at a blatantly unscrupulous company in "Better Off Ted" (ABC, 2009-2010), which, despite excellent reviews, lasted only a season.

After publishing her 2010 memoir Unbearable Lightness - in which she confirmed in graphic detail her long-rumored eating disorder during her "McBeal" - de Rossi was granted U.S. citizenship the following year. Initially intended as a pilot series by creator Bryan Fuller, "Mockingbird Lane" (NBC, 2012) - a revamped version of "The Munsters" (syndicated, 1964-66) starring de Rossi as macabre matriarch Lily, Jerry O'Connell as Herman and Eddie Izzard as Grandpa - was instead aired as a stand-alone TV movie a week before Halloween. Far more exciting for many, however, was the news of the long-rumored resurrection of "Arrested Development" (Netflix, 2013- ) for a fourth season to be aired on the media company's live-streaming application. Returning with de Rossi were cast members Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, David Cross, Jessica Walter and Jeffrey Tambor, prompting devotees of the dysfunctional Bluth dynasty to once again hold out hope for a feature film adaptation.