A sensual actress who often projects an untrained, even somewhat amateurish air, Theresa Russell made an auspicious debut as the daughter of a movie studio head in Elia Kazan's "The Last Tycoon" (1976). Raised in Southern California by her single mother, the alluring, throaty-voiced performer began posing for provocative photos when she was barely a teenager. After dropping out of high school, Russell moved in with a much older man, a primal scream therapist, whom she credits for unleashing repressed feelings that in turn led to her pursuit of an acting career. Trained in the Method at the Lee Strasberg Institute, she proved effective in her early film roles, especially opposite Dustin Hoffman in "Straight Time" (1978). Russell was first directed by her future husband, Nicolas Roeg, in "Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession" (1980), which cast her in the close to autobiographical role of a young patient who falls under the sway of a psychiatrist. Russell has subsequently six more of his films (to date); she is perhaps best known for her portrayal of a Marilyn Monroe-type figure in Roeg's "Insignificance" (1985).
While she seemingly prefers to work for her husband, Russell has also delivered several interesting performances, including the good girl-turned-prostitute in John Byrum's 1984 remake of "The Razor's Edge", as a seductive serial killer in Bob Rafelson's "Black Widow" (1987) and as narcotics detective in Sondra Locke's "Impulse" (1990). Perhaps the actress' most notorious role was the titular "Whore" (1991) in Ken Russell's typically over-the-top examination of the world's oldest profession. She seemed miscast as Jeremy Irons' co-worker in "Kafka" (1992) but was at home in the dual role of good and evil twins in the BBC TV production "Thicker Than Water" (aired in the USA on A&E in 1994). More recently, she was teamed with Jacqueline Bisset in "Once You Meet a Stranger" (CBS, 1996), an unsuccessful distaff remake of Hitchcock's 1951 classic "Strangers on a Train". Russell also played the formidable mother of Denise Richards in the campy/sultry neo-noir "Wild Things" (1998).
Russell continued to work steadily, balancing a career in mide-level feature films--including "Luckytown" (2000), "The Believer" (2001) and "Passionada" (2002)--to telepics of varying quality--from the genre-minded "Earth Vs. The Spider" (2001) to the exceptional HBO miniseries "Empire Falls" (2005)--to occasional series work--including guest roles on "Nash Bridges" and "G vs E" (as a character cheekily named Rheesa Tussel) and a regular stint on The WB's short-lived soapy mystery "Glory Days" (2001) as Hazel, owner of the titular small town's diner and aging bombshell, had the dubious honor of being the murderer in a fictionalized book written about a local murder, prompting real-life suspicion related to her scandalous real-life affair with the victim. Russell was poised for a major career comeback when she was cast at the wife of Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church), the villainous Sandman in the highly anticipated sequel "Spider-Man 3" (lensed 2006).