Allen began her acting career in 1977 with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Her New York stage credits include And a Nightingale Sang (1984) and The Heidi Chronicles (1988). Her other film roles include Manhunter (1986), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986),Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), The Ice Storm (1997), Face/Off (1997), Pleasantville (1998), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Upside of Anger (2005), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Death Race (2008), The Bourne Legacy (2012), and Room (2015). She starred in the ABC drama The Family (2016).
Allen, the youngest of four children, was born in Rochelle, Illinois, the daughter of Dorothea Marie (née Wirth), a homemaker, and James Jefferson Allen, a gas station owner. She has an older brother, David, and two older sisters, Mary and Lynn. Allen attended Rochelle Township High School, and was voted most likely to succeed. She first attended Eastern Illinois University, performing in a few plays with John Malkovich, who was also a student, and then Northern Illinois University, where she graduated with a BFA in Theater.
Allen began her performing career as a stage actress and on television before making her film debut in the movie, Compromising Positions (1985). She became a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble in 1977 when John Malkovich asked her to join. She's been a member ever since. In 1984, she won a Clarence Derwent Award for her portrayal of Hellen Stott in And a Nightingale Sang.
In 1989, Allen won a Tony Award for her Broadway debut performance in Burn This. She also starred in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Heidi Chronicles.
She received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress for her roles as Pat Nixon in Nixon (1995) and as Elizabeth Proctor, a woman accused of witchcraft, in The Crucible (1996). She was also nominated for Best Actress for her role in The Contender (2000), in which she played a politician who becomes the object of scandal.
She had starring roles in the drama The Ice Storm, directed by Ang Lee, and the action thriller Face/Off, directed by John Woo, both released in 1997, as well as in the comedy Pleasantville (1998).
In 2001, Allen starred in the mini-series The Mists of Avalon on TNT and earned an Primetime Emmy Award nomination for the role. In 2005, she received many positive notices for her leading role in the comedy/drama The Upside of Anger, in which she played an alcoholic housewife.
She played CIA Department Director Pamela Landy in The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Legacy. Allen appeared in Death Race, playing a prison warden.
In 2009, Allen starred as Georgia O'Keeffe in Lifetime Television's 2009 biopic chronicling the artist's life. Allen returned to Broadway in March 2009, when she played the role of Katherine Keenan in Michael Jacobs' play Impressionism opposite Jeremy Irons at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
Allen voiced the character Delphine in Bethesda Softworks' 2011 video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. She also lent her voice talents in the Thomas Nelson audio Bible production known as The Word of Promise. In this dramatized audio, Allen played the character of Deborah. The project also featured a large ensemble of well known Hollywood actors including Jim Caviezel, Lou Gossett Jr., John Rhys-Davies, Jon Voight, Gary Sinise, Christopher McDonald, Marissa Tomei and John Schneider.
In 2015, Allen signed for the leading role in the ABC drama series, The Family, playing the role of villainous and manipulative mayor and matriarch of her family.
In 1990 Allen married actor Peter Friedman. They divorced in 2002 but live close to each other to share time with their daughter, Sadie, born in 1994.Burn This
The Heidi Chronicles
Waiting For The Parade
The Marriage of Bette and Boo
(And a Nightingale Sang...)
The Wheel