McCarthy attended the Thornhill Free School in her youth. Her first appearance on stage was at Toronto's Elgin Theatre in Peter Pan at 6 years old. She later attended the University of Victoria and spent a year studying with the influential acting teacher Uta Hagen at her HB Studio in New York City, and also workshopped with the Second City troupe in Toronto.
After several years of television work under her belt, McCarthy secured a role in the made-for-television movie A Nest of Singing Birds (1987), receiving early recognition for her talent with a Gemini Award nomination for Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Dramatic Program. That year, she made her first notable impression on the Canadian movie scene as Polly, the quirky, "organizationally challenged girl" in Patricia Rozema's I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. For this role, McCarthy won the Genie Award for Best Actress. The film went on to become wildly popular in Canada, earning many international and domestic awards and critical acclaim, with some critics dubbing it an instant Canadian classic.
McCarthy has since become one of Canada's most honoured actors, having won two Genie Awards (film), two Gemini Awards (television), and two Dora Awards (theatre) along with multiple nominations.
She played Sarah Hamoudi in the Canadian television series Little Mosque on the Prairie (2007-2012), a role for which she was nominated for a Gemini award. One of her most recognized big-screen roles is as Samantha, the news reporter in the movie Die Hard 2 with Bruce Willis. Her most recent role is as Connie Hendrix, mother of the clone Alison in the critically acclaimed BBC America series Orphan Black.
She is also an accomplished voice-over actress, having performed characters voices in Free Willy, Mythic Warriors: Guardians of the Legend, The Busy World of Richard Scarry, The Neverending Story, Rolie Polie Olie, Bad Dog and Marvin the Tap-Dancing Horse.
On stage, McCarthy has appeared in Little Shop of Horrors, Hamlet, Cabaret, Guys and Dolls, Anything Goes and Love Letters among other shows.
McCarthy was born in Toronto, Ontario. She was married to actor Peter Donaldson, who died January 8, 2011 two years after being diagnosed with cancer. Together they had two children, including Mackenzie Donaldson, who is also in show business (producer of Whatever, Linda and Orphan Black).
Sheila McCarthy is active as a spokesperson for The Quilt Project, a support group for families affected by breast cancer, and Canadian Feed the Children.
2006: All Good Now – From The Movie Cow BellesThis section needs to be expanded to include further awards and nominations.