The History of Violence Star is a Philanthropist
What many may not know, however, is the love and compassion that Maria has for people, especially for the poor. Maria Bello has supported over 20 organizations and has even co-founded some, such as We Advance, an organization that seeks to promote the welfare of women in Haiti. Her passion for seeking the welfare of the poor stems from the love that she has received from her parents when she was young.
Maria Bello’s stunningly beautiful appearance and attractive personality have not only gained her attention for being an actor, but also served as inspiration to many that someone with such qualities can relate with the poorest of society and have a heart for helping them.
The Grown Ups Star’s Early Life
Maria Bello was born in the quiet municipality of Norristown, Pennsylvania in 1967. She is the child of two Roman Catholic working class citizens: Joe Bello, a contractor for a construction firm and Kathy, a school nurse turned teacher. Despite spending her early years along with many young girls of her age, Maria exhibited talent for acting and performing, making her a “cut above the rest” in a certain way although she was way too young to realize it.
Maria graduated high school from the Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor. After graduating, she enrolled at Villanova University to study law and political science, intending to be a lawyer. After a friend of hers at school suggested taking a drama class as an elective, Maria’s entire career plan turned upside down.
She was so drawn to the magnetic charm of acting, easily learning and adapting to the lessons, which earned the appreciation of her fellow classmates and teachers. From that time on, Maria became fully decided to pursue a show business career.
After earning her degree in political science in 1989, Maria went to New York to seek a place to start her acting career. She arrived with high hopes of establishing a name in the show business and immediately auditioned for different roles at different shows. Unfortunately, Maria only managed to secure a few commercial stints in the beginning, and small acting roles in off-Broadway productions, such as “The Killer Inside Me,” “Small Town Gals with Big Problems,” and “Urban Planning.”
However, these disappointments did not throw Maria off the path of her dream. Through constantly improving herself in the small roles that she played, she was eventually discovered and, in 1991, became a guest star at the TV series entitled “The Commish,” which became Maria’s screen debut.
Maria soon started appearing as a guest star in other shows such as “Misery Loves Company” (in 1995), “Nowhere Man” (1995-1996), and “Due South” (1994-1996). Although her exposure in television shows was that of a guest star, Maria saw this as a chance to showcase her talent to the viewers.
Not long after her television guesting, Maria encountered a seemingly favorable opportunity when she was cast as one of the characters of “77 Sunset Strip,” a remake of the 1958 TV series of the same title. While Maria believed that this would further develop her talent in acting and would help in her rise to stardom, it proved to be a big disappointment as the show was never even aired. Despite this, Maria remained optimistic and continued to search for other projects that she could involve herself in.
In 1996, Maria finally got cast as a main character in the TV show, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” a crime drama series that depicted the lives of two spies living together as a couple. Maria was cast as the lead actress by the producers of the show, Kenny Lenhart and John Sakmar, after they witnessed her performance in the unaired TV show “77 Sunset Strip.” Although the show was cancelled after running for 13 episodes, it gave Maria enough exposure to be seen as a very talented and wonderful actor.
Impressed by Maria’s performance in the action-comedy series “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” the producers of the hit TV series “ER” offered her a recurring role as Dr. Anna Del Amico, a distinguished pediatrician, who often got into arguments with Dr. Doug Ross, portrayed by George Clooney. She guest-starred in the last three episodes of the third season of the show, and became a regular cast member in the fourth season.
The career successes that Maria experienced drew her into a better area of exposure. ER’s popularity has so boosted Maria’s career that she would often make numerous television appearances for commercials or as a guest in talk shows. Her optimistic attitude not only kept her from being downtrodden by her earlier failures, but it also helped her move further into Hollywood as she became more popular and preferable for numerous acting roles.
She got her first film role as Kitty, the confidante of Ben Stiller’s character, in the 1998 film, “Permanent Midnight.” The same year, Maria was part of the group that won the “Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series” at the Screen Actors Guild Awards for her involvement in “ER.”
In 1999, Maria Bello first experienced her major movie career success as she was cast in the female lead role as Mel Gibson’s sexy partner in the movie “Payback.” Due to the film’s success, Maria aimed at becoming one of the few actors that had a smooth career transition from television to film. In 2000, she was given a lead role as one of the bar-stomping babes in Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Coyote Ugly,” a story about the famed drinking establishment in New York City. Although the film did well in the box office, it received mixed to negative reviews from critics.
The negative reviews of her last film did not keep Maria from continuing her rise to fame. In that same year, she starred in Bruce Paltrow’s “Duets” along with Huey Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Scott Speedman and Gwyneth Paltrow. The following year, she played Ruth Harkness in the IMAX feature “China: The Panda Adventure,” a story based on the title character’s own real-life experience with pandas.
In 2002, Maria starred opposite Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe in Paul Schrader’s movie “Auto Focus” as the enigmatic spouse of Bob Crane, the movie’s title character. Although the film did not become a financial success, it received numerous positive reviews from critics, many of which were very impressed with how Maria brought the character of Patricia Crane onto the big screen. Her portrayal of a wife whose emotions accept yet cannot contend with her husband’s wants and desires brought a good on-screen flavor between their characters.
Maria Plays Opposite Johnny Depp in The Secret Window
The following year, 2003, Maria further proved her acting prowess when she starred alongside William Macy in the movie “The Cooler.” Her realistic approach to her character gained her not only an overwhelming positive response from the movie’s critics, but also a nomination for Best Supporting Actress from the Screen Actors Guild. In 2004, she appeared in the movie “The Secret Window” as Johnny Depp’s estranged wife, as well as the fairly-received thriller “Silver City.”
The year 2005 was both challenging but at the same time a successful year for Maria because of her starring roles in movies, such as “Assault on Precinct 13,” “The Sisters,” and “The Dark”, with the last two doing quite poorly financially and critically. However, it was in this same year that Maria received her biggest accomplishment by far—her nomination for Best Actress for her role in the critically acclaimed movie “A History of Violence,” where she starred as the humble wife of a mysterious Viggo Mortensen. Her next hit film, entitled “Thank You for Smoking,” helped her get back to the limelight after gaining positive reviews from the critics.
In all of her experiences, both her failures and her successes, Maria Bello has remained optimistic. This kind of thinking has helped her to quickly recover from her disappointments and improve her achievements, which resulted in her being further established as one of the most talented stars in Hollywood.
Appearing in Prime Suspect and Touch
In 2006, Maria soared into the spotlight when she starred in various films such as “World Trade Center” and “Flicka.” Many of her fellow actors would often tell of how fun it was to work with her. The following years saw a stream of successes with her films, such as “The Jane Austen Book Club,” “Butterfly on a Wheel,” “Downloading Nancy” (where she received the Independent Spirit Award for Best Lead Female), “Grown Ups” (where she was cast as the wife of Kevin James), “Abduction” (with Taylor Lautner), “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” (with Brendan Fraser), and “The Yellow Handkerchief.”
Aside from these films, Maria also guest-starred in two episodes of the hit television series “Law & Order: SVU” and “Prime Suspect” as the main star. Her more recent television series project is “Touch” where she appears as a recurring character.
Becoming a Mom to Jackson Blue
While Maria’s show business career kept on moving upstream, her personal life did have quite a few challenges. Her first relationship was with Dan McDermott, a DreamWorks executive, screenwriter and producer, which lasted for two years—from 2004 to 2006. She had a son with Dan as a result of their two–year relationship, named Jackson Blue. Currently, Jackson stays with Maria around three to four times a week and spends the rest with his father.
Despite the hurt she experienced from their breakup, Maria was able to recover and move on with her life. A year after the breakup with Dan McDermott, Maria met Bryn Mooser. The two shortly got into a relationship. In one of her interviews, Maria remarked:
"I couldn't figure out how that lasted. And then I met Bryn and I started to understand the beauty of constancy and history and change and going on the roller-coaster with someone—of having a partner in life."
Although Maria and Bryn’s relationship went on smoothly, it did have its own challenges. In 2010, right before they finally planned to wed, Maria and Bryn ended their relationship, which brought great disappointment to Maria. And while the breakup did cause great pain and distress to her, it brought out something that would help Maria rethink which to focus her life on—charity work.
Maria Bello’s involvement in charity work did not start after her breakup with Bryn Mooser; it went far earlier—way back to her university years. When she was studying in Villanova University, Maria was part of an activist group that fought for women and children’s rights. She is credited as one of those that took part in developing the Women’s Law project in Philadelphia.
Working with Organizations
Throughout her career, Maria has worked with and supported several organizations, such as “Save the Children,” “The Feminist Majority,” “Vital Voices,” and “Save Darfur”. She has worked extensively to promote women’s rights and to encourage and empower women everywhere to stand up for their rights and actively participate in the community.
In Darfur, she would often sit with women on the hills simply so that she could talk to them about the issues of sexual violence and rape, and how the women should stand up and seek help from the government in defending their rights as women. Her work in Darfur has earned her the respect and admiration of many, so much so that she has been named as one of the most powerful women in Hollywood by Variety Magazine in 2009.
Since 2009, Maria has spent a lot of time in Haiti, often working with the organization “Artists for Peace and Justice” to raise funds and awareness regarding the extreme poverty in the country and the plight of the women and children living there. After the devastating earthquake that killed thousands, Maria travelled to Haiti and brought emergency relief supplies. She started a women’s clinic at Port au Prince as well as an education program and a clinic in Cite Soleil.
Co-founding We Advance
Along with Aleda Frishman, Alison Thompson, and Barbara Guillaume, Maria co-founded We Advance, an organization which seeks to promote women’s rights, end gender-based violence, and empower the women of Haiti by prioritizing healthcare.
Maria also actively participates in the programs conducted by the Haitian women’s group—Femmes en Democratie—in their efforts to improve the economic and political opportunities of the women of Haiti, and to encourage them to fully participate in rebuilding their country. She led the media campaign to empower Haitian women to run for government and managed Barbara Guillaume’s election campaign to run for mayor in Cite Soleil, the poorest area in the entire Western Hemisphere.
Producing Sun City Picture House
In her travels to the different parts of the world, Maria would often speak concerning the issues of using rape as a weapon of war, women’s issues, and gender-based violence. She has also encouraged women around the world to speak up for their rights and to actively participate in the affairs of their country. Maria believes that women are as much capable of igniting change in the community as men are.
Maria writes articles and blogs for the Huffington Post regarding various issues, more specifically on Haiti topics and issues that many large NGOs are facing today. She has also produced a documentary about Haiti entitled “Sun City Picture House,” which covers various topics about Haiti. This documentary was used to open the Tribeca Film Festival. Maria is currently working on her next documentary, which would focus on Barbara Guillaume’s campaign for mayor.
Joining Jacmel Development Group
Recently, Maria has co-founded the Jacmel Development Group, a local consulting firm that aims to increase public awareness about the benefits of having socially responsible investors to come and develop the town of Jacmel into a popular tourist spot.
Many would tend to stereotype Hollywood actors and actresses as those who have little to do with the more important affairs of mankind due to their constant work at filming. Maria Bello, however, disproves this thought and shows many of us that anyone can make a difference if one is willing to go beyond their comfortable space. She is also a wonderful inspiration of someone who does not let disappointments weigh her down; instead, she used those disappointments as a stepping stone to rise up and draw nearer to her goal.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- We Advance
- Artists for Peace and Justice
- Jacmel Development Group
- Partners in Health
- Man Up
- Global Dirt
- Shelter Box
- Medi Share
- Can Do
- Grassroots Haiti
- Femmes en Democratie
- 1st & Alton
- Give Love
- Cine Institute
- Diaspora African Women’s Network
- Save Darfur
- Shine on Sierra Leone
- Enough Project
Television Shows and Films Starred in
- 1996: Mr. & Mrs. Smith (The TV Series)
- 1997-1998: ER
- 1998: Permanent Midnight
- 1999: Payback
- 2000: Coyote Ugly
- 2000: Duets
- 2002: Auto Focus
- 2003: The Cooler
- 2004: Silver City
- 2004: Secret Window
- 2005: Assault on Precinct 13
- 2005: A History of Violence
- 2005: The Dark
- 2006: Thank You for Smoking
- 2006: The Sisters
- 2006: Flicka
- 2006: World Trade Center
- 2007: The Jane Austen Book Club
- 2007: Towelhead
- 2007: Butterfly on a Wheel
- 2008: Downloading Nancy
- 2008: The Yellow Handkerchief
- 2008: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
- 2009: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
- 2010: The Company Men
- 2010: Grown Ups
- 2010: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
- 2011: Beautiful Boy
- 2011: Abduction
- 2011: Carjacked
- 2011-2012: Prime Suspect
- 2012: Touch
Awards and Achievements
- 1998: Won Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series at the Screen Actors Guild Awards
- 2001: Won Favorite Supporting Actress – Comedy/Romance at the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
- 2002: Won Star on the Horizon Ft. Lauderdale Presidential Award at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival
- 2004: Nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role at the Screen Actors Guild Awards
- 2004: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globe Awards
- 2004: Won Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Drama at the Satellite Awards
- 2005: Won Best Supporting Actress at the NY Film Critics Awards
- 2005: Nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Drama at the Satellite Awards
- 2006: Nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globe Awards
- 2006: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards
- 2006: Won Best Supporting Performance at the Central Ohio Film Critics Awards
- 2006: Won Best Supporting Actress at the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
- 2006: Won Best Supporting Actress at the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards
- 2006: Won MaxMara Award at the Women in Film Crystal Awards
- 2010: Nominated for Best Female Lead at the Independent Spirit Awards