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Meg Tilly – Biography


Biography by Catherine Solmes.

A sweet-faced, soft-voiced actress who made a name for herself in the mid-1980s, Meg Tilly is the very antithesis of a star, shunning the spotlight as much as possible.

Meg Tilly was born on Valentine`s Day in 1960 and was raised on Texada Island, British Columbia. Her mother Patricia was a teacher and former stage actress, and inspired Meg Tilly and her sister Jennifer to pursue artistic endeavours.

Tilly initially began training as a dancer at the age of 12 and quickly showed a great deal of natural talent. At the age of 17 she joined the Connecticut Ballet Company and later became part of the internationally touring evolutionary ballet group, the Throne Dance Company. Her aspiration to make a career out of dancing was brought to an end very suddenly when she seriously injured her back. Her dancing abilities and connection with the Throne Dance Company led to her first film role, as one of the many background dancers in the classic dance movie Fame (1980).

With the experience of shooting Fame, Tilly decided to pursue an acting career. She was next cast in a 1981 TV movie entitled The Trouble With Grandpa and appeared in an episode of the popular series Hill Street Blues.

Aside from the hooker she played in the Hill Street Blues episode, Tilly was being cast mostly as the innocent girl-next-door character. In 1982, she appeared as Matt Dillon`s love interest in the heart-warming drama Tex, and was cast in Psycho II (1983), as a kind waitress who unwisely befriends Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates, who has been recently rehabilitated from a mental hospital.

Her biggest break came in Lawrence Kasdan`s beloved yuppie classic The Big Chill (1983). Tilly had a small role as Chloe, Kevin Costner`s much-younger girlfriend, amid the impressive ensemble cast that included Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, William Hurt, and Jeff Goldblum. As with many of her roles, she was able to incorporate some dancing into her scenes as Chloe.

Meg Tilly in a publicity still for The Big Chill in the Northernstars Collection
Meg Tilly in a publicity still for The Big Chill in the Northernstars Collection

While filming The Big Chill, Tilly married Tim Zinneman, who had acted as producer on Tex. Over the next six years, she would give birth to two children. A not-so-welcome result from The Big Chill was that it brought her to the public`s attention. Much to her discomfort her picture began appearing in magazines and newspapers.

Perhaps in response, she followed up the critical acclaim of The Big Chill with two unflattering starring roles. One in a trashy sci-fi horror movie called One Dark Night (1983) and the other in an erotic sci-fi thriller entitled Impulse (1984), which was produced by her new husband, Tim Zinneman.

Also in 1984, Tilly was cast in Milos Forman`s Amadeus (1984), as Costanza, Mozart`s young wife, but suffered a torn ligament in her leg the day before shooting began forcing her to pull out of the project. The role went to actress Elizabeth Berridge instead.

In 1986 Meg Tilly won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in Norman Jewison’s Agnes of God (1985). Her performance as a fragile, naïve nun accused of murdering her newborn baby (she claims it was a virgin birth), was hailed by critics. Anne Bancroft and Jane Fonda also starred in the film.

Tilly found herself extremely uncomfortable with all the attention the film`s success and her award-winning work brought to her, and she continued to learn how to keep her personal life out of the public eye.

Meg Tilly and Jane Fonda in a publicity still for Agnes of God in the Northernstars Collection
Meg Tilly and Jane Fonda in a publicity still for Agnes of God in the Northernstars Collection

She next appeared in the comedy Off Beat (1986), opposite Judge Reinhold, as a sweet but feisty female cop, a character critic Roger Ebert considered to be “10 to 20 times more interesting” than the dreamy nun she played in Agnes of God.

After Off Beat, she took some time off, next starring in the thriller Masquerade (1988), as an orphaned millionairess. Both Tilly and the film received some good reviews, which went a long way to cementing her reputation as a talented actress. Next came The Girl In a Swing (1988), in which she played the enigmatic woman the main character becomes obsessed with. It is a performance described as mesmerizing and intoxicating, though the film barely registered with audiences.

As compensation from the producers for recasting her part in Amadeus, Tilly was promised a role in Valmont (1989), as Mademoiselle Tourvel. Valmont was Milos Forman`s adaptation of the book Les Liasion Dangereuses, but it paled in comparison to 1988`s Dangerous Liasons, which had been directed by Stephen Frears. Valmont also failed to be the critical darling and award-winner that Amadeus had been and was, largely, a disappointment.

Having divorced Tim Zinneman in 1988, Tilly fell in love on-set once again, this time with her Valmont co-star, English actor Colin Firth. Their relationship would produce a third child for her.

In 1990, she played a young mother in the TV movie In the Best Interest of the Child, appeared in the Jack Nicholson-directed Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes as Harvey Keitel`s wife, and in Carmilla as yet another mysterious woman, who may or may not be human.

Her next endeavour was Leaving Normal (1991), which co-starred Christine Lahti. Tilly played Marianne, a sad, wounded soul who is fleeing her abusive marriage. On the way she meets Darly (Christine Lahti) who is bold and brassy, and together they set out on a cross-country road trip to Alaska. Leaving Normal was a Thelma and Louise type buddy flick, and as a result suffered countless (unflattering) comparisons to it although it had been released a year earlier.

Abel Ferrara`s Body Snatchers (1993) followed. Tilly played the stepmother of Gabrielle Anwar`s central character, in a family who moves to an army base that is being subtly taken over by aliens. She is the first of the main characters to have her body snatched.

For a short time in the early ’90s, Tilly returned to television, appearing in an episode of Fallen Angels and on the Canadian drama Road to Avonlea.

In 1994, she landed a role on the short-lived soap opera Winnetka Road (1994). It told the sexually charged stories of the people living in a yuppie suburb outside Chicago. She also appeared in one of her few comedic roles in the romantic comedy Sleep With Me and later in the year she appeared in the TV movie Trick of the Eye. To cap the year,
Tilly published the novel Singing Songs which tells the story of a young girl as she grows into a woman.

Meg Tilly with her 2013 Canadian Screen Award for Bomb Girls. Photo © 2013 by Ralph Lucas
Meg Tilly with her 2013 Canadian Screen Award for Bomb Girls. Photo © 2013 by Ralph Lucas

Her last acting gig was in the TV movie Journey (1995), playing a mother who abandons her two children to be raised by their grandparents. Since then, it seems that she has given up acting, to focus on her personal life. Tilly remarried in 1995, and is reportedly working on bringing her novel to the big screen.

There is little information to be found about Meg Tilly, who rose to fame in the mid 1980s, and found her niche either in playing innocent, gentle girls or in playing the mystery woman. She attempted to avoid the media attention she received as an actress, preferring to keep her personal life as private as possible.

Away from the limelight for 17 years, in 2011 Meg Tilly accepted a role playing Lorna Corbett in the Canadian series Bomb Girls . Her fans were pleased when the series was renewed in early 2012, but unhappy when it was announced that at the end of its second season, Bomb Girls would not be returning. Meg Tilly is pictured with her Canadian Screen Award for he starring role in the series. 

Also see Meg Tilly`s filmography.


This biography is Copyright © 2012 by Catherine Solmes and may not be reproduced without written permission. Other than the publicity photo for Bomb Girls, all other images were scanned from originals in the Northernstars Collection. Click here for more information about copyright.