Like many who achieve "overnight success," Mercedes Ruehl had spent many years honing her craft on stage and in small roles in film and TV before breaking through in 1988 with two high profile parts. The New York native spent a somewhat peripatetic childhood, moving frequently until her FBI agent father and teacher mother finally settled in Silver Spring, Maryland. After returning to New York to attend college, Ruehl settled in Manhattan and studied acting with Uta Hagen while supporting herself with the usual battery of odd jobs (e.g., waitressing). She landed her first film role (a bit part as a policewoman) in 1979's "The Warriors." Ruehl went on to spend the next two years as a company member of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, acting in such works as "Medea" and "Much Ado About Nothing."