Television audiences know award-winning actress Laura Innes as ER’s angry Dr. Kerry Weaver. She is also an accomplished stage performer and an Emmy-nominated director with writing credits on some of the most heralded television shows.
Innes was born on August 16, 1959, in Pontiac, MI. She was raised in Birmingham with her parents, Laurette and Robert, and five older siblings. When Innes was growing up, her father, a college English professor, insisted that the family attend the heralded Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada. Innes grew more and more interested in acting with each performance. In 1977, she graduated from Birmingham Seaholm High School and, with her father’s encouragement to follow her heart, enrolled in Northwestern University’s theater arts program.
In 1978, while still in college, Innes made her film debut in Brian De Palma’s The Fury with Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes. After graduation, the actress went straight to the stage. She performed at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre for four years, where she played Stella opposite John Malkovich’s Mitch in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and portrayed Glenna in the original cast of David Mamet’s Edmund. Innes also worked at the Body Politic and Widsom Bridge theaters, and then took her theater career on the road. She appeared as Glenna in the traveling production of Edmund, joined Eric Stoltz in Two Shakespearean Actors at Lincoln Center, starred in Our Town with Campbell Scott at the Seattle Repertory Theater, and performed in Three Sisters at the La Jolla Playhouse with Nancy Travis and Phoebe Cates.
In 1987, Innes met her future husband, actor David Brisbin, while doing summer stock in Woodstock, NY. Days later, Innes’ appendix burst and she was brought to the hospital. Brisbin remained by her side during the episode and the two were engaged shortly afterward. In 1989, Brisbin began work on Nickelodeon’s children’s comedy Hey Dude, as the owner of the fictional Bar None Dude Ranch. Innes made two guest appearances on the show and wrote one episode before its cancellation in 1990. Also in 1990, Innes gave birth to their son, Cal. Having a child influenced the couple to try and boost their income and they made a permanent move to Los Angeles in 1991.
Innes made several television appearances throughout the early ’90s. Besides landing a reoccurring role as Thomas Haden Church’s flighty ex-wife on Wings, she guest starred on Rugrats, Brooklyn Bridge, Bakersfield, P.D., Party of Five, The Good Life, and My So-Called Life. Innes worked on a host of television movies — including Desperate Rescue: The Cathy Mahone Story (1992), Telling Secrets (1993), and Torch Song (1993) — and appeared in HBO’s Emmy-winning adaptation And the Band Played On (1993).
In 1994, Innes auditioned for a minor speaking role as George Clooney’s girlfriend on NBC’s top-rated series ER. She did not land the part and, in 1995, signed on to play a Midwest housewife in the Louie Anderson sitcom The Louie Show. Before that series began production, ER’s casting directors called Innes back to read for the guest spot of Dr. Kerry Weaver. Producers hired Innes to portray the stern redheaded doctor for six episodes. She appeared in 14, and then became a regular cast member. The Louie Show, which aired in 1996 as a midseason replacement, was canceled. Innes won two Screen Actors Guild Awards as part of the ER ensemble and garnered two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her portrayal of Dr. Weaver. Her ER co-star, Anthony Edwards, suggested that Innes try directing an episode. Innes made her television directorial debut during the 1999 May sweeps with the episode “Power,” in which an electrical failure compromises the functioning of the ER. Innes’ work greatly impressed the show’s producer, John Wells. Not only did he hire her to direct additional episodes, but he also invited Innes to direct an installment of his other hit series, The West Wing. Her episode of The West Wing, titled “Shibboleth,” earned Innes her first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series.
While enjoying her success on ER, Innes appeared in several feature films and television movies. In 1998, she worked on Deep Impact with Morgan Freedman and Elijah Wood. In 1999, she performed in Can’t Stop Dancing with fellow ER cast member Noah Wyle. She also appeared in television’s The Price of a Broken Heart (1999) and Taking Back Our Town (2001). In addition to being a celebrated actress/director, Innes is the first female celebrity Jeopardy champion and was voted one of People magazine’s “Ten Most Beautiful People” in its yearly online poll in 2001.