Gena Rowlands’ 10 Best Performances

Gena Rowlands has spent her career avoiding formality, delivering performances ranging from the unbound to the ritualistically controlled — and to watch her onscreen is to face the unknown. Each role brings viewers to the edge of their seat, uncertain which direction they’ll be spun toward by her frenzied commitment to every role, from a mentally ill housewife in “A Woman Under the Influence” to a theater actress staring down the barrel of a fading career in “Opening Night,” or a divorcee pacing with a martini in “Love Streams.” And despite the often hectic material she covered with her husband John Cassavetes, who directed all those films, her performances are always grounded in reality.

With Rowlands, acting becomes a gateway into understanding all the foibles and eccentricities of humanity at its best and worst. Recently, Rowlands’ son, actor/writer/director Nick Cassavetes, announced that his mother has been struggling with Alzheimer’s disease for the last five years. The news has a tragic resonance with Rowlands’ output, as she portrayed a woman living with dementia in her son’s film, “The Notebook.”

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Speaking to Entertainment Weekly for the 20th anniversary of the film, Nick Cassavetes said of working with his mother, “We spent a lot of time talking about Alzheimer’s and wanting to be authentic with it, and now, for the last five years, she’s had Alzheimer’s. She’s in full dementia. And it’s so crazy — we lived it, she acted it, and now it’s on us.”

Rowlands’ mother, Lady Rowlands, also an actress, performed with her daughter in “Minnie & Moskovitz,” “A Woman Under the Influence,” and “Opening Night.” She, too, struggled with Alzheimer’s before passing away at age 95 in 1999. While John Cassavetes is revered for his contributions to American indies, Gena Rowlands isn’t always thanked in the same breath, despite standing side-by-side with him throughout his career and regularly being the face of their collaboration. In honor of their collective triumphs, as well as Rowlands’ career as a whole, IndieWire lists her 10 best performances below.

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