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Marsha Thomason Biography - Selected works

film series told manchester

1976—

Actor

Thomason, Marsha, photograph. Vince Bucci/Getty Images.

Actress Marsha Thomason began her career in British television, and moved quickly into starring roles opposite such Hollywood heavyweights as Eddie Murphy and James Caan. In 2003 she began appearing in the NBC series Las Vegas, which starred her opposite Caan's Las Vegas casino-surveillance chief in what quickly became one of the breakout shows of the fall season. "When I started in the series I knew nothing about gambling," she told John Millar of Glasgow's Daily Record. "I did not even know how to shuffle a deck of cards. Now I can do some neat tricks."

Thomason was born in Manchester, England, on January 19, 1976. That same year, Bugsy Malone, a lighthearted Hollywood film about mobsters, was released. The musical by Alan Parker featured a roster of child stars, including a young Jodie Foster, portraying well-known 1930s underworld figures. Thomason has said she was fascinated by it. "I think my inspiration to become an actress is down to the film Bugsy Malone," she told Sally Morgan, a writer for the London newspaper the Mirror. "After I saw it, I used to invent plays and create a makeshift theatre, with sheets as curtains, in my bedroom. I bribed my little sister Kristy to appear in my productions, then made our parents watch."

At the age of twelve, Thomason's at-home stagings had gained her enough experience to win a place with the Oldham Theatre Workshop, a renowned children's ensemble in Lancashire. She appeared in a number of its plays and musicals, and took her first professional job at the age of 14 on a Saturday-morning children's show called The 8:15 from Manchester. Her breakout role came in 1993, when she was cast in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television film, Safe, about a community of homeless people in London. A year later, she won a small role as a nurse in her first feature film, Priest.

After Thomason finished at the North Manchester High School For Girls, she went on to Manchester Metropolitan University, and earned her undergraduate degree in English there. She worked during her college years, winning an especially plum role opposite Helen Mirren in the critically acclaimed crime series, Prime Suspect. In 1997, she was cast in a regular role on a BBC comedy-crime drama, Pie in the Sky. It starred Richard Griffiths, who later went on to play Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter films, as a top police detective whose boss refuses to let him retire to run his restaurant.

By 1998, Thomason had moved to London and was cast as Sharon "Shazza" Pearce in Playing the Field, a hit BBC series about a women's soccer team. As one of the Castlefield Blues, Thomason's Shazza was a loose cannon, prone to substance abuse. "It's a very physical part," she told Morgan in the Mirror interview. "In one scene I headbutt a player from a rival team and call her a fat cow." Thomason worked overtime during these years, having taken a part on another British television series, Where the Heart Is.

Thomason's first attempt to tackle an American accent in her work came when she played a prostitute in a West End theater production of Breath Boom at the Royal Court Theatre. That experience came in handy when she was cast alongside Martin Lawrence in the hit 2001 comedy film Black Knight. Lawrence played a hapless medieval theme-park employee who time-travels back into the past. Thomason was cast as Victoria, a chambermaid in the royal court with some unusually modern ideas.

Thomason made two more British films, Long Time Dead, a 2002 horror tale that also featured Lukas Haas and Alec Newman, and Pure, another work released that year in which she once again played a prostitute. This time, she was a heroin addict as well. Hollywood offered her a more sedate role as Eddie Murphy's on-screen wife in The Haunted Mansion, a horror tale from 2003. The story was based on one of the venerable attractions at the Disney theme parks, much as the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride had been turned into a successful big-screen story earlier that year. Thomason played the wife of Murphy's workaholic real-estate agent, and is trapped in the eerie manor with her husband and children when the ghost who haunts it believes she is a long-lost lover. Though it was her second big-budget Hollywood feature, she was still nervous, she told Millar in the Daily Record interview. "The first day was bizarre. I felt a bit intimidated because I was doing my American accent," she recalled, and "was terrified that they would think I was rubbish and sack me."

By the time The Haunted Mansion was released—to generally dismal reviews—Thomason had already made her American network series debut in Las Vegas. The NBC drama starred a top-notch ensemble cast that included the veteran actor Caan as a former Central Intelligence Agency operative who serves as head of security at a casino. Thomason sported a glamorous wardrobe for her role as Nessa Holt, the pit boss who keeps an eye on the tables and their gamblers on the casino floor while intrigues roil behind the scenes. The series was filmed at the Mandalay Bay casino, and Thomason told one journalist that the hardest part of the job was the standard "whoosh" shot in each episode, when the camera sweeps through the casino floor. "Every single person has to freeze and hold for a while, for a minute, and then, action," she told the Washington Times's Christian Toto, and said that she and her castmates dreaded being the one who made a mistake and forced another take.

Thomason also appeared in My Baby's Daddy, released in early 2004, and The Nickel Children, a film about a child prostitution ring. She remains in awe of the differences between British and American television and film sets. "Here, there are so many more people involved in the shows," she told Toto. "Even the sound stages and sets dwarf their British counterparts."

Selected works

Films

Priest, 1994.

Black Knight, 2001.

Long Time Dead, 2002.

Pure, 2002.

The Haunted Mansion, 2003.

My Baby's Daddy, 2003.

The Nickel Children, 2004.

Plays

Breath Boom, 2000.

At a Glance …

Born on January 19, 1976, in Manchester, England; daughter of Peter (a city council employee) and Phyllis (an electronics company employee) Thomason. Education: Manchester Metropolitan University, BA in English, c. 1999.

Career: Actor, 1988–; Oldham Theatre Workshop, Lancashire, England, actor, c. 1988.

Addresses: Office—NBC Universal, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608.

Television

The 8:15 from Manchester, 1990.

Safe, 1993.

Playing the Field, 1998.

Where the Heart Is, 1998.

Las Vegas, 2003.

Sources

Periodicals

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), February 13, 2004.

Entertainment Weekly, December 5, 2003, p. 25.

Essence, December 2003, p. 146.

Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England), July 10, 2004, p. 33.

Jet, December 10, 2001, p. 57.

Mirror (London), April 18, 1998, p. 20.

People, October 20, 2003, p. 41; December 8, 2003, p. 34.

People (London), February 6, 2000, p. 28.

Washington Times, November 10, 2003, p. B6.

—Carol Brennan

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