Phyllis Somerville, an actress whose character work spanned decades as well as television (The Big C, NYPD Blue), film (Little Children, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and the stage (Broadway’s To Kill A Mockingbird), died of natural causes at her home in New York City on July 16. She was 76.
Her death was announced by her manager Paul Hilepo.
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Born in Iowa City, Iowa, and soon developing a longstanding desire to move to New York City to become a Radio City Rockette, Somerville was cast in her first Equity job after college when she scored a role at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. The job was the first in a long line of stage credits, including roles in Over Here on Broadway, The Spitfire Grill at Playwrights Horizons Off Broadway, Happiness at Lincoln Center, Night Mother national tour, and various other theater productions.
Most recently, Somerville appeared on Broadway in the original cast of Aaron Sorkin’s 2018 adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. In a relatively brief but fiercely performed and scene-stealing role, Somerville played Atticus Finch’s elderly, cantankerous and racist neighbor Mrs. DuBose.
Somerville’s film credits began with 1981’s Arthur and would reach into the new century with 2006’s Little Children, 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and 2019’s Poms.
Her television roles likely gave Somerville her greatest exposure as an actress, with memorable performances in Showtime’s The Big C, Netflix’s House of Cards and, most recently, CBS’ Madam Secretary, The Good Wife, Blue Bloods and Elementary, and on NBC’s The Blacklist and Night Shift.
Somerville returned to Netflix playing opposite Vincent D’Onofrio in the first season of Daredevil, and opposite Jane Fonda and Robert Redford on Our Souls At Night. She recurred on the WGN network playing Lady Ray on The Outsiders, and featured in Hulu’s Castle Rock.
Other credits include Lateline, NYPD Blue, Life on Mars, Lucky You, Forgetting the Girl, Stoker, The Double, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Mare of Easttown. She also did stints on soaps Guiding Light, Loving and One Life To Live.
Somerville was a member of Off Broadway’s Labyrinth Theatre Company and, according to manager Hilepo, “loved doing the kids’ plays at the 52nd Street Project,” where “she once got to play a New York Yankee.”
“So she’d been a Yankee and she’d been a New Yorker for over 45 years,” he said, “but Ms. Somerville was never a Rockette.”
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