Lisa Gay Hamilton

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Lisa Gay Hamilton
Lisa Gay Hamilton 2010.jpg
Hamilton with her Peabody Award
Born (1964-03-25) March 25, 1964 (age 54)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Residence Los Angeles, California
Occupation Actress, director
Years active 1985–present
Spouse(s) Robin D. G. Kelley
(2009 – present)

Lisa Gay Hamilton (born March 25, 1964) is an American director, and film, television, and theater actress known for her role as attorney Rebecca Washington on the ABC legal drama The Practice, and for her critically acclaimed performance as young Sethe in Jonathan Demme's film adaptation of Toni Morrison's Beloved. Her theater credits include Measure for Measure (Isabella), Henry IV Parts I & II (Lady Hotspur), Athol Fugard’s, Valley Song and The Ohio State Murders. Hamilton was also an original cast member in the Broadway productions of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and Gem of the Ocean.

Early life

Hamilton was born in Los Angeles, California but spent most of her childhood in Stony Brook, New York on Long Island. Her father, Ira Winslow Hamilton, Jr., hailed from Bessemer, Alabama, and her mother, the former Eleanor Albertine "Tina" Blackwell, was from Meridian, Mississippi. Both parents graduated from historically black colleges—Tina attended Talladega while Ira went to Morehouse—and they both became successful professionals. Ira worked for a while as an engineer and then went into business as a general contractor. Tina eventually earned a master's degree in social work and worked for the Girl Scouts for many years.[1]

Hamilton fell in love with theater at an early age. During the 1970s, she saw several off-Broadway productions by the Negro Ensemble Company, including A Soldier's Story and The First Breeze of Summer.[2] She enrolled in Carnegie Mellon University to study theater, but after a year was accepted into New York University’s Tisch Drama School.[citation needed] After graduating in 1985, she earned a second BFA from The Juilliard School in 1989.[citation needed]


Early on, Hamilton set her sights on classical theater. In one of her first notable roles, she played opposite Kevin Kline in Measure for Measure in the New York Shakespeare Festival. Her performances in Much Ado About Nothing, Tartuffe, Reckless, Family of Mann, and Two Gentlemen of Verona, earned her a reputation as a serious dramatic actor.[citation needed] In 1995-96, her portrayal of a young, aspiring South African singer in Athol Fugard's Valley Song garnered an Obie Award, the Clarence Derwent Award, the Ovation nomination for best actress, and a Drama Desk nomination. More recently, Hamilton earned critical acclaim,[3] her second Obie, and a Lucille Lortel Award nomination for her role as Suzanne Alexander in Adrienne Kennedy’s, The Ohio State Murders.[4]

Hamilton appeared in over two dozen films, including The Truth About Charlie and Beloved for director Jonathan Demme, Clint Eastwood’s True Crime, the independent films; Palookaville, Drunks, Showtime’s A House Divided, and as Ophelia in director Campbell Scott’s film version of Hamlet. She has worked on several projects with director Rodrigo García, notably his films Ten Tiny Love Stories, Nine Lives, and Mother and Child. Honeydripper directed by John Sayles and The Soloist, directed by Joe Wright.[4]

She directed the documentary film Beah: A Black Woman Speaks in 2003. This film, about pioneering black actress Beah Richards, dealt with Hamilton seeking out Richards, an African-American actress who had broken ground making inroads for black actresses. The two women met on the set of Beloved. Richards worked on stage and screen, taking small roles in several motion pictures during the 1950s and 1960s, earning an Oscar nomination for her role as Sidney Portier’s mother in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, despite being two years his junior. Richards worked in television as well, making memorable late-career appearances on the series Designing Women and The Practice. Hamilton's film explored Richards' political activism as well as her poetry (her volume, A Black Woman Speaks and Other Poems was published in 1974). After Richards died, Hamilton collaborated with illustrator R. Gregory Christie to turn one of her poems into a children's book. Keep Climbing Girls was published by Simon and Schuster in 2006.

Hamilton played the role of Melissa in Men of a Certain Age, an hour-long comedy-drama starring Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Bakula that ran from 2009 to 2011.

In the fall of 2010, Hamilton took a faculty position in the School of Theater for the California Institute of the Arts.[citation needed]

Personal life

In August 2009, Hamilton married historian and writer Robin D. G. Kelley.[citation needed] They reside together in Los Angeles, California.


Year Title Role Notes
1985 Krush Groove Aisha
1990 Reversal of Fortune Mary
1993 Naked in New York Marty
1993 Homicide: Life on the Street Latoya Kennedy Episode: "A Dog and Pony Show"
1994 New York Undercover Suki Episode: "To Protect and Serve"
1994 All My Children Ceila Wilson #1 Unknown episodes
1995 Law & Order Denise Johnson Episode: "Purple Heart"
1995 Twelve Monkeys Teddy
1996 One Life to Live Dr. Laura Reed 5 episodes
1997 Jackie Brown Sheronda
1997–2003 The Practice Rebecca Washington 145 episodes
Nominated—Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (1999–2001)
1998 Ally McBeal Rebecca Washington Episode: "The Inmates"
1998 Halloween H20: 20 Years Later Shirley Jones
1998 Beloved Younger Sethe
1999 True Crime Bonnie Beechum Nominated—Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
1999 Swing Vote Virginia Mapes Television movie
2001 Ten Tiny Love Stories Three
2002 Sex and the City Kendall Episode: "Critical Condition"
2002 The Truth About Charlie Lola Jansco
2002 The Sum of All Fears Capt. Lorna Shiro
2003 V-Day: Until the Violence Stops Herself
2003 Beah: A Black Woman Speaks Director Director
Winner-Peabody Award[5]
Nominated—Black Reel Award for Best Director
Nominated—Black Reel Award for Best Original or Adapted Screenplay
Nominated—Black Reel Award for Outstanding Miniseries or Television Film
2004 The L Word Art Show Attendee Episode: "Losing It"
2005 Nine Lives Holly Nominated—Gotham Award for Best Cast
2005 ER Nadine Hopkins Episode: "All About Christmas Eve"
2006 Without a Trace Sherise Gibbs Episode: "The Calm Before"
2006–2013 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Teresa Randall 3 episodes
2007 Numb3rs Sari Kinshasa Episode: "Money for Nothing"
2007 Honeydripper Delilah
2008 Deception Detective Russo
2009 The Soloist Jennifer Ayers
2009 Mother and Child Leticia
2009–2011 Men of a Certain Age Melissa 20 episodes
2011 Beastly Zola
2011 Take Shelter Kendra Nominated—Gotham Award for Best Cast
2012 Southland Melanie Episode: "Identity"
2013 Lovelace Marsha
2013 Grey's Anatomy Dr. Connie Ryan 2 episodes
2013 Go for Sisters Bernice
2014 Life of a King Sheila King
2014 Grimm Delores Pittman Episode: "The Last Fight"
2015 Scandal West Angolan Ambassador Episode: "Where the Sun Don't Shine"


  1. LisaGaye Hamilton, 'Growing Up Female is a Journey,' in Becoming Myself: Reflections on Growing Up Female, ed. By Willa Shalit, (New York: Hyperion Books, 2006)
  2. Robin D. G. Kelley, 'Freedom is Living': LisaGaye Hamilton’s Radical Imagination,' Transforming Anthropology 14, no. 1 (April 2006), 2-9.
  3. - Charles Isherwood, 'A College is Stalked By Attitude,' New York Times, November 7, 2007
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hamilton's web site

External links