After completing her education, she tried her hand at theatre in New York, but got frustrated and travelled to the Midwest instead.
She worked at several theatre productions in Indiana, Seattle, Dallas and Chicago, and even worked at a horse ranch in Montana.
She also conducted theatre workshops for retarded adults in a town in the Midwest. She credits this experience to giving her an actual understanding of acting.
In 1982, she returned to New York and within a week, she landed a role in the Off-Broadway revue ‘Forbidden Broadway’ due to her mimicry talent.
While performing in Los Angeles, she did an experimental theatre play, ‘Addiction’ alongside an actor, who introduced her to Alex Cox, the future director of ‘Sid and Nancy’.
In 1983, she made her television debut with a small role in an episode of the series ‘Remington Steele’.
In 1986, she made her film debut with the dark love story ‘Sid and Nancy’ where she played the part of the ‘Nancy Spungen’, the drug-addict girlfriend of the punk band ‘Sex Pistols’ lead singer, Sid Vicious. She won several awards for her role in the move.
In 1987, she essayed the role of the lead actor’s wife in the drama film ‘The Belly of an Architect’.
In 1988, she played the ‘Primetime Emmy’ nominated role of Laurette Barber in the television series ‘China Beach’. She was also seen in the comedy movie ‘Twins’ that year.
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In 1989, she played an eccentric character in the ‘Ghostbusters II’ movie.
Along with films and television roles, she simultaneously continued to do theatre in Los Angeles and won several awards.
From 1990-92, she acted in several films like ‘Heart Condition’, ‘Queens Logic’ and the television film ‘Lucky Day’.
In 1993, she did cameo roles in films like ‘Twenty Bucks’ and ‘Heart and Souls’, a noteworthy supporting role in ‘A Dangerous Woman’ and of a Red Cross worker in the war drama ‘Silent Cries’. She played an unconventional character ‘Mona Ramsey’ in the television miniseries ‘Tales of the City’.
From 1994-98, she played small or supporting roles in films like ‘Love Affair’, ‘She’s So Lovely’, ‘The Newton Boys’ and ‘Practical Magic’.
In 1999, she also reportedly appeared in a music video of ‘Blur’ called ‘Coffee & TV’.
From 2003-05, she did character roles or cameos in many popular TV shows like ‘Judging Amy’, ‘House’, ‘Two and a Half Men’ and ‘Medium’.
In 2008, her directorial debut was with the award-winning documentary ‘Surfing Thru’ that was first showcased at the ‘Cannes Film Festival’. She also played a small acting role in the television series ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’ that year.
In 2009, she landed the part of ‘Sister Duncan’ in the comedy film ‘Repo Chick’.
From 2011-16, she essayed the award-nominated role of Monica Gallagher, the ex-wife of the lead character of the television comedy-drama series ‘Shameless’.
While working on her television and film projects, she also carved out time to act and direct in stage plays. She directed the play ‘Kaddish’ and a musical ‘The Kentucky Derby’.
In 2019, she was seen in an episode of the hit television series ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’.