Marissa began her career through theater. She joined the 1994–1995 US national tour of the revival of 'Grease,' a 1971 musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. She was cast as ‘Pink Lady Jan’ and later reprised the role in the 1995 ‘Broadway’ version of 'Grease.'
Marissa moved to Los Angeles after she completed touring for 'Grease.' She then began earning TV and film roles. Back then, even though Marissa had been part of a few high-profile movie projects on TV, she was somehow typecast. She mostly received "deadpanning, jaded New York characters."
In 1999, Marissa was seen as ‘Janine’ in the drama film 'American Beauty' and as ‘Sheila’ in the romantic comedy 'Never Been Kissed.' She had an uncredited role in the black comedy 'Teaching Mrs. Tingle' and played ‘Anita’ in two episodes of the 'ABC' sitcom 'Dharma & Greg.'
The following year, Marissa appeared as ‘Tatum’ in the parody slasher 'Scary Movie.' She also appeared as ‘Theresa,’ the lead character's roommate freshman year, in two episodes of the fifth season of the 'UPN' sitcom 'Moesha.' She played ‘Wendy Wodinski’ in the 2001 film 'On Edge' and had a brief role as a radio PA in the award-winning 2001 romantic comedy 'Amy's Orgasm.' She was cast as ‘Danny’ in the Helen Mirren-directed film 'Happy Birthday.'
Marissa then began to play the career-defining role of the female lead ‘Tracy Turnblad,’ a "pleasantly plump" teenager, in the musical 'Hairspray.' It opened on ‘Broadway’ on August 15, 2002, at the 'Neil Simon Theatre.' Her performance earned her the 'Tony Award' for the ‘Best Leading Actress in a Musical,’ the 'Theatre World Award,' the 'Drama Desk Award,' and the 'Outer Critics Circle Award.'
Marissa played ‘Becca Wasserman,’ a role similar to the one she had played in 'Hairspray,' in the 2003 'ABC Family' movie 'Beautiful Girl.' Around the time, she began filming the sitcom 'The Furst Family' and starred in the ‘New Line Cinema’ movie 'Always a Bridesmaid,' which is yet to be released. In April 2004, Marissa reprised the role of ‘Tracy’ in the Los Angeles tour for 'Hairspray.'
In 2005, Marissa starred as ‘Sarah’ in the romantic comedy 'Fever Pitch' ('The Perfect Catch'), adapted from Nick Hornby's novel. She was cast as ‘Katrina,’ a perpetually late coffee-store employee, in 19 episodes of the 'Fox' sitcom 'Stacked.' Marissa sang the track 'Baby Face,' which was featured in the 2005 superhero comedy film 'Son of the Mask.'
Marissa sang 'The Wish Song' for the 2006 charity compilation album 'Unexpected Dreams – Songs from the Stars.' She later lent her voice to various cartoon shows, such as 'American Dad!' and 'King of the Hill.'
Marissa had a brief role in an episode of the 'HBO' comedy 'Curb Your Enthusiasm.' She was roped in to play ‘Tammy Stump’ in the comedy pilot 'Fugly' for 'CBS.' The show was initially pitched to 'Fox' but was later remade into a TV film in 2007.
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In 2007, Marissa played ‘Dr. Theodora “Teddy” Hohn’ in the 'Lifetime' movie 'It Was One of Us' and voiced a character in the 'ABC' comedy animation 'Shrek the Halls.' That year, she also sang 'Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now' for the 'Hairspray' soundtrack. Marissa returned to reprise ‘Tracy’ from 'Hairspray' on December 9, 2008, and continued until the show closed on January 4, 2009.
In 2008, Marissa joined the sixth season of the 'ABC' reality show 'Dancing with the Stars,' in which she was paired with professional dancer Tony Dovolani. In the sixth week of the show, she performed a Viennese waltz, which earned her the highest score on the show. Marissa was eliminated after the semifinal round.
From May to September 2010, Marissa starred in 'The Geffen Playhouse'-produced play 'Love, Loss, and What I Wore,’ staged at the 'Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater,' Los Angeles. In 2009, she hosted 12 episodes of the maiden season of the 'Oxygen Network' reality show 'Dance Your Ass Off.'
In October 2010, Marissa joined the 'CBS' talk show 'The Talk,' featuring stories of parenting, everyday life, and events in the headlines. On January 14, 2011, she quit the show to focus on her upcoming clothing line and TV show, as told to 'People’ magazine. That year, Marissa again played ‘Tracy’ in the next set of shows for 'Hairspray,' beginning in August.
In 2012, Marissa joined the cast of the second season of the 'TV Land' original sitcom 'Retired at 35.' She was cast in 10 episodes, as ‘Amy,’ an outspoken, witty, bubbly, and successful pharmaceutical company saleswoman. She played ‘Theresa’ in five episodes of the 'ABC Family' sitcom 'Melissa & Joey' (2013–2014).
In 2014, Marissa was seen as ‘Elise’ in the indie movie 'Muffin Top: A Love Story' (also known as '40 is the New Dead'). The film was directed and co-written by one of her role models, Cathryn Michon. In 2017, Marissa and her son joined the American version of the British reality game show 'Big Star's Little Star.'
In 2016, Marissa played one of the sinister ‘Sanderson’ sisters in the unauthorized musical parody of 'Hocus Pocus' at 'Rockwell Theatre.' The role was initially played by Bette Midler.
From September 14 to October 1, 2017, Marissa appeared as ‘Andromeda’ in the comedy play 'Heartbreak Help,' staged at 'The Dorie Theatre' at ‘The Complex,’ Los Angeles. The musical parody 'Bridesmaids' marked her directorial debut.
In 2018, Marissa joined the debut season of the American adaptation of the Dutch reality show 'Big Brother.' On February 25, 2018, she was declared the winner of the show. Marissa later hosted the reality after-show 'Off the Block with Ross and Marissa,' aired on 'Facebook Watch.'
Marissa is an avid writer, too. She has written essays for 'xoJane,' an American online magazine. She shared her experience of being on the 'Dancing with the Stars' and wrote how the contestants majorly focused on their weight loss rather than their performances.
Family & Personal Life
Marissa's mother, Maxine, is a retired teacher, while her father, Michael Winokur, is a retired architect. She is the great-niece of famous American writers S. J. Perelman and Nathanael West. Marissa is Jewish.
Marissa was diagnosed with cervical cancer when the casting for 'Hairspray' was in its early stage. The creators were highly considering Marissa. Hence, scared of losing the role, she did not reveal her condition to anybody but her immediate family members. She, however, continued to work in the musical and made a full recovery after a successful course of treatment. Marissa is a spokesperson for 'cancer.org.'
In 2005, Marissa was engaged to producer, writer, and filmmaker Judah Miller, whom she had met in 1994, while working on 'Grease.' They got married on October 7, 2006. On July 22, 2008, they had a son, Zev Isaac Miller, who was conceived via surrogacy.