Childhood & Early Life
Samantha was born on May 12, 1970, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, to Donald Mathis and Austrian-born actor Bibi Besch. She was just 2 when her parents divorced. Bibi raised Samantha single-handedly.
Samantha and her mother moved to Los Angeles after the divorce. Bibi never wanted Samantha to pursue an acting career, and she had several valid issues for the same. However, Samantha always had a passion for acting, as she grew up in places famous for theaters and institutions offering acting lessons. Hence, she decided to become an actor at the age of 12.
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At the age of 16, Samantha earned a commercial for 'Always Slender Pads – Just for Teens.' She made her acting debut in 1988, as the recurring character ‘Roseanne Miller’ (14 episodes) in the 'NBC' family drama 'Aaron's Way.'
The 1990 comedy–drama 'Pump Up the Volume' marked Samantha's first starring role in a feature film. The film featured her as ‘Nora Diniro,’ opposite Christian Slater. Samantha dyed her naturally blonde hair black to make her strong-willed character look convincing.
Samantha earned a 'Young Artist Award' for the ‘Best Young Female Actor’ for her performance as ‘Erica Ingels’ in the 1992 comedy–drama film 'This Is My Life.' That year, she lent her voice to the character ‘Crysta’ from the animated musical fantasy 'FernGully: The Last Rainforest.'
She portrayed ‘Princess Daisy’ in the 1993 fantasy–comedy film 'Super Mario Bros.' Loosely based on the 'Nintendo' video-game series 'Mario', the movie earned a cult following even though it crashed at the box office.
Samantha played the lead character, ‘Miranda Presley,’ in the 1993 comedy–drama film 'The Thing Called Love.' The movie showcased ‘Miranda's journey to success from being a New York City-based aspiring singer-songwriter. Following this, she was seen as a waitress named ‘Amy’ in the 1995 British romantic comedy ‘Jack and Sarah.’
Samantha shared a 'Screen Actors Guild Award' nomination with the ensemble cast of the 1995 drama film 'How to Make an American Quilt.' An adaption of Whitney Otto's novel of the same name, the movie featured her as the younger version of the character ‘Sophia Darling Richards.’ The adult version of her character was played by Lois Smith.
She was seen playing the president's assistant, ‘Janie Basdin,’ in the 1995 romantic comedy 'The American President.' Following this, she played investigator ‘Terry Carmichael’ in the 1996 action–thriller 'Broken Arrow.'
Samantha took a career break in 1996, due to the demise of her mother from breast cancer. She returned with the 1998 short 'Waiting for Woody' (as ‘Gail Silver’) and the drama film 'Sweet Jane' (as an addict named ‘Jane’).
Samantha then played ‘Jake Monroe’ in nine episodes of the 'ABC' drama 'Knightwatch.' She made recurring appearances as ‘Sophie Green’ in the 'Fox' science-fiction drama Harsh Realm (1999–2000) and ‘Ann Weller’ in the 'NBC' legal drama 'First Years' (2001). She played two different characters, ‘Hilary Barclay’ and ‘Dr. Christine Ansel,’ in the 'Law & Order' spin-offs, 'Special Victims Unit' (2003) and 'Criminal Intent' (2005), respectively.
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She had starring roles in the films 'The Simian Line' and 'American Psycho.' The latter was an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's novel of the same name. Simultaneously, she made stage appearances, too, and performed in the ‘Broadway’ play 'The Man Who Had All the Luck.'
She played ‘Maria Castle’ in the 2004 action film 'The Punisher,' based on the 'Marvel Comics' character of the same name. In the film version, Samantha's character was shown traveling to Puerto Rico for a family get-together to celebrate her husband's retirement
In 2005, Samantha earned a nomination for her role as ‘Susan Norton,’ a waitress and former art student, in the 2004 two-part 'TNT' miniseries 'Salem's Lot.' The following year, she was nominated for a 'Saturn Award' by the 'Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films,' for her role in the miniseries.
In 2007, Samantha was seen portraying ‘Elena’ in the play 'Uncle Vanya' in Seattle. She was cast as ‘Melinda Prescott’ in three episodes of the 'ABC' medical drama 'Grey's Anatomy.' Samantha provided her voice to the 2009 short 'Apple Pie and Coffee' and had a starring role as ‘Cassandra Parker’ in the horror flick 'The New Daughter.'
Samantha starred in the indie film 'Lebanon, PA,' which premiered at the 2010 'SXSW Film Festival.' She was cast in the ‘off-Broadway’ production of the play 'Love, Loss, and What I Wore,' which was showcased at New York City's 'Westside Theatre' in October 2011.
Samantha portrayed ‘Dagny Taggart,’ the protagonist of the novel 'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand, in its 2011 film adaptation, 'Atlas Shrugged: Part II.' In 2013, she was cast as psychiatrist ‘Alice Calvert’ in eight episodes of the 'CBS' science-fiction mystery/drama 'Under the Dome.'
The following year, she joined the cast of the 'FX' horror–drama 'The Strain' as ‘Justine Feraldo,’ a New York City councilwoman for Staten Island. She was seen as ‘Sara Hammon’ in 12 episodes of the 'Showtime' drama 'Billions.' In 2018, Samantha had starring roles as ‘Cindy Burnside’ in the thriller 'The Clovehitch Killer' and ‘Bonnie’ in the comedy 'Being Frank.'
Family & Personal Life
Samantha dated actor River Phoenix and was his last girlfriend until his death due to a drug overdose on October 31, 1993. The night River died, he was with Samantha at 'The Viper Room,' a nightclub located on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California.
For several years, Samantha did not speak about the incident. She finally broke her silence about River's death in 2018, through an interview with 'The Guardian.' She revealed that she had sensed something was wrong with River that night. He had suddenly collapsed outside the club and was immediately taken to the 'Cedars-Sinai Hospital,' where he was pronounced dead due to a heroin overdose.
Samantha had met River while filming 'The Thing Called Love' (1993). They began dating soon. She later starred in the 1995 film 'Jack and Sarah,' shot in London, only to get out of the country to avoid the excessive press coverage of River’s death.
Samantha has dated her 'Pumpup the Volume' co-star Christian Slater. She was also in a relationship with actor Noah Wyle.