Olympia is one of those character actresses who infallibly lends a touch of class to whatever picture she's in. Despite her extraordinary dignity and class, she is able to make even the most outrageous character believable. Though she is well regarded in film, Olympia has spent the bulk of her distinguished career on-stage as an actress and a director. She is also a highly respected drama teacher.
The daughter of Greek immigrants, Olympia once worked as a physical therapist. Her interest in acting came after appearing in summer stock and then taking adult-ed classes in drama at Boston University, where she graduated with a master's in Fine Arts. After graduation, she began her theatrical career and then co-founded Boston's renowned Charles Playhouse. In 1964 Olympia made her film debut in director Robert Rossen's last film Lillith. She continued to make sporadic and undistinguished appearances in movies though much of the '80s, but did not gain notice until 1987 when she won an Academy Award for playing Cher's Italian mother in Moonstruck. Since then, Olympia has specialized in playing older women or mothers from different ethnic backgrounds. Subsequent film appearances include 1989's Steel Magnolias, where she played the elegant widow Clairee Belcher, 1995's Mighty Aphrodite , and 1997's Picture Perfect.
In addition to her film and stage work, she has appeared in over 100 plays. Olympia has also appeared in made for T.V. movies and the occasional mini-series. One of her most famous television roles was that of the mysterious and kooky Annie Madrigal in the PBS adaptation of Armistad Maupin's Tales of the City. Though the miniseries' gay themes led to considerable controversy, a sequel starring Olympia was released in 1998. In addition to her Oscar win, she has earned Obie Awards, a New York and Los Angeles Critics Award, and a Golden Globe.