First gained fame for her role as a teenage prostitute in the 1976 Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver. She won Academy Awards for Best Actress for her performances in The Accused and Silence of the Lambs and also had starring roles in Contact, Anna and the King, and Panic Room.
She appeared in Coppertone sunblock commercials at the age of three.
She graduated from Yale's prestigious theater program magna cum laude in 1985 and received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Yale in 1997.
She has two sons named Charles and Christopher. During a speech at the 2013 Academy Awards, she came out as a lesbian. The following year, she married photographer Alexandra Hedison.