She attended the Professional Children's School and The Juilliard School in hopes of becoming a dancer, even receiving a scholarship to the School of American Ballet. However, a knee injury at 15 ended her dreams.
She made her acting debut in the 1982 film Paradise.
Her father Joseph Cates created the classic game show The $64,000 Question and was a Broadway producer. Her uncle Gilbert Cates was also a pioneer of early television. She married Kevin Kline in 1989 and she has a son named Owen and a daughter named Frankie.
She co-starred with Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.