Maria Bello wanted to become a lawyer, but during her senior year she took an acting class and realised she was really good at it. Soon, she got several opportunities to act in small off-Broadway plays, such as 'Small Town Gals With Big Problems,' 'The Killer Inside Me,' and 'Urban Planning.'
Thereafter, Bello appeared in guest roles in episodes of television series such as 'The Commish' (1991), 'Nowhere Man' (1995), 'Misery Loves Company' (1995) and 'Due South' (1994). Producers Kenny Lenhart and John J. Sakmar cast her in television spy comedy, 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith' (1996) as 'Mrs. Smith.' The show was, however, canceled after eight weeks. She then gained primetime exposure as 'Dr. Anna Del Amico' on NBC's successful ER during the 1997 season.
In 1999, she had her first hit with 'Payback,' where she appeared alongside Mel Gibson. In 2000, she starred in 'Coyote Ugly' but the film proved to be a failure. It was followed by Bruce Paltrow's 'Duets' and the IMAX feature 'China: The Panda Adventure.' The 2002 film 'Auto Focus' brought her critical appraisal as her performance was widely appreciated. 'Auto' focus was followed by yet another remarkable film, 'The Cooler.' The film got her a 'Best Supporting Actress' nomination from the 'Screen Actors Guild' and a runner-up prize from 'The National Society of Film Critics.'
In 2004, she starred alongside Johnny Depp in 'The Secret Window,' and also appeared in John Sayles' well-received political thriller, 'Silver City.'
It was followed by a couple of forgettable films, including 'Assault on Precinct 13,' 'The Dark,' and 'The Sisters,' in 2005, but her performance in 'A History of Violence' and 'Thank You for Smoking' brought her critical praise. In 2006, she appeared alongside Nicolas Cage, Maggie Gyllenhall, and Michael Pena in 'World Trade Center.' Thereafter, Bello appeared in 'Flicka' alongside Alison Lohman and Tim McGraw.
Maria appeared as the lead in Alan Ball's directorial debut, 'Towelhead,' in 2007 and also starred in the indie horror film, 'Downloading Nancy' in 2008.