Metcalf studied German and later anthropology at Illinois State University, where she passed her Kommilitionen John Malkovich, Glenne Headley, Joan Allen, Terry Kinney and Jeff Perry for the first time with the theater into contact. Her career as an actress, she began after her graduation in 1977 at the theater in Chicago, where she was a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She was hailed by critics, especially for their roles in The Glass Menagerie (1979) and Balm in Gilead (1983). Their role in Balm in Gilead earned her a 1984 Theatre World Award and an Obie Award.
From the mid- 1980s was followed by even better roles in films such as Susan ... Desperately Seeking (1985 ), One Man à la Carte (1987) Uncle Buck (1989 ), JFK - Tatort Dallas (1991) and Mistress - The lover of Hollywood ( 1992).
International Metcalf was known from 1988 primarily for her role as Jackie Harris in the comedy series Roseanne. For this role she was in 1992, 1993 and 1994 Emmy in the category " Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series " award. After the series ended in 1997 she had a striking appearance as a ditzy reporter in the horror film Scream 2
Your guest roles in the Cora Monk and Carolyn Bigsby were rewarded in 2006 and 2007, each with another Emmy nomination in Desperate Housewives. Since 2007, she entered irregularly in the television series The Big Bang Theory Sheldon's mother on as. In addition to their commitment to cinema and TV productions, she took further roles in theater productions.
Metcalf was married from 1983 to 1992 with her Steppenwolf colleague Jeff Perry. From this marriage the actress Zoe Perry emerged. Since 1993, she was romantically involved with Matt Roth, whom she had met during the filming of Roseanne. The couple has three children together. They separated in 2008, Roth filed for divorce in 2011.