She guest starred in several anthology television series, including Robert Montgomery Presents, Kraft Television Theatre and Studio One, among many others, in 1955. She made her film debut in The High Cost of Loving in 1958. In 1961-1962, she starred as the deaf-mute wife of Robert Lansing on NBC's 87th Precinct televison series. In 1964, she was cast in ABC's Peyton Place nighttime soap opera.
Teaming with her husband, writer and director John Cassavetes, whom she married in 1954, Rowlands starred in the television production Staccato, and the films A Child Is Waiting, Faces, Gloria (nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress), Love Streams, Minnie and Moskowitz, She's So Lovely, and A Woman Under the Influence (Academy Award nomination for Best Actress).
In 1985, Rowlands played the mother in the critically acclaimed made-for-TV movie An Early Frost. In recent years, she has appeared in Paulie and in Mira Nair's HBO movie Hysterical Blindness for which she won her third Emmy.
She was recently seen in The Notebook, which was directed by her son, Nick Cassavetes, and co-starred James Garner, Ryan Gosling, and Rachel McAdams. In 2004, she won her first Daytime Emmy for her role as Mrs. Evelyn Ritchie in The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie. To name a few, Ms. Rowlands has been nominated for two Academy Awards; six Emmy nominations, and one Daytime Emmy; eight Golden Globes; three Satellite Awards; and one SAG Award. Some of her notable wins include a Silver Berlin Bear; three Emmy Awards and one Daytime Emmy; two Golden Globes; two National Board of Review Awards; two Satellite Awards; and one Prize San Sebastián.
According to Carney, Rowlands also became involved in the screenings of Husbands and Love Streams. The UCLA Film and Television Archive mounted a restoration of Husbands, as it was pruned down (without Cassavetes's consent, and in violation of his contract) by Columbia Pictures several months after its release, in an attempt to restore as much of the removed content as possible. However, at Rowlands' request, UCLA created an alternative print with almost ten minutes of content edited out, as Rowlands felt that these scenes were in poor taste. The alternative print is the only one that has been made available for rental.