In our second installment of What The Hell Happened To… we again turn to the Tomatometer to chart the rise and fall of a once-promising Hollywood talent. [To read our inaugural assessment of actor Wesley Snipes, click here.] What will the Tomatometer tell us, and is there any remedy for Shannon Elizabeth?
Thirty-four-year-old Shannon Elizabeth got her first big break in 1999 as Nadia, the busty foreign exchange student in the R-rated comedy hit American Pie. Nearly ten years later, Elizabeth is now best known for… her role as Nadia, the busty foreign exchange student in American Pie. This week, following years of unsuccessful bids at television and film stardom and having devoted considerable time to her “second career” — playing professional poker — Elizabeth appears as a hooker in Deal, a new video release that we also note is currently enjoying a solid zero percent on the Tomatometer.
How, we ask, did this come to be? How did a ShoWest Star of Tomorrow (class of 2001) find herself in barely-released feature films and noticed more for her hobbies (and her breasts) than her craft?
Set adrift on memory bliss as we revisit ten years of career choices by Shannon Elizabeth.
First up: The Early Years
The Early Years
Shannon Elizabeth (born Shannon Elizabeth Fadal) first capitalized on her leggy looks by working as a fashion model, but by the mid-1990s her ambitions had turned to acting. And, like most Hollywood thespians, she had a lot of dues to pay. Her first film credit, in the horror film Jack Frost (1996), came as a bathing victim who gets trapped in the killer snowman’s body and bludgeoned to death. It was also her first unclothed scene, perhaps indicative of the career opportunities to come. (To clarify — and so you don’t waste your time watching Jack Frost — she shows flashes of skin but nothing more.) It was an inauspicious start, but a start none the less.
Elizabeth spent the next few years landing guest parts here and there in films like Blast (1997), where she played a hostage, and on shows like Step By Step. A guest spot on Arli$$ as an Eastern European starlet who shares a sexy romp with Robert Wuhl was a highlight of her early years. Roles in telefilms Blade Squad (about cops with jet packs on roller skates — seriously) and Dying to Live kept Elizabeth busy but did little to foster a significant career, as did the independent film Seamless, a Pump Up the Volume clone that played only at the Slamdance Film Festival. Luckily, Elizabeth’s big break was right around the corner…
Next: Breaking Out in American Pie
Breaking Out in American Pie
For Shannon Elizabeth, 1999 was a big year. (Unfortunately, it remains her only big year to date.) Despite her clunky “Czechoslovakian” accent, she landed the role every brunette model-type in Hollywood desperately coveted: Nadia, the sexy foreign exchange student in American Pie. As the object of Jim’s (Jason Biggs) teenage lust, Elizabeth launched herself into the annals of pop culture with a memorable comedic turn and a raunchy strip scene; it didn’t hurt that she went topless.
That nude scene also paved the way for another milestone in her bourgeoning career: posing for Playboy. In the lad magazine’s August 1999 edition, Elizabeth delivered the full monty, cementing her rising popularity with her key demographic: namely, male fans. (She would later go on record regretting posing for the photo spread.)
But more importantly, American Pie gave Elizabeth another significant boost; she signed a three-picture deal with Miramax that year. (It would pay-off almost immediately with a co-starring role in Scary Movie.)
Next: Scary Movie, Scary Moves
Scary Movie, Scary Moves
Following her big break in American Pie, Shannon Elizabeth attempted to continue her forward momentum with mixed results. A blink-and-you’ll-miss-her part in the poorly received indie film Evicted preceded Elizabeth’s second major role, in the summer comedy Scary Movie. The Wayans-helmed parody was a hit, spawning three sequels and countless imitators, and Elizabeth’s turn as rich girl Buffy Gilmore earned her acting some much-needed praise. But soon enough it was back to the dreck, and she released the romantic comedy Dish Dogs, opposite the not-so-dynamic duo of Sean Astin and Matthew Lillard, direct to video.
Next: Becoming a Star of Tomorrow
Becoming a Star of Tomorrow
By 2001, Elizabeth was getting the hang of this Hollywood thing. All four of her feature film appearances in this year were major roles in theatrically released studio films, even if none of them could cross over from Rotten to Fresh. And while she was playing to her brand strengths taking roles as beautiful women, Elizabeth was at least getting offered leading lady characters — a major step towards A-list recognition.
Elizabeth settled into leading lady territory first as Jerry O’Connell’s romantic foil in Tomcats, another raunchy, R-rated affair heavily reliant on gross-out gags and slapstick. She reprised her role of Nadia in American Pie 2, another box office smash. A turn in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back as Jay’s sweet-natured, jewel thieving love interest allowed Elizabeth to practice some range (and earn even more geek cred), and a role in the horror film Thirt33n Ghosts added further variety to her resume. She also notably began dabbling in celebrity television, appearing as herself on Celebrity Adventures and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? It’s somewhat understandable, then, that ShoWest would name the rising actress one of their Stars of Tomorrow, an honor awarded to Hilary Swank and Cameron Diaz in the years prior. But where those actresses went on to bigger fame in subsequent years, Elizabeth’s star would appear to descend shortly after this point in time.
Next: TV, Marriage, and the Poker Bug
TV, Marriage, and the Poker Bug
By 2002, Shannon Elizabeth seemed resigned to the B-list; none of her big studio films had paid off. She became the queen of the one-episode guest appearance, and made a CBS made-for-TV film about the Enron scandal. A voice-over credit in the James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing video game cemented her newfound career stagnation, though marriage that year to actor Joseph D. Reitman and the non-profit charity they founded the year before, Animal Avengers, likely absorbed much of her time.
The following year Elizabeth’s promise glimmered again with a small part in the high profile romantic comedy, Love Actually, and she began a recurring arc as Kelso’s girlfriend on That ’70s Show. The role, as former valedictorian who becomes pregnant with Kelso’s baby after a one-night stand, arguably became Elizabeth’s most visible acting appearance since her splashy American Pie days. Another televised series that year, Celebrity Poker Showdown, gave Elizabeth added exposure — and, playing for her charity, she caught the poker bug that would seem to supersede acting in subsequent years.
Next: A Few Bad Movie Gambles, But Poker Pays Off
A Few Bad Movie Gambles, But Poker Pays Off
Still a household name of sorts, Elizabeth continued amassing random credits in film, television, and reality TV, but was still going for the “easy” roles: a sexy hitchhiking voodoo witch in Johnson Family Vacation (one of 2004’s worst films); a sexy early-film victim in Cursed; a sexy trophy wife in The Kid & I. Her recurring role on That ’70s Show continued, as did her increasing presence on shows like Celebrity Poker Showdown and Celebrity Blackjack. Her film roles gone bust, Elizabeth turned to every film actor’s fall-back option: the Lifetime made-for-TV movie. Her run on television continued as she nabbed a starring role on UPN’s urban comedy series Cuts, but the mid-season replacement was cancelled after its second season.
One of Elizabeth’s reality TV appearances in 2004 in particular stood out for its perceived repercussions on her personal and professional life: an innocuous appearance on Ashton Kutcher’s MTV show Punk’d, in which the actress was tricked into thinking she’d been caught on a sex tape. One year later, Elizabeth filed for divorce from her husband, who had been involved in the prank; he later sued for one half of her earnings during their marriage. Elizabeth immersed herself into poker, competing that summer in the main event of the World Series of Poker.
Next: Hollywood Deals Shannon Out
Hollywood Deals Shannon Out
In the year following her divorce and the cancellation of Cuts, Shannon Elizabeth was practically absent from the screen. Her poker appearances, however, increased, and she became a mainstay among celebrity card sharks like Jennifer Tilly and Don Cheadle. In both 2006 and 2007, she made it to cash-qualifying rounds in the World Series of Poker and placed third overall in the 2007 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, littering her bracket path with beaten WSOP veterans and losing to eventual winner Paul Wasicka in the semi-finals.
Perhaps remembering she was also a professional actress, Elizabeth made time for a few more film roles, starring in not one, but two movies. Not coincidentally, they were movies about poker. Unfortunately for her, both Zak Penn’s improvisational comedy The Grand and Gil Cates Jr.’s Deal shared more in common than their plotlines; released in limited runs within a month of each other (March and April of 2008, respectively), both flicks bombed with critics and left theaters as quietly as they had arrived. Elizabeth added another unimpressive notch to her resume with a predictably soapy thriller for the Lifetime network.
Next: Desperate Times Call For Dancing With the Stars
Desperate Times Call For Dancing With the Stars
Finding herself at a professional impasse, and still best known as the chick from American Pie despite nearly ten active years in Hollywood, Shannon Elizabeth had to do something to stop her downward slide through Hollywood’s chutes of irrelevance. She found a ladder. A ladder called Dancing With the Stars. As the ABC reality show had done for Kelly Monaco, Mario Lopez, and Joey Fatone before her, the competition revived Elizabeth’s star wattage and put her back on Hollywood’s radar. But will she make the most of this second chance, or squander it once more with superficial film roles and distracting side hobbies?
It’s hard to tell just yet by looking at Elizabeth’s upcoming slate. Reports peg her to star in the 2009 horror remake of cult flick Night of the Demons as Angela, a party promoter whose event gets crashed by some ghoulish guests. And where her previous horror movie roles have been as little-seen victims, Night of the Demons could be a long-awaited starring role, as Elizabeth arguably top lines the cast as its biggest and best-known star. Similarly, she was set to return to voice-over work in the planned 2008 release of Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust (along with celebrity vocalists like Jane Lynch, Nikki Cox, and Jeffrey Tambor) before the title was shelved last month by game developer Activision.
And so the future seems wide open for Shannon Elizabeth to break free from the spectre of Nadia, 1999’s most popular foreign exchange student, and reach for much loftier roles. Our suggestion? Pull a Charlize Theron and play ugly in a dramatic role that will earn the respect of all of Hollywood — just don’t, as Kirk Lazarus might say, go “full ugly.”
To explore your favorite fallen star’s path toward Tomatometer glory (or infamy), check out our Celebrity pages here. To find out What The Hell Happened To Wesley Snipes, check out our first series installment here.