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
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
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
Next: Becoming a Star of Tomorrow
Becoming a Star of Tomorrow
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
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
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.