By the time six-year-old Thora Birch made her feature film debut with a small role in [[Feature~V39710~Purple People Eater~purplepeopleeaters]] (1988), she was already a veteran television actress with two years' worth of commercial and series work under her diminutive belt.
Probably best known up to that point for her work opposite über-grandad [[Performer~P8487~Wilford Brimley~wilfordbrimley]] in a Quaker Oats commercial, Birch went on to grow up in front of the camera, evolving from [[Feature~V132807~Monkey Trouble~monkeytrouble]]'s moppet with a primate to a bras and boys-obsessed teeny bopper in [[Feature~V135694~Now and Then~nowandthen]] to [[Performer~P67045~Kevin Spacey~kevinspacey]]'s rebellious daughter in [[Feature~V180738~American Beauty~americanbeauty]].
Birch, who was born in Los Angeles on March 11, 1982, first attracted sizable notice for her role as [[Performer~P77309~Elijah Wood~elijahwood]]'s tomboy friend in [[Feature~V37225~Paradise~paradise]], a 1991 family drama that also starred [[Performer~P28845~Melanie Griffith~melaniegriffith]] and [[Performer~P35814~Don Johnson~donjohnson]]. Afterwards, her visibility began to increase, first with a supporting role as [[Performer~P123374~Harrison Ford~harrisonford]]'s daughter in [[Feature~V37441~Patriot Games~patriotgames]] (1992) (which she reprised in 1994's [[Feature~V133722~Clear and Present Danger~clearandpresentdanger]]), and then as one of the three kids who inadvertently bring three witches back to life in [[Feature~V22697~Hocus Pocus~hocuspocus]] (1993).
The actress got her first chance to play a teenaged role in the aforementioned [[Feature~V135694~Now and Then~nowandthen]] (1995), a coming-of-age drama that cast her as the younger version of [[Feature~V37225~Paradise~paradise]] co-star [[Performer~P28845~Melanie Griffith~melaniegriffith]]. Neither that film, nor Birch's subsequent project, [[Feature~V136514~Alaska~alaska]] (1996), made a great impact among critics or audiences, and it was not until the actress was cast in [[Feature~V180738~American Beauty~americanbeauty]] (1999) that her career really began to accelerate. Birch, who dyed her hair Goth black and adopted a resolute sullenness for her role as the rebellious Jane Burnham, earned wide praise and a Screen Actors Guild award, and a host of international awards nominations, for her work in the acclaimed film.
After the success of [[Feature~V180738~American Beauty~americanbeauty]], Birch -- who also had an uncredited role in that same year's Anywhere but Here -- was suddenly busy with a number of projects. Included among them were Ghost World, [[Performer~P118083~Terry Zwigoff~terryzwigoff]]'s screen adaptation of Daniel Clowes' celebrated comic about two teenage girls trying to deal with life after high school; [[Feature~V193580~The Smokers~thesmokers]], a teen drama that cast Birch as a drug-addled schoolgirl; and [[Feature~V31949~Dungeons and Dragons~mazesandmonsters]], in which she played an empress whose mystical kingdom is threatened by an evil wizard ([[Performer~P34545~Jeremy Irons~jeremyirons]]).
~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi