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The image of the actor that has proved defining - on every website, tucked somewhere about each magazine interview - is the American Beauty dream-sequence color-contrast stunner in which a pale Mena Suvari sets off a bed of red roses very nicely. We're sure it's the color composition that makes the photo a favorite…

Suvari, daughter of a Rhode Island psychiatrist and nurse, was recognized both by her parents, and by a couple of modelling agencies, as something special early on. In 1991, at age 12 and already a veteran before the camera, Suvari signed with the prestigious Wilhelmina agency and split her time between high school at home, and modelling in New York. By age 17 Los Angeles was calling, and her parents uprooted to the West Coast to give their daughter every chance at success.

The move worked, for the aspiring actor found a career beyond modelling in her chosen field. First came single-episode shots on series television: i (1995/96, different characters), ER (1996), Minor Adjustments (1996), and Chicago Hope (1997). Suvari continued attending school during this time, and fellow students noticed their self-described less-than-popular classmate turning up in everything they were watching. Suvari's "real high school experience," she says, came in the roles she played in later movies.

Those roles rolled in. The teen was cast in Nowhere (1997), Kiss the Girls (1997), Snide and Prejudice (1998), Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), The Rage: Carrie 2 (1998), Live Virgin (1999), Atomic Train (1999, TV), and the big one - American Pie (1999). Suvari was "noticed" for her work in Pie and snapped up for the hugely successful American Beauty that same year.

For the latter, the talented young actor netted a British Academy award nomination, and shared Online Film Critics Society and Theatrical Motion Picture ensemble awards. Suvari was also named a Vanity Fair Star of Tomorrow, and one of's Most Promising Faces. Lovingly tended and oft-visited webshrines devoted to their "incomparably beautiful" subject confirmed audience devotion.

The year 2000 saw the 21-year-old graduate from high school roles to silver screen college in the big-budget Loser. The actor next lent her voice to the animated Angry Beavers.

Off-screen, Suvari delights industry press by being Best Dressed at every gala, but disappointed the fickle bunch with a "matronly upswept do" at the Oscars. "I still think I looked nice," the natty star shrugged, in interview. She and new (March, 2000) husband, cinematographer Robert Brinkman, kept media flurry down with a quiet wedding and low-key announcement.

Suvari's most recent project, Sugar and Spice (2001), puts her back in high school, but the costumes for the upcoming D'Artagnan will include no cheerleading outfits. Critically acclaimed for a range that takes her characters from sweet to vulgar, innocent to criminal, Suvari has found her calling in acting. Only 21, she has hopes of future behind-the-camera work - directing, she says, writing or producing. In the meantime, it looks as if she'll have plenty to do before the camera.

"Though I've turned 21, I don't drink. I'm an old hag now. I'm just an old fart."

"Sometimes I don't feel like the person that I'm supposed to be. I don't feel like I deserve any of this." Premiere. June 2000."

"It's nice when people want your autograph, but it's a little strange because I never expected it. I still kind of think, 'Oh, who am I?'"


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