REFLECTIONS OF TWO GREAT BEAUTIES: THORA BIRCH; Thora Birch, 17, Comes of Age

By Quinn, Thomas | The Mirror (London, England), January 28, 2000 | Go to article overview

REFLECTIONS OF TWO GREAT BEAUTIES: THORA BIRCH; Thora Birch, 17, Comes of Age


Quinn, Thomas, The Mirror (London, England)


For one fleeting moment in American Beauty, 17-year-old actress Thora Birch has to bare her breasts. It is a crucial climax in an unusual teenage love tryst. She stands at her bedroom window while her boyfriend Ricky watches her from his own home through the viewfinder of his video camera.

This is a key event in the lives of the characters - High School kids who are thrown together as they are both alienated from their parents. For the actress, the scene represented a remarkable coming of age - it was the first time in her remarkable 13-year career that she had stripped for the camera. This was no longer a kid's game, this was for real.

"As I was reading the script I saw that moment coming," she recalls. "It seemed to make sense to me. It was something she really needed to do. For me it was a lot easier than I imagined it was going to be. I thought I'd be a wreck. I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I did it."

At first glance, Thora's role of Jane in American Beauty - which won three Golden Globes earlier this week - is of secondary importance to Mena Suvari's Angela, the blonde femme fatale who awakens lust in Kevin Spacey's bored middle-aged dad, Lester Burnham. But Thora had no doubts about which role would be the most satisfying.

"As soon as I read the script it was Jane I wanted to play," she says. "I think Angela has her interesting elements, especially at the end when you realise what is going on with her, but I found the complexity of Jane to be something much more interesting.

"She is a much more cerebral person and so messed up and so hyper. I really related to her more than to Angela. At first she just comes over as this angry teenager, but there is far more to her than that."

Thora's career is a classic case of if you wanna get ahead, start young. She was just four years old when she landed a role in her first commercial after her babysitter, who thought she was cute, took her along to an audition.

Thora's parents - both business people who owned a ranch outside Los Angeles - let her act so long as she was enjoying it. It was a childhood game that took her to the dizzying heights of a major role on a long-running American TV series when she was just six.

"It was called Day By Day and I fell in love with that job. But at six it is like a party every day. You get lots of attention and you can pretend to be someone else.

"It was about a couple who give up their jobs to run a day care centre so they can get close to their kids. I was the precocious smart one who knew how to spell.

"Now I'm acting for totally different reasons. …

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