A pretty, rambunctious child actress who began acting in commercials at the age of four, Thora Birch appeared opposite Wilford Brimley (in 14 Quaker Oats spots) and Jimmy Stewart (for Campbell's Soup), not to mention turning up in the "Just Say No" to drugs campaign. Early in her career, when she was a pretty blonde moppet, she was billed simply as 'Thora' in such efforts as her regular series roles in "Day by Day" (NBC, 1988-89) and "Parenthood" (NBC, 1990) and for her feature acting debut "Purple People Eater" (1988). The tot utilized her full name in the role that first attracted real attention, the precocious young neighbor of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith in "Paradise" (1991), which she followed with the hollow holiday-themed "All I Want for Christmas" (also 1991). Birch went on to portray Harrison Ford's daughter in the thriller "Patriot Games" (1992), then appeared as one of three children who must contend with a trio of witches in the Disney comedy "Hocus Pocus" (1993).
Birch joined the ranks of child film stars when she carried the family adventure "Monkey Trouble" (1994), holding her own opposite a rascally monkey and an irascible Harvey Keitel. She reprised her role as Ford's daughter in the sequel "Clear and Present Danger" (1994) before playing the wild girl who grows up to be Melanie Griffith in the coming-of-age film "Now and Then" (1995). She subsequently traveled to British Columbia to portray a teenager searching for her missing father in the adventure "Alaska" (1996). Hitting an awkward age, Birch more or less retreated from acting for a couple of years, although she kept her toe in with guest appearances on the CBS series "Touched By an Angel" and its spin-off "Promised Land." By 1999, though, with darker hair, she had resumed her career, gaining notice as Everyteen Clea in the thoughtful and sensitive "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation "Night Rider Home" (CBS), an examination of a family coping with grief. But it was her big-screen turn as the angst-ridden daughter of Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening in that year's Academy Award-winning Best Picture "American Beauty" that kicked her career to a new level. Appearing in a somewhat controversial topless scene (she turned 17 during the film's shoot), Birch created a memorable portrait of a disaffected teenage girl. She almost blew it with her follow-up choices, though. Neither her turn as a punk rocker who suggests who dares her older sister and two of her friends to play a game of Russian Roulette in the festival-screened, direct-to-video release "The Smokers" nor her work as the democratically-minded Empress Savina in the laughable "Dungeons and Dragons" (2000) pleased critics and viewers. On the other hand, both reviewers and audiences embraced Birch in her next role as Enid, the eccentric, somewhat negative, bespectacled teen hipster and aspiring artist struggling to find herself after high school graduation, in "Ghost World," the Terry Zwigoff-directed black comedy based on a graphic novel. That same year, British audiences watched her play an English girl who accompanies classmates into an abandoned WWII bunker from which only one will emerge in the mystery-thriller "The Hole."
Cast (Feature Film)
Began acting in commercials at age four, including the "Just Say No" to drugs campaign and 14 Quaker Oatmeal commercials opposite Wilford Brimley
Played Molly on short-lived NBC comedy series, "Day by Day", billed as Thora
Film debut in "Purple People Eater"
Appeared in the CBS action pilot "Dark Avenger"
Had featured role in the short-lived NBC sitcom "Parenthood", based on the popular movie
Played first major role as Billie in "Paradise", starring Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith; first billing using full name
Portrayed Harrison Ford's daughter in "Patriot Games"
Acted in "Hocus Pocus", starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy
First starring role in "Monkey Trouble", with Harvey Keitel as a gypsy who'd been using the monkey to pick pockets and Mimi Rogers as her mother
Reprised role as Ford's daughter in "Clear and Present Danger"
Was in the ensemble cast of "Now and Then"; first teenage role in films; her character would grow up to be Melanie Griffith
Starred in the adventure flick "Alaska"
Made guest appearances on "Touched By an Angel" and "Promised Land" (both CBS)
Made uncredited appearance in "Anywhere But Here"
Had featured role in the CBS "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation "Night Ride Home"
Co-starred as the petulant, mixed-up daughter of Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening in "American Beauty"
Played Empress Savina in "Dungeons & Dragons: The Movie", based on the popular role-playing game
Acted in "Smokers", set at the posh Lindenhurst Academy in the Midwest; screened at the Santa Barbara Film Festival
Starred opposite Scarlett Johansson as Enid, an ultra-hip, recent high school graduate trying to find herself, in "Ghost World", produced by John Malkovich and his production company Mr. Mudd
Played lead in the thriller "The Hole"; released in the United Kingdom
Starred in the true Lifetime story "Homeless to Harvard"; received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie
Cast in John Sayles' political satire "Silver City" which starred Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson, Daryl Hannah and Richard Dreyfuss