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‘Pie’ launches a sweet career for Elizabeth

ShoWest Female Star of Tomorrow

Sex-starved pubescent boys may have been the first to christen Shannon Elizabeth the next big thing, but now the film industry is starting to agree.

Honored by ShoWest as this year’s Female Star of Tomorrow, the actress first raised eyebrows as a titillating Czech exchange student in 1999’s salacious sex comedy “American Pie.”

Following on the heels of the film’s success, Elizabeth signed a three-picture deal with Miramax, which included a role in last year’s horror spoof “Scary Movie.” This year, she has three features slated for release.

“Overnight, everything changed for me,” says the Waco, Texas, native, who admits she never imagined “American Pie” would be a box office success — let alone a launch pad for her career.

“I thought it was probably going to be horrible,” she continues. “I usually try to discourage myself so that I don’t get disappointed.”

Although playing the token sexpot in her first studio film certainly contributed to her notoriety, the former model has since been strategic in navigating her career toward roles with more depth — and less skin.

“It was important for me not to do more nudity right away, because I didn’t want to be considered a supermodel or a Pamela Anderson sort of girl,” says Elizabeth, who admits to passing up plenty of high school vixen roles. “I’m going to get bored if I keep doing the same roles, and so will everyone else.”

One of the Elizabeth films that is skedded for release this year is Sony Pictures’ romantic comedy, “Tomcats,” in which she stars opposite Jerry O’Connell.

“I play a police officer, which was the first chance I got at playing something really different,” she says. “I really fought for her to look and act and dress like a cop, because I want her to be believable.”

The actress recently completed work on Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis’ remake of the 1960 horror film “13 Ghosts,” a psychological thriller that marks her first role in a serious genre.

Currently, she’s also in production on Dimension Films’ “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” the fourth and final chapter in writer-director Kevin Smith’s New Jersey films.

“Shannon seems to pick really smart material, and she also picks the right filmmakers to work with, which makes all the difference in the world,” says Andrew Rona, co-head of production for Dimension. “She thinks about acting as a career path, not just being famous — so she’s really in tune with what she needs to do to make a long-term career.”

Elizabeth admits she’d rather be cautiously selective about the projects she chooses, even if that means having extra down time between films. While she’s already proved her worth in romantic comedies, she’s been on the lookout for more serious roles.

“I haven’t had a chance to do as much dramatic work as I’d like to, so I’m really looking for some more good roles in that area,” she says. “I just like to keep switching it up.”

Although exploring new territory may be Elizabeth’s primary career aim, it won’t stop her from reprising the role of nubile Nadia in “American Pie II,” which goes into production this spring. It’s likely her character’s libidinous exploits will be just as risque as they were in the original, which doesn’t seem to bother the actress.

“Now that I’ve been able to do a few different roles I don’t mind returning to something a little more sexy,” she says. “There’s a lot of freedom that comes with playing the fantasy girl, because I can be much more over-the-top and unrealistic, which is fun.”

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