Most people know Elisha Cuthbert from her role as Kim Bauer on FOX' action-fueled drama 24, but I first took notice of her as an actress when she was in The Girl Next Door withe Emile Hirsch. Oddly enough, I was assigned to watch it for one of my film school classes, but I have to admit I'm glad I was or I never would have checked out the comedy gem with a salacious premise but a huge heart. But more than that, without The Girl Next Door, I probably wouldn't have put together the admirable pattern of Cuthbert's career. Whether subconsciously or not, Cuthbert is responsible for infusing a whole lot of reality (and yes, even more heart) into some otherwise over-the-top concepts and ideas. But she is also a talent who wants to continuously challenge herself.
"My goal was to move out to Los Angeles and to be a successful movie or television actress-- whatever it was going to be-- but to be a successful actress and to not have to go home to mom and dad and ask for money, you know? My first goal was really to make a career out of it," Cuthbert said when I caught up with her at the TCAs this past summer.
Most people probably don't look at Cuthbert and see an underdog or someone who has to prove something. But to a degree, Cuthbert looks at herself that way, which only makes her work richer as she really pours herself into every role and is determined to be taken seriously.
"I remember getting the script for My Daughter's Secret Life and going 'This is my chance. This movie is all about this one girl, and if I can do the best I can at this and prove I've got the chops to handle it'," she continued, referencing he 2001 Canadian drama in which she played a teenager with a double life and a gambling addiction.
Though she may credit that project as proving her acting ability to Hollywood, it came out just as she was getting settled in on 24, another dramatic role. She certainly took the first step towards setting up a long career, but potentially she could have been pigeon-holed in one genre.
"And then the next you know I'm on 24, and okay, now I've got to be the best dramatic actress I could possibly be, and then after that was done, I never even thought that far ahead. I thought I was living the dream. [But] I had a lot to prove. I grew up in a family of no artists, really, and to say that I was going to be an actress when I grew up was a really far-fetched idea. Not that anyone doubted, but you could tell that there were hesitations in the house."
Certainly that drive to show her family she could succeed in unknown, previously personally uncharted waters helped her keep focus if not outright feel the pressure of this industry. But one of the major things Cuthbert shared she has looked for when choosing new scripts and her next possible project is for work that will "keep [her] grounded" but also prove she's "not a one-trick pony." It's not an easy feat for anyone to do, let alone someone so well-known in the industry for one thing, but she has kept her head down and focused on the work rather than the lifestyle and fought for what she wants.
Cuthbert called Betty White a "huge inspiration" of hers and noted she has reinvented her career much the way White did decades earlier. Known for taking on the sassier roles in shows like Mary Tyler Moore and her guest spots on The Carol Burnett Show, White shocked everyone by taking a star turn as the so sweet and "simple" Rose on The Golden Girls. Not only is Cuthbert now playing a similar character to Rose in that her enthusiasm often wins out over her intelligence, she is also showing everyone what she can do in a different branch of the industry.
Even though she is re-branding herself as a queen in comedy, Cuthbert still manages to stay true to her roots and her dreams and doesn't take anything for granted. Her role on Happy Endings has become the perfect fit not only for the side of her talent it has allowed her to tap into and share with the world but also because the show's journey itself mirrors her own.
"I think to do comedy, you can't do it alone. You either need someone to deliver the joke, set up the joke, react to the joke, take the joke, and that's a banter between actors. Without that sort of support, that little spark isn't there, really. From day one, we've all had to sort of prove ourselves in some form or fashion...and we did that as a group," she said.
There's something quite poetic and perfect in that, isn't there?