Having journeyed from fresh-scrubbed teen stardom to virtual nonentity and then into a full-bodied critical embrace with her portrayal of a hooker with a heart of gold, the blonde, blue-eyed and impossibly wholesome-looking Elisabeth Shue can truly be said to have had one of Hollywood's more unpredictable careers.
The descendent of a blue-blooded, Mayflower-imported East Coast family, Shue was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 6, 1963. Raised in the company of three brothers (one of whom, Andrew, would go on to star on Fox's Melrose Place), she excelled in gymnastics, and on the basis of her athletic abilities, she was encouraged by a friend to audition for television commercials. Shue promptly landed a number of jobs pushing everything from Hellmann's Mayonnaise to Burger King, and she managed to keep working as an actor during her college studies at Wellesley and Harvard. In 1984, she won a role on the TV series Call to Glory, and that same year, she made her film debut as Ralph Macchio's girlfriend in the blockbuster The Karate Kid. Starring roles in Adventures in Babysitting (1987) and Cocktail (1988) followed, but Shue quickly found herself being relegated to playing the disposable girlfriend in any number of films. Things went from bad to worse to just flat-out embarrassing, and by the time she was in her late 20s, the actress was in what could charitably be described as the career doldrums.
Fortunately, with her casting in Mike Figgis' 1995 Leaving Las Vegas, Shue's fortunes did a complete about-face. A film that nearly did not get made and that no major Hollywood studio would finance, it was a completely unexpected hit, and Shue's performance as Sera, a used-and-abused prostitute who takes up with a drunk with a death wish (Nicolas Cage), was hailed as one of the finest comebacks in recent memory. The actress earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination -- as well as a host of other honors -- for her portrayal, and almost overnight she found herself on Hollywood's A-list. However, Shue's newfound adulation did not guarantee that her subsequent films would be worthy of her talents, something that was demonstrated all too well with her next three films, The Underneath (1995), The Trigger Effect (1996), and Cousin Bette (1997), which were consecutive flops. The actress fared somewhat better in Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry (1997), garnering a positive reception for her performance as one of Allen's unfortunate conquests.
Following another triple round of potential career disembowelment that assumed the form of The Saint (1997), Palmetto (1998), and Molly (1999), Shue re-emerged with The Hollow Man (2000), a thriller that cast the actress as a scientist who teams up with Kevin Bacon and Josh Brolin to fight an invisible killer. In the several years to come, Shue would remain active on screen, appearing in everything from the family film Dreamer: A True Story, to the R-rated comedy Hamlet 2. Shue would also find tremendous success on the show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.