Larter, a 13-year-old tomboy from Cherry Hill, N.J., is discovered on a Philadelphia street and asked to be in a Phillies commercial. She signs a modeling contract with the prestigious Ford Modeling Agency in New York and skips her senior year to work in Japan and Australia. "I liked having the attention and getting my hair and makeup done," she tells In Style in 2007 of her first career. "It made me feel beautiful."
Larter meets model and aspiring actress Amy Smart (left) while the two are modeling in Italy. "[We] became instant friends," Larter recalls to Toronto's Calgary Sun in 1999. Smart later persuades Larter to pursue acting with her and the two move into an L.A. apartment together.
Larter, 20, poses as the invented Allegra Coleman ("Hollywood's Next Dream Girl") for Esquire's Hoax Issue. With Larter as its face, the magazine fictionalizes Hollywood's new "It" girl as a star in a future Woody Allen movie and girlfriend to Friends star David Schwimmwer. The story's not real, but the attention attracts real buzz for Larter who nabs an agent.
Larter makes a string of TV guest appearances on shows like Suddenly Susan, Just Shoot Me and Dawson's Creek, where she appears in two episodes as a girl tricked into dating Pacey, played by Joshua Jackson (left).
Larter, 23, stars in Varsity Blues with James Van Der Beek and best friend Amy Smart. In the now-infamous scene, Larter tempts Van Der Beek in a whip cream bikini topped off with cherry nipples (right). "I had no qualms about doing that scene...I could tell it was going to be a great moment the first time I read the script," she tells the Toronto Sun. The film earns $54 million at the box office, launching Larter into other flicks like Drive Me Crazy and House on Haunted Hill.
The $180 million worldwide success of Larter's next film, the thriller Final Destination, surprises critics and movie execs alike. "You're so flattered and it's expected of you," she tells the Boston Herald of her decision to do the 2003 sequel that's centered on her character Clear River, the sole surviving teenager of the first flick who puts herself in a mental institution in an attempt to escape death. Final Destination 2 grosses $90 million at the box office internationally.
Larter accepts an offer to appear in the off-Broadway production of The Vagina Monologues. A year later, she makes a three-year move to New York City to reassess her career. "I wasn't happy with the way things were going," Larter tells the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2007. "I needed time to figure out…who I wanted to be in this business."
Larter, 30, returns to L.A. to star on NBC's new sci-fi series Heroes centered around a group of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities. Larter plays single mom Niki Sanders (pictured with Leonard Roberts, who plays her estranged husband), who is struggling to support her son with an Internet stripping job, while trying to control her violent alter ego Jessica. "It had been a tough part to cast," creator Tim Kring tells the Chicago Tribune. "Then Ali read for the part and just owned it from the second she walked in."
With a taupe off-the-shoulder Calvin Klein dress at the 33rd Annual People's Choice Awards, Larter enters the awards season for Heroes hitting the perfect fashion notes. The following week, she raises the bar in a plunging v-neck Reem Acra dress (right) at the 64th Annual Golden Globes, and solidifies her place on PEOPLE's Ten Best Dressed list as "The Newcomer," with another Reem Acra gown in slinky red satin at the 2007 Emmy Awards.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Jim Smeal/WireImage; Kobal Collection/Wireimage; NBC; Steve Granitz/WireImage