As the youngest daughter of Jack (a pharmacist) and Ann (an occupational therapist), Seyfried describes her childhood as "boring." By age 12, things get interesting when the tween begins modeling, appearing in ads for The Limited Too and on the cover of three Sweet Valley High books.
At 15, Seyfried takes over the role of Lucy Montgomery on As the World Turns. "I'll be honest, I was pretty bad starting out," she says of her budding years on the soap opera. "I was so bad they had to ship my character off." Seyfried gets another chance in 2002, with a larger role on ABC's All My Children. She plays the girlfriend of a character played by actor Micah Alberti, whom she begins dating in real life."
On her first day at New York's Fordham University, Seyfried learns she's nabbed the role of ditzy blonde "Plastic" Karen Smith in Tina Fey's teen comedy Mean Girls. "I definitely knew it would be a success," she says of the 2004 film, which costars Lacey Chabert, Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams. "There's no way this movie can go wrong." The low-budget flick rakes in an astounding $86 million at the box office.
Returning to her TV roots, Seyfried sharpens her acting skills on HBO's critically acclaimed polygamy drama Big Love, playing Sarah Henrickson, Bill Paxton and Jeanne Tripplehorn's daughter who struggles with her family's unconventional lifestyle. "She's a very natural and relaxed actress," writer-director Rodrigo Garcia says of Seyfried, whom he directed in the show's pilot. "She communicates an intelligence and complexity that signals a rich inner life."
Frustrated with her Big Love filming schedule, Seyfried finds a way to nab the lead role opposite Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth in the movie adaptation of the Broadway musical Mamma Mia!. "I was shocked when I got the role," Seyfried tells Teen Vogue. "Shocked. For someone to put their trust in me, to put all of this responsibility on me, is kind of awesome."
Mamma Mia! not only marks Seyfried's foray into Hollywood's leading-lady club but it also introduces her to costar Dominic Cooper, who was in another relationship when they met. "I was just kind of foolishly thinking that the two of them were done and Dom and I were involved," Seyfried later tells Elle of her on-again, off-again romance with Cooper. After more than three years together, the couple finally splits for good in 2010. "I got my heart broken pretty hard," she says.
Alongside Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively and Emma Roberts, Seyfried appears on the cover of Vanity Fair's "Hollywood's Next Wave" issue, which proclaims of the young starlets that "boundaries dissolve everywhere they turn their pretty heads." With her movie career heating up, Seyfried finally says goodbye to Big Love after four seasons to pursue her film career full time.
After downplaying her looks in the horror chick flick Jennifer's Body with Megan Fox, Seyfried takes a racy turn as a prostitute in Chloe. The film stirs up controversy with a much-buzzed-about sex scene between Seyfried and co-star Julianne Moore. "I had to do it," Seyfried says of taking on the racy role. "It was clearly the riskier choice but I think the better choice."
Teaming up with heartthrob Channing Tatum, Seyfried stars in Dear John, a romantic drama that takes in $32.4 million, unseating Avatar for the No. 1 spot at the weekend box office. "I wanted to be the romantic lead in something. When you're playing somebody who's going through a lot – frustration and hardship – you're just purging all your emotions, and it feels really good to do that," Seyfried says of her role in the tearjerker, which she follows up with the equally romantic Letters to Juliet.
Love is in the air for Seyfried, who is spotted getting cozy with Ryan Phillippe at Kate Hudson's annual Halloween party in Pacific Palisades, Calif. While the couple never publicly acknowledges their relationship, they are often spotted dining together or taking hikes in Los Angeles. "Um, yeah," she says of the brief romance. "I've been 'seen' with him."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Virginia Sherwood/ABC; Everett; Everett; Everett; Zak Hussein/Landov; Courtesy of Sony Pictures; Scott Garfield/Sony; x17