By age 9, Biel is already a regular on the Boulder, Colo. musical theatre circuit and a seasoned model. After appearing in ad campaigns for the apparel firm Limited Too, she makes her television debut appearance in a Pringles commercial. In 1994, she enters the International Modeling and Talent Association competition in L.A. and wins a scholarship to an acting school, Young Actors Space, where she is discovered by her first manager Jeff Morrone.
After three years of spring trips to L.A. for what is known as "pilot season," the time of year when potential new shows are hiring actors, 14-year-old Biel earns a spot on the Aaron Spelling-produced drama 7th Heaven. She plays Mary Camden, the oldest daughter of a suburban minister's five children.
Biel's first feature film Ulee's Gold puts her toe-to-toe with screen legend Peter Fonda. The film centers on a widowed, reclusive beekeeper (Fonda) taking care of his two young granddaughters, played by Biel and Vanessa Zima. Despite the strong start, Biel auditions, but is not called back, for the role of Jane in American Beauty (a role that went to Thora Birch). Biel later blames the slight on her squeaky-clean image as a preacher's daughter on 7th Heaven.
Biel poses topless with her arms placed over her breasts in a cover spread for men's magazine Gear. She curses wildly in the interview and proclaims her desire to have a fistfight with her 7th Heaven character. She also mentions that to get a rise out of one of her female costars, she frequently grabs the costar's breasts and says, "Look at the size of these things." It is widely reported that Biel strategically sought a raunchy magazine to get released from the Christian-themed show.
After her Gear shoot causes a stir with Aaron Spelling, Biel's role on 7th Heaven is scaled down. Between guest spots on the show, Biel appears in the Freddie Prinze Jr. comedy Summer Catch and the drama The Rules of Attraction. During this time, she studies for three semesters at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
The remake of cult classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre brings in $28.1 million its opening weekend – the second-highest-grossing October release at that time. As Biel's first starring role, it proves she can headline a movie and bring home the popcorn.
Four years after her controversial Gear photo spread, Biel asserts that she was taken advantage of and made a crucial mistake. "I wanted to please people, and I got in over my head," she tells the Boston Herald. "My family was humiliated and so upset. And my grandmother – my poor grandmother. I would love to take it back."
Biel stars in two action films, Blade: Trinity and Stealth, with the latter doing well at the box office. Biel works out six days every week for her role in Blade and continues training to portray her toned fighter pilot character in Stealth. "The machine that I used to shoot the ejection sequence made me sick everyday," she tells ABC News of her Stealth training. "This movie is a serious film, and I don't believe I was hired for my looks. But even this film has a scene with me in a bikini. That's how Hollywood works."
In her first non-action movie role since Ulee's Gold, Biel has a small part opposite Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst in the Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown. The film is panned at the Toronto Film Festival, but Biel is glad to have broken out of Stealth mode. "I was determined not to be Hollywood's new action chick," Biel tells the Orange County Register. "I have more to offer than that."
Biel's celebrity status rises when Esquire magazine names her the Sexiest Woman Alive. "My brother teased me endlessly about that story," Biel recalls in an interview with the Allentown, Pa. newspaper The Morning Call. "He's 21, and when he read the article, he was just like, 'Eww. Whatever. You're not hot.' When I was reading about my 'luscious feet and toes,' I went, 'What? This is really embarrassing.' And, believe me, my friends gave me so much crap about that."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): CLASSMATES YEARBOOK ARCHIVES; MPTV; JOHN BRAMLEY/ORION PICTURES; New Line Cinema/Everett; Diyah Pera/New Line/Wireimage; Paramount/Everett