Thora Birch

Last updated
Thora Birch
Thora Birch.jpg
Birch on Tom Green's House Tonight in 2006
Born (1982-03-11) March 11, 1982 (age 39)
  • Actress
  • producer
Years active1988–present
Spouse(s)Michael Benton Adler [1]
Thora Birch - Autograph.jpg

Thora Birch (born March 11, 1982) [2] is an American actress and producer. She made her film debut in Purple People Eater (1988), for which she won a Young Artist Award for "Best Young Actress Under Nine Years of Age". Birch rose to prominence as a child star with appearances in films including All I Want for Christmas (1991), Patriot Games (1992), Hocus Pocus (1993), Monkey Trouble (1994), Now and Then (1995), and Alaska (1996).


Her breakthrough role came in 1999 when she played Jane Burnham in the highly acclaimed film American Beauty , for which she earned a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She then starred as Enid in the cult hit Ghost World (2001), earning a nomination for the Golden Globe for Best Actress. In 2003, Birch received an Emmy Award nomination for playing the title role in Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story . Her other films include Dungeons & Dragons (2000), The Hole (2001), Silver City (2004), Dark Corners (2006), Winter of Frozen Dreams (2009), and Petunia (2012).

After taking a break from acting, Birch resumed her career in 2016 and has since starred in several independent films. [3] Birch also played Whisperer Mary / Gamma on season 10 of The Walking Dead (2019–2020). [4] [5] Birch will next star opposite Jenna Ortega, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Luis Guzmán, and others, in the upcoming Tim Burton directed Netflix series Wednesday . [6] [7]

Early life

Birch was born in Los Angeles, the eldest child of Jack Birch and Carol Connors. Birch, whose family's original surname was Biersch, [8] is of German-Jewish, Scandinavian, French-Canadian and Italian ancestry. [8] Her name, Thora, is derived from that of Norse god of thunder and lightning, "Thor", which would have been her name, had she been a boy. [9] [10] She has a younger brother, Kian Bolt Birch.

Birch's parents are former adult film actors who both appeared in the film Deep Throat . [11] [12] [13] [14] Because of their own experience with the entertainment industry, they were reluctant to encourage her, but were persuaded to show Thora's photograph to agents by a babysitter who noticed her imitating commercials. Birch got her first big break at the age of four, when the babysitter accompanied her to a successful audition for a Quaker Oats commercial. [10]



Birch appeared in commercials in the late 1980s for Burger King, California Raisins, Quaker Oats (alongside Wilford Brimley), and Vlasic Pickles. [10] [15] She made her film debut in the 1988 science-fiction comedy Purple People Eater , for which she won a Youth In Film Award and a Young Artist Award in the category of "Best Young Actress Under Nine Years of Age". [16] Also in 1988, she guest-starred in an episode of Doogie Howser, M.D. , [17] and was cast as Molly in the NBC television series Day By Day , being credited as "Thora". The show aired for two seasons on NBC and earned her two Young Artist Award nominations.


In 1990, Birch had one of the lead roles in the sitcom Parenthood , based on the 1989 film of the same name. It aired on NBC and was cancelled after one season. In the next year, she starred in the drama Paradise , with Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith and Elijah Wood. She won her role over more than 4,000 other young hopefuls who auditioned for it. Roger Ebert felt she played her part with "strong, simple charm" [18] and later earned another Young Artist Award nomination. For the rest of the 1990s, Birch continued to find steady recognition as a child and teen actress through leading parts in numerous comedy and family feature films.

In 1991, she starred with Ethan Embry in the comedy All I Want for Christmas , as a girl who plans to get her divorced parents back together for Christmas. [19] The film received mediocre reviews and moderate attention from audiences upon its theatrical release, [20] [21] but developed a following on television and on home video in subsequent years. [22] [23] In 1992, she played the daughter of Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) in the spy thriller Patriot Games , which was a commercial success, grossing US$178 million at the worldwide box office. [24]

At 11 years old, Birch appeared in the fantasy comedy Hocus Pocus (1993), opposite Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker. The film saw her play the younger sister of a teenage boy who inadvertently resurrects a villainous trio of witches. Hocus Pocus rated average with reviewers and made a modest US$39 million in the US, [25] [26] but became a cult film due to strong DVD sales and large television following. [27] [28] In the 1994 comedy Monkey Trouble , Birch portrayed a girl who adopts a Capuchin monkey trained to pick pockets and burglarize houses. The movie had a mixed reception, but Marjorie Baumgarten, for the Austin Chronicle , observed that her "nuanced performance (a rarity amongst child performers) no doubt lends Monkey Trouble its realistic touch". [29] Also in 1994, she reprised her Patriot Games role in the sequel, Clear and Present Danger , which grossed over US$215 million globally. [30]

In 1995, Birch was cast as the younger version of Melanie Griffith's character in the coming-of-age film Now and Then , also starring Gaby Hoffmann, Christina Ricci, Demi Moore and Rosie O'Donnell. It was released to largely mediocre reviews, but proved to be profitable. [31] She landed a leading role in the adventure drama Alaska (1996) opposite Vincent Kartheiser, portraying two siblings who search through the Alaskan wilderness for their lost father (Dirk Benedict). For the next two years, she did not appear in a film but guest-starred in Promised Land and Touched by an Angel . [32] She subsequently filmed the made-for-television film Night Ride Home and an uncredited role for Anywhere but Here , both released in 1999.

Also in 1999, she appeared in the Sam Mendes-directed drama American Beauty , as Jane Burnham, the insecure daughter of Kevin Spacey's character. Rolling Stone felt Birch "[glimmered] with grown-up radiance" in her role, [33] for which she later received a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. [34] The film was the recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture [35] and grossed over US$356 million worldwide, [36] emerging as the biggest commercial success of Birch's career to date. [37]


Following her success with American Beauty, she appeared in two films released in 2000. The small-scale drama The Smokers received a straight-to-DVD release in the US, going largely unnoticed, but Birch was called "a scene-stealer" in her supporting role by The Hollywood Reporter . [38] Her other film of the year was the poorly received Dungeons & Dragons , a fantasy film based on the role-playing game of the same name. In 2001, she starred with Keira Knightley in the horror film The Hole , in which her headlining credit and highly publicized seven figure salary was attributed to her appearance in American Beauty. [39] The film was released in theaters in the UK, and on DVD in the US, receiving mixed reviews. Writing for Variety magazine, Derek Elley stated that Birch gave "an effectively creepy lead [performance]" in the film, which he called "a clunky British attempt to merge the psychothriller and teen movie genres". [40]

Birch headlined the 2001 black comedy Ghost World , directed by Terry Zwigoff and co-starring Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi and Brad Renfro. The film, focused on the lives of two teenage outsiders (Birch and Johansson) in an unnamed American city, was released in a specialty theatrical run, to a highly favorable critical reception. James Berardinelli found Birch's part to be her "first effectively developed role" since American Beauty and positively singled out the actress for the "quirkiness [and the] underlying sense of melancholy and ennui" in her portrayal. [41] She earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Musical or Comedy. [42]

Jane Fonda backstage with Birch before being honored at the 2015 Hollywood Film Awards Fonda - Birch at 2015 HFA.jpg
Jane Fonda backstage with Birch before being honored at the 2015 Hollywood Film Awards

Birch appeared as the title character in the biographical television film Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story (2003), playing a young woman who, after becoming homeless at 15 amid personal tragedies, begins her work to finish her studies. She garnered acclaim for her part, receiving an Emmy nomination. [43] After her professional achievements in the 1990s and early 2000s, Birch's profile decreased significantly in the next decade, as she had more infrequent acting appearances in much smaller-scale productions. Reflecting on her career trajectory the subsequent years during a January 2014 interview, she attributed it to not "taking" the demands the film industry had for her, opting to "maintain a strong identity and pursue things that were a little more thoughtful, and I guess nobody really wanted women to do that at that time". [44]

Birch appeared in several music videos including Moby's "We Are All Made of Stars", and Limp Bizkit's "Eat You Alive", which also featured Bill Paxton. [45] [46]

She played a supporting role in Silver City , a political satire written and directed by John Sayles, which premiered at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. In 2006, Birch had the lead role in the horror-thriller Dark Corners , portraying a troubled young woman who wakes up one day as a different person—someone who is stalked by creatures. [47] The film did not receive a theatrical release, and instead, went straight to DVD. It rated poorly with reviewers, [48] but Birch was considered "convincing as the two halves of this split personality". [49] She followed with the female lead role in the 2008 slasher Train , which revolved around a group of US college athletes who get stalked and killed in an Eastern Europe train. The film received a DVD release, to a mediocre overall reception, with critics comparing it unfavorably to Hostel and Turistas . [50] [51]

She appeared in the 2009 psychological thriller Deadline , co-starring Brittany Murphy. Also in 2009, she starred in the independent mystery film Winter of Frozen Dreams , as Barbara Hoffman, a Wisconsin biochemistry student and prostitute convicted of murder in the first ever televised murder trial. The film had a limited theatrical release, receiving average reviews. [52]


In 2010, Birch took on the role of Sidney Bloom in the made-for-television movie The Pregnancy Pact , which was based on the 2008 media circus surrounding teenagers in Gloucester, Massachusetts, who allegedly agreed to concurrently give birth and raise their children communally. [53] The Lifetime film was favorably received by critics and was watched by 5.9 million viewers. [54] [55] Later in 2010, Birch was cast and scheduled to make her American stage debut in the off Broadway revival of Dracula , but was fired for the behavior of her father, her manager at the time, who physically threatened one of the show's cast members. [11]

Birch starred in the 2012 independent dramedy Petunia , playing the role of Vivian Petunia. She is credited as a co-producer in the film, which depicts simultaneously the lives and romantic relationships of the Petunia family. [44] [56] Birch considered the film an "intimate" and "a very modern tale", describing it as "a little bit different from your standard summer fare". [57] Distributed for a very limited release in the US, the film premiered at Cinema Village in New York City, [58] garnering mixed reviews. [59] [60]

Birch as Jolene on the set of Above Suspicion Thora Birch - Above Suspicion - Production Set from Set.jpg
Birch as Jolene on the set of Above Suspicion

After devoting herself to academic pursuits, Birch returned to her acting career in 2015 with a recurring role as software engineer Morgan in the Carlton Cuse series Colony . [61] [62]

Following the series, Birch first starred in the independent film The Etruscan Smile with Brian Cox, which was shot in San Francisco and Scotland. [63] She then went to Kentucky to shoot the thriller Above Suspicion , [64] based on the book of the same name by New York Times columnist Joe Sharkey, and co-starring Jack Huston, Emilia Clarke and Johnny Knoxville. [65] In 2018, Birch starred in the political thriller Affairs of State , with David Corenswet, Mimi Rogers, and Adrian Grenier. The film was shot in Norfolk, Virginia. [66] Also that year, she starred in the romantic comedy, The Competition , directed by Harvey Lowry, which was shot in Portland. Birch also co-produced the film, which was picked up for distribution by VMI Worldwide. [67] [68] Most recently, Birch appeared in the Plan B and A24 film The Last Black Man in San Francisco , opposite Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, and Danny Glover. [69] [70] [61] [62] [71] Birch also starred in the independent film Thirteen Minutes, which is scheduled to be released in 2021. [72]

Personal life

Birch married talent manager and philanthropist Michael Benton Adler on December 21, 2018. [73] [74] Birch is a long-time Democrat who was a delegate at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. [75] [76] In addition, she has supported Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and local political efforts, such as North Carolina State Senator Wiley Nickel's campaign. [77] [78]



1988 Purple People Eater Molly Johnson
1991 Paradise Billie Pike
1991 All I Want for Christmas Hallie O'Fallon
1992 Patriot Games Sally Ryan
1992 Itsy Bitsy Spider Leslie McGroarty (voice) Short film
1993 Hocus Pocus Dani Dennison
1994 Monkey Trouble Eva Gregory
1994 Clear and Present Danger Sally Ryan
1995 Now and Then Tina "Teeny" Tercell
1996 Alaska Jessie Barnes
1999 American Beauty Jane Burnham
1999 Anywhere but Here MaryUncredited cameo
2000 The Smokers Lincoln Roth
2000 Dungeons & Dragons Empress Savina
2001 The Hole Elizabeth "Liz" Dunn
2001 Ghost World Enid
2004 Silver City Karen Cross
2004The DotNarrator (voice)Short film
2005 Slingshot April
2006 Dark Corners Susan Hamilton / Karen Clarke
2008 Train Alexandra "Alex" Roper
2009 Winter of Frozen Dreams Barbara Hoffman
2009 Deadline Lucy Woods
2012 Petunia Vivian Petunia
2018 The Etruscan Smile [79] Emily
2018 The Competition Lauren
2018 Affairs of State Callie
2019 The Last Black Man in San Francisco Becca
2019Kindred SpiritsChloe
2019 Above Suspicion [80] [81] Jolene


1988–1989 Day by Day MollyRecurring role (21 episodes)
1989 Doogie Howser, M.D. MeganEpisode: "Vinnie Video Vici"
1990Dark AvengerSusie Donovan Television film
1990 Married People EmilyEpisode: "To Live and Drive in New York"
1990–1991 Parenthood Taylor BuckmanMain role (12 episodes)
1991 Amen BrittanyEpisode: "Nothing Says Lovin'..."
1994 Monty Ann ShermanEpisode: "Here Comes the Son"
1995 The Outer Limits Aggie TraversEpisode: "The Choice"
1997 Promised Land Allison RhodesEpisode: "Running Scared"
1997 Touched by an Angel ErinEpisode: "The Pact"
1999 Night Ride Home Clea MahlerTelevision film
2002 Night Visions Susan ThornhillEpisode: "The Maze"
2003 Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story Elizabeth "Liz" Murray Television film
2005 My Life as a Teenage Robot Vega (voice)Episode: "Escape from Cluster Prime"
2010 The Pregnancy Pact Sidney BloomTelevision film
2016 Colony MorganRecurring role (2 episodes) [61] [62]
2019–2020 The Walking Dead Gamma / MaryRecurring role (9 episodes)
2022 Wednesday [82] [83] Tamara NovakMain role

Awards and nominations

1989 Young Artist Award Best Young Actor/Actress Ensemble in a Television Comedy, Drama Series or SpecialDay by DayNominated
Best Young Actress Under Nine Years of AgePurple People EaterWon
1990Outstanding Performance by an Actress Under Nine Years of AgeDay by DayNominated
1991Best Young Actress Supporting or Re-Occurring Role for a TV SeriesParenthoodNominated
1992Best Young Actress Starring in a Motion PictureParadiseWon
1993Best Young Actress Under Ten in a Motion PicturePatriot GamesNominated
Best Young Actress Starring in a Motion PictureAll I Want for ChristmasNominated
1994Best Youth Actress Leading Role in a Motion Picture ComedyHocus PocusWon
1996Best Performances by a Young Ensemble – Feature Film or VideoNow and ThenNominated
1997Best Performance in a Feature Film – Leading Young ActressAlaskaNominated
1999 SDFCS Award Best Supporting ActressAmerican BeautyWon
2000 BAFTA Film Award Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting RoleNominated
OFCS AwardBest Supporting ActressNominated
OFCS AwardBest Ensemble Cast PerformanceWon
Blockbuster Entertainment Award Favorite Supporting Actress – DramaNominated
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Theatrical Motion PictureWon
Young Hollywood AwardBest On-Screen Chemistry (shared with Wes Bentley)Won
Young Artist AwardBest Performance in a Feature Film – Supporting Young ActressWon
YoungStar Award Best Young Actress/Performance in a Motion Picture DramaWon
2001Young Artist AwardBest Performance in a Feature Film – Supporting Young ActressDungeons & DragonsNominated
Golden Space Needle Award Best ActressGhost WorldWon
TFCA AwardBest Performance, FemaleWon
Deauville Film Festival Best Female PerformanceWon
SDFCS Award Best ActressWon
2002 Golden Globe Award Best Actress Motion Picture – Musical or ComedyNominated
VFCC Award Best ActressNominated
Young Hollywood AwardTalent for CharityWon
Cinescape Genre Face of the Future AwardFemaleDungeons & Dragons and Ghost WorldNominated
OFCS AwardBest ActressGhost WorldNominated
CFCA Award Best ActressNominated
MTV Movie Awards Best LineNominated
MTV Movie AwardBest DressedNominated
Golden Satellite Award Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy or MusicalNominated
2003Young Hollywood AwardWon
DVD Premiere Award Best Supporting ActressThe SmokersNominated
Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story Nominated
2007Nellie Tayloe Ross AwardWon
2018 Boston Film Festival Best Ensemble Cast [84] The Etruscan SmileWon

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