In 1996, Heather Matarazzo delivered one of the year's most striking film performances as the plain, bespectacled junior high student Dawn Weiner in "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Only eleven years old when the film was shot, the Long Island native offered a compelling and touching performance of a misunderstood middle child, battered by the taunts of classmates (who call her 'Weinerdog') and the particular attentions of one boy (Brendon Sexton III) who demonstrates his affection with threats of rape. Despite subject matter that was at times painful to watch, the young actress never flagged, holding the audience's sympathies even while displaying sibling rivalry. Like indie stalwart Lili Taylor, Matarazzo was willing to downplay her own unusual looks for the sake of the character.
The precocious youngster began her acting career at the tender of seven and later played an abused child in an NYU student film, Helen Keller in a stage production of "The Miracle Worker" and a recurring role on the Nickelodeon series "The Adventures of Pete and Pete." Following her acclaimed debut, Matarazzo accepted a recurring role on the short-lived ABC sitcom "Townies" (1996) as Jenna Elfman's younger sister and took supporting roles in two flicks that starred "Dollhouse"'s Brendan Sexton, "Arresting Gena" (1997) and "Hurricane Streets" (1998). She offered a strong turn as a witness testifying in a murder trial in scenes with Keanu Reeves in "The Devil's Advocate" (1997) and registered in the brief role as the younger sister of the ambitious Shane O'Shea (Ryan Phillippe) in "54" (1998). Matarazzo was also among the ensemble of the female-driven "Strike!/The Hairy Bird" (1998), a coming-of-age tale set at an all-girls school in the early 1960s. Her performance as a bulimic won her praise, but the film itself was the subject of some controversy: its producers were unhappy with Miramax's decision to open it only in Seattle and sought other distribution. Those problems, however, had little effect on the young actress' career as she lent her quirky, unselfconscious charms to "Cherry" and "Getting to Know You" (both 1999), adapted from the short stories of Joyce Carol Oates.
After a brief stint on television as Eric Close's daughter on the short-lived but critically admired drama "Now and Again" (1999), Matarazzo enjoyed supporting roles in "Blue Moon" (2000), "Scream 3" (2000) and "Company Man" (2000) before landing another high-profile role as Anne Hathaway's Plain Jane buddy Lilly in the popular Cinderella story "The Princess Diaries" (2001), a role she reprised for the 2004 sequel. After a small but well-acted role in the dim-witted comedy "Sorority Boys" (2002) as one of the ugly duckling sisters in a sorority where college cads are disguised as women, Matarazzo again took on a merry nerd role in the religious satire "Saved!" (2004) as a desperately sociall-climbing Christian school student.
Cast (Feature Film)
Began acting at age seven
Appeared in episodes of the Nickelodeon series "The Adventures of Pete and Pete"
Had a recurring role on the ABC sitcom "Townies"
Made film debut as the unattractive and unpopular, Dawn Weiner in the Todd Solondz film "Welcome to the Dollhouse"; first film with Brendan Sexton III
Featured in the indie films "Arresting Gena" and "Hurricane Streets"; both films starred Brendan Sexton III
Played the recurring role of DJ's girlfriend in ABC's "Roseanne"
Played a witness being cross-examined by Keanu Reeves in "The Devil's Advocate"
Portrayed the younger sister of Ryan Phillippe's character in the feature film "54"
Cast in a regular role on the CBS series "Now and Again"
Cast as best friend, Lilly Moscovitz in the feature "The Princess Diaries"
Re-teamed with director Todd Solondz for "Storytelling"
Co-starred with Jena Malone and Mandy Moore in the religious satire "Saved"
Reprised the role of Lilly in "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement"
Guest-starred on Showtime's lesbian themed drama, "The L Word" as a reporter interviewing Jenny Schecter
Cast in Eli Roth's "Hostel: Part II," the sequel to the 2006 film about a torture ring in Europe