A petite and bright-eyed actress, California native Kelli Garner stumbled into acting in her teen years, making fast inroads into the worlds of film, television and music videos. Creating a name for herself through bad girl roles in early works like the indie drama "Bully" (2001) and TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (The WB/UPN, 1997-2003), Garner branched out into music video appearances for the likes of rappers N.E.R.D. and punk rockers Green Day. With a longtime collaborator in director Mike Mills and a fan in director Martin Scorsese, Garner charmed a wider audience in career-boosting work such as in Scorsese's Golden Age tale, "The Aviator" (2004) and in Mills' contemplative "Thumbsucker" (2005). Garner balanced out work in indie efforts like "Lars and the Real Girl" (2007) with such mainstream fare as the family adventure-comedy "G-Force"(2009), in addition to joining the cast of the retro-drama series "Pan Am" (ABC, 2011-12). More focused on projects that interested her than in landing an attention-grabbing role in the next blockbuster, Garner avoided typecasting in an industry known for its fondness for easy categorization.
Garner was born on April 11, 1984, Bakersfield, CA and raised in the suburb of Thousand Oaks. At age 14, she was spotted on the dance floor at an actor friend's bar mitzvah, where his manager inquired about her own possible interest in acting. At the time, Garner was more consumed by soccer and was hoping to become a professional player, but later decided to sign with the manager. She was soon sent off on a waffle commercial audition and promptly won the job, which would help her segue into several other high-profile television spots. Garner's first film job was in a short by artist-video director Mike Mills called "Architecture of Reassurance" (2000), a suburban "Alice in Wonderland" story. The short debuted at the Sundance festival at the start of 2000 and was seen by photographer-turned-film director Larry Clark, who had an eye for spotting interesting looking youths. He was intrigued by Garner's imperfect smile and picked her to act in a film project of his own. Garner's work with Mills also came in handy when he cast her to appear in his 2000 music video for the band Everything but the Girl. That year, she was tapped for Gregg Araki's pilot "This is How the World Ends" a youth-oriented "Twin Peaks"-type series for MTV, for which she played the character of Christmas, but the ambitious project was deemed to costly for the network to produce.
Following her attempts at series work, Garner went on land her first major bit of exposure on the tent-pole horror series, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," playing the gossipy rumor-monger Kirstie in the big 2001 episode "The Body." Later that year, her project with Larry Clark, the teen drama "Bully" (2001) hit theaters. In the film, Garner played Heather, one of several fed up teens that conspire to kill a teen tormentor in a story loosely based on the real events of a group of Florida teenagers. No stranger to controversy, Clark's films could always be counted on to generate a wide array of publicity, and Garner was steadily able to find work onscreen, appearing in a pair of episodes of "Grounded for Life" (Fox, 2001-05) in 2001. At the start of 2002, she took up as a teen girl huffing gasoline fumes in the Philip Seymour Hoffman vehicle "Love Liza" (2002) and soon after could be seen in another music video; this time in a clip for rap group N.E.R.D.'s single, "Provider."
At the start of 2004, the actress was back in true-life mean girl territory, playing a teenager guilty of joining up with a peer group's murderous plot against another teen on "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ). At the end of the year, she took flight opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese's Oscar contender, "The Aviator" (2004), providing a portrait of the would-be teen starlet Faith Domergue, paramour of the troubled Hollywood/aviation mogul Howard Hughes. Almost immediately, the film's cache turned her from a somewhat unknown actress to an emerging figure on Hollywood's radar. By the time Mike Mills was ready to make his feature debut in 2003, having worked with Garner before, she was a clear choice to co-star in "Thumbsucker," which hit the festivals early in 2005 and saw its release spread out throughout the year. Once again, as Rebecca, the classmate of a thumbsucking addict, she was ably cast as a beguiling object of affection. Meanwhile, over in the multiplexes, Garner's role as a cheerleader in the long-shelved Sony Pictures action comedy "Man of the House" (2005) fared less impressively, seeing its tiny release at the start of the year.
Still, Garner maintained a strong presence in the world of independent moviemaking, finding solace in the quasi-reality of "London" (2005), in which she and a mix of on-edge partygoers ended up getting philosophical over a cocaine binge. Late in 2005, she appeared in Green Day's video for its popular track, "Jesus of Suburbia" and, for a change of pace, decided to try some stage work as well. She went to New York and co-starred in the off-Broadway play, "Dog Sees God." She was slated to appear on Broadway in a production of Eric Bogosian's "SubUrbia" in the fall of 2006, but instead opted to head to the Toronto-based film shoot of "Lars and the Real Girl" (2007), a unique story about a young man and his romance with a blow-up doll. Garner also continued to expand upon her fascination with characters in "Normal Adolescent Behavior" (2007), a high school feature drama about a small circle of friends' tumultuous mixing of sex and friendship.
Garner next paired with former child star Henry Thomas in the low-budget horror tale "Red Velvet" (2008), before working for director Ang Lee in "Taking Woodstock" (2009), a fictionalized account of the historic 1969 music festival. A small supporting turn in the Drew Barrymore-Justin Long romantic comedy "Going the Distance" (2010) proved more successful than Garner's participation in the ensemble drama series "My Generation" (ABC, 2010), of which only two episodes aired. The actress rebounded with another lead role alongside Christina Ricci in "Pan Am" (ABC, 2011-12), a high-flying melodrama about the lives and loves of a group of stewardesses in the glamorous world of 1960s air travel.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made her onscreen debut in a short by artist-video director Mike Mills titled "Architecture of Reassurance"
Landed television debut as the gossipy rumor-monger Kirstie on an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
Cast as Heather, one of several fed up teens that conspire to kill a teen tormentor, in Larry Clark's crime drama "Bully"
Played a gas-huffing teen girl in "Love Liza" opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman
Portrayed Hollywood starlet Faith Domergue opposite Leonardo DiCaprio's Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's epic biographical film "The Aviator"
Reunited with Mills in his feature directorial debut "Thumbsucker"
Played a cheerleader opposite Tommy Lee Jones in the comedy "Man of the House"
Landed a featured role in the drug-themed drama "London"
Cast in the quirky dramedy "Lars and the Real Girl," which starred Ryan Gosling as a delusional man who falls in love with a lifelike sex doll
Landed a minor role in "Taking Woodstock"
Acted opposite Drew Barrymore and Justin Long in the romantic comedy "Going the Distance"
Landed a regular role on the ABC 1960s-era drama "Pan Am" as the flight attendant by day, CIA agent by night Kate