What Ever Happened To Thora Birch?

For a brief moment in Hollywood history, Thora Birch was everyone's "It Girl," a child actor on the verge of superstardom. Sadly for her, the fame didn't last. Why not? Let's take a closer look.

She's barely acted in more than a decade

At the end of the '90s, Birch seemed on the verge of accomplishing the impossible: a successful transition from child actor to adult movie star. The 16-year-old's performance in American Beauty in 1999 garnered rave reviews and a BAFTA nomination for best supporting actress. Birch's winning streak continued two years later when she starred in Ghost World, earning a Golden Globe nomination and another round of raves from the critics.

And then, just like that, everything fell apart. Birch's last major work of note from that era was the Lifetime television movie Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story, for which she received an Emmy nomination. After that, the titles become a mix of forgotten movies and indies you've probably never heard of. Examples include the 2008 thriller Train, a 2010 Lifetime movie called Pregnancy Pact, and indie flick Petunia, which Birch co-produced and claimed "got in, like, two cinemas," according to a 2014 interview with The Guardian.

Her father got in the way

Some have argued that Birch's father, Jack Birch, played a key role in the demise of his daughter's career. Bizarre headlines about Jack, who met Thora's mom on the set of the '70s porn movie Deep Throat, began popping up in 2007.

Rumor had it he was behaving strangely on the set of the indie movie, The Winter of Frozen Dreams. According to Page Six, Jack "horrified" members of the film's crew when he demanded to be on set to watch his daughter film a sex scene with her co-star, Dean Winters. "It was so wrong," a source told Page Six. "The director is saying, 'Harder! Faster!' and the father is giving Winters the thumbs up."

Page Six sources also said Jack clashed with the film's director, Eric Mandelbaum, over camera angles that he felt would most flatter his daughter. "All of a sudden, the front door is being kicked in. Her father was threatening to kill the assistant directors," a source said. "Then he threatens to pull her from the movie with three days of shooting left."

She was fired from major projects

As the new century rolled into its second decade, Jack's bad behavior reportedly continued, causing his daughter to get fired from not one, but two high-profile projects. The first instance came at the end of 2010, when Thora was unceremoniously fired from an Off Broadway revival of Dracula. According to The New York Times, the decision to terminate the actress came after her father allegedly threatened an actor who was instructed to rub Thora's back during an emotional scene. "Listen, man, I'm trying to make this easier on you—don't touch her," Jack said, according to the play's director, Paul Alexander. Thora denied her father's alleged wrongdoing and was reportedly "blindsided" by the firing. "I'm totally in a state of shock over this, I still can't believe it," she said.

Weeks later, Jack made headlines again after he reportedly caused problems during production of the movie Manson Girls. "Thora is a great actress," director Susanna Lo told Planet Fury (via IMDb), "but there have been several problems with her father/manager that make it too difficult to work things out in an ensemble cast situation where everything needs to be balanced and fair to the whole cast. You can quote me on that."

She wasn't always easy to work with

Getting fired from projects wasn't exactly new territory for the young actress. At the height of her fame. Thora was fired from the movie Election, reportedly due to clashes with the film's director, Alexander Payne. "I read the script one way and it became clear that [Payne] had seen something else, so that was it," she told The Guardian. "I just thought, this is ridiculous: why is it written this way?" Thora had reportedly been hired to play Chris Klein's closeted lesbian sister, Tammy Metzler. She was replaced by actress Jessica Campbell.

She didn't want to conform

Speaking to The Guardian in 2014, Thora admitted she had trouble conforming to Hollywood's standards of fame and beauty as she transitioned into adulthood. "I tried to walk a fine line between being alluring and somewhat glamorous but 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," she said. "I just felt like I was making people angry, because I wouldn't wear the frilly bows. I just didn't take advice and I think people got pissed off at me for not taking advice."

She was greatly affected by two famous deaths

Thora told The Guardian she became disillusioned by Hollywood after the tragic deaths of two actors she had previously worked with: Brittany Murphy and Brad Renfro. "I'd seen Brittany here and there before and thought she was cute and lovely and all that stuff," she said of Murphy, with whom she worked on the 2009 movie Deadline. "But when I worked with her I saw the condition [she was in] and I thought, that can't be good."

Switching to Renfro, Thora admitted to being "shattered" by his condition when they filmed the 2001 movie Ghost World. "I wish I'd said something, like: isn't there something that should be done, other than a guardian who is not a guardian?" she said.

Renfro died of a heroin overdose in 2008. He was 25. Murphy died the following year, at age 32, from "pneumonia combined with iron-deficiency anemia and multiple-drug intoxication related to prescription and over-the-counter medications," reported the Los Angeles Times.

She became a blogger

Thora spent a few years writing blog posts on her official website, Thora.org, which were as random as they were infrequent. Her last post is dated May 31st, 2014. It's dedicated to Maya Angelou. "Wherever she is, we at least know she's still reading," Thora wrote, then the rest of the post turns into a rant about a video she watched online for free.

She's (slowly) making a comeback

After all of her career ups and downs, Thora may finally be showing signs that she's ready for a comeback. In 2015, she appeared in two episodes of USA Network's sci-fi drama, Colony, opposite Lost alum Josh Holloway. She's also filming a movie with Brian Cox called The Etruscan Smile. That one's due out in 2017, according to IMDb.

Her recent string of gigs seem to reflect her words from a 2014 interview with The Guardian. At the time, she said she was looking for an agent, trying to get a screenplay produced, and working in movies that "people actually watch." She said, "I'm just cognizant that I wanna move forward, and people will let me or not, who knows?"