Elizabeth Berkley (born July 28, 1972) is an American television, film, and theatre actress. Berkley's most notable roles were in the television series Saved by the Bell, as brainy feminist Jessie Spano, and the 1995 Paul Verhoeven film Showgirls, as exotic dancer Nomi Malone.
Berkley was born and raised in Farmington Hills, a community located among Detroit's affluent northern suburbs in Oakland County, Michigan. She is the daughter of Jere, a gift basket business owner, and Fred Berkley, a lawyer. She was raised in a Jewish family. Berkley was born with heterochromia, the condition of differently coloured irises, so that her right eye is half green and half brown, and her left eye is all green. She graduated in 1990 from North Farmington High School in Farmington Hills after previously having attended the Cranbrook Kingswood School, a private school in Bloomfield Hills.
From a young age she danced, and she practiced in a room that her parents arranged for her in the basement of their house. In 1982 at age ten she auditioned for the lead role in the film Annie, but was turned down. As her love for dancing increased, she became more interested in pursuing it professionally, traveling to New York to train with other dancers and choreographers. She began to take part in several ballets, including Swan Lake and in 1983 she appeared in some musicals.
Berkley was a teen model for Elite before pursuing an acting career. She made her television film debut in 1987 with a role in the television film Frog and following this, made a number of guest appearances on several television shows. In 1989, at the age of seventeen, she auditioned for the role of Kelly Kapowski in Saved by the Bell, but the producers of the show could not decide whether to cast her or Tiffani Thiessen. In the end, they created for Berkley the character Jessie Spano, a role she played from 1989 to 1993, as well as in both of the show's television film installments.
After leaving Saved by the Bell to try to break into film, Berkley auditioned for (and won) the role of Nomi Malone, a character in the infamous 1995 Paul Verhoeven film Showgirls. The sex- and nudity-laden film was given a controversial NC-17 rating in the United States (the first big budget film that was deliberately intended to receive this rating), was a box office bomb, and was widely panned by critics.
Following the failure of Showgirls and being awarded two Razzie awards for her performance in the film, Berkley decided to audition for smaller roles in quality films, hoping to improve upon her acting skills before accepting another leading role. As a result, she appeared in a small role in The First Wives Club, a comedy starring Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler, before accepting the title role in the straight to video anime Armitage III: Poly Matrix which also starred Kiefer Sutherland. She then played a Madonna body double named Tina in the independent film The Real Blonde.
As time has put distance between Berkley and the infamous film (which has since achieved cult status among film fans and placed number 36 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the Top 50 Cult Movies and is also one of top 20 highest grossing films of all time for MGM), she has performed in strong supporting roles in independent films such as The Taxman, Tail Lights Fade, Roger Dodger (which her manager advised her not to do), and Moving Malcolm. She also had a small role as a call girl hired by Al Pacino's character in Oliver Stone's sports drama Any Given Sunday, as well as a key supporting role in Woody Allen's The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
Berkley appeared on stage opposite Eddie Izzard for her role as Honey in the London stage version of Lenny. She went on to make her Broadway debut in the comedy Sly Fox, opposite Richard Dreyfuss in February 2004, just three months after her marriage to artist Greg Lauren. She replaced Catherine Kellner as Bonnie in the 2005 Off Broadway production of David Rabe's Hurlyburly, appearing alongside Ethan Hawke, Parker Posey, and Bobby Cannavale.
Berkley received much praise for her role in Hurlyburly, with Charles Isherwood of The New York Times even going as far as apologizing to her for his past criticisms of her ability, stating that the fact she held "her own among this skilled company of scene-stealers is a testament to how much her talent has grown". Her most recent stage appearance was at the sixth annual 24 Hour Plays alongside Jennifer Aniston, Rosie Perez, and Lili Taylor, in which six writers, six directors, twenty-four actors, and production crews have twenty-four hours to write, direct, and perform six ten-minute plays.
Berkley has been seen in many dramatic television roles, guest starring on series such as CSI: Miami, NYPD Blue, Without a Trace, Threshold, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. However, she stayed true to her comic roots with a recurring role in the successful and critically acclaimed sitcom Titus, in which she played the title character's sister, Shannon. She also starred in the Lifetime television film Student Seduction, in which she played Christie Dawson, a high school teacher wrongfully accused of sexual harassment by one of her students who becomes obsessed with her. This was followed by another made-for-television film in 2007, entitled Black Widow in which she played a woman suspected of killing her husbands for their money. The film Meet Market, which she starred in along with Julian McMahon, Krista Allen, and Aisha Tyler was released straight to DVD in 2008 after having been in limbo since it was completed in 2004.
In 2008, Berkley signed on to star in a multi-episode arc of CSI: Miami, in which she plays Horatio Caine's (David Caruso) ex-lover, Julia Winston, who is also the mother of his recently discovered son. The episodes which Berkley appeared in were very highly rated and all of them featured in the top 10 Nielsen ratings chart. She has since appeared in the show's season six finale.
Berkley hosted Bravo's reality series, Step It Up and Dance, a competition featuring the exploits of ten wannabe dancers who compete against each other to win a cash prize of $100,000 as well as the opportunity to work with and perform for some of the country's top choreographers. The show premiered in April 2008 on Bravo and was cancelled after the first season. The show came out as the network's strongest ever in its time slot (10/11c) with 826,000 viewers. The show continued to perform well throughout its run, averaging 756,000 viewers each week - of whom 522,000 were aged 18 to 49 - and helped contribute to Bravo's highest-rated April ever. According to Berkley hosting the show is a very fulfilling job. She was recently quoted as saying that she gets "invested in the dancers" because she has befriended many of them offstage. Despite the show's success, it was not renewed for a second season and its show page has since been removed from the Bravo website.
During the press tour for Step It Up and Dance, Berkley appeared on various shows including various morning news programs, ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Fuse TV's The Sauce, E!'s Chelsea Lately, CNBC's The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, and ABC's The View. While on The View, she spoke of her admiration for co-host Whoopi Goldberg, calling her "an extraordinary being". Her appearance on the show was unique in that she brought the ladies of the show tap shoes and taught them a short dance routine. Berkley starred alongside Thomas Jane in the David Arquette directed short film The Butler's in Love which premiered at Mann's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles in June 2008.
In 2009, Berkley starred in a multi-episode arc of the Showtime series The L Word, during its sixth and final season. She played Kelly Wentworth, the straight girl that got away from Jennifer Beals' character Bette Porter in college. Berkley and Beals are best friends in real life, having previously worked on the 2002 independent film Roger Dodger. She continued with television work, reprising her role as Julia Winston in CSI: Miami, appearing in three more episodes, including the season seven finale. She was cast as Trudy, a former drug addict turned born again Christian who becomes infatuated with her pastor in the sequel to cult hit Donnie Darko, S. Darko. She will also appear as Tracy in the upcoming comedy Women in Trouble.
While making an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in June 2009, Berkley's Saved by the Bell co-star Mark-Paul Gosselaar - as Zack Morris - expressed his desire to take part in Fallon's "class reunion" of the show's original cast members and revealed that Berkley has also agreed to take part in the reformation. It is unclear whether the reunion will simply be an interview with the original cast on an episode of Fallon's show, or whether a new television film or series will be produced.
It was also confirmed that Berkley, in conjunction with MTV, is developing a reality series which focuses on her Ask-Elizabeth self-help program—and has the same name as its working title, Ask-Elizabeth—for teen girls. The show will follow the actress as she travels around the country and meets with girls of all ages to discuss various topics that are important to them. The show was expected to air in late 2009, but the show was pushed back indefinitely .
In 2011, Berkley played the lead female role in Hallmark Channel's original movie "Lucky Christmas", about a woman who wins the lottery only to have to recover the ticket from the glove compartment of her stolen car. The film premiered on Hallmark Movie Channel on November 12, 2011.
Berkley is a committed animal rights activist and in 1997, donned a $600 form-fitting gown made entirely of collard greens for the "Lettuce Be Lean" campaign, sponsored by PETA to try to encourage people to embrace vegetarianism. In 2008 & 2009, she was among a number of celebrities included in an online poll by PETA to select the "Sexiest Vegetarian of the Year".
In 2000, Berkley was made the subject of a $45 million lawsuit when actor and screenwriter Roger Wilson took action against Leonardo DiCaprio, claiming that DiCaprio had encouraged his friends to assault Wilson in a street fight after he tried to defend Berkley, who had been the subject of DiCaprio and his friends' unwanted advances.
On November 1, 2003, Berkley married artist and occasional actor Greg Lauren at the Esperanza Hotel in Cabo San Lucas. Berkley formally changed her name to Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, however, she still uses her maiden name professionally.
In 2006, she created her own website to help teen girls. The website, which she facilitates herself is a self-esteem program called Ask-Elizabeth.
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