Why You Should Know Jena Malone

24-year-old Jena Malone is certainly an independent spirit. With a very eclectic and unique film career and now a just-as-eclectic musical career as the frontwoman of the band The Shoe (and you can get an autographed copy of their album At Jem Lay’s Garage right here on Fancast), she defies any easy categorization, but she’s always a compelling creative presence no matter what direction she’s taking.

Check out this retrospective of her filmography to see how the girl who played the young Jodie Foster in Contact developed into the artist we know now.

Even since her film debut as a young girl abused by her stepfather in Anjelica Huston’s 1996 directorial debut Bastard Out of Carolina, Jena Malone has always gravitated towards challenging and controversial roles.

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She moved on to a considerably less harrowing familial conflict in Stepmom, also starring Julia Roberts, Ed Harris and Susan Sarandon, but she was no less adept at being an emotional centerpiece of the film.

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From there, she continued to do strong work for a child her age, playing Mary Stuart Masterson’s sister struggling with cystic fibrosis in My Book of Stars, and balancing that with mainstream work like Cheaters and For Love of the Game. Then she really made her indie-queen case in Jake Gyllenhaal’s cult smash Donnie Darko.

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That case continued to be made with her role as Emile Hirsch’s mysterious love interest in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (and oddly enough, she would later play his sister in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild), Ryan Gosling’s conflicted ex-girlfriend in The United States of Leland, and a lead role as a pregnant teen with a jailed father in Confessions of an American Girl and the biting Catholic-school satire Saved!

Then there’s the diatribe against genetic food tampering in Corn, and even that has a hint of something dark and crazy about her character. She was also one of Keira Knightley’s sisters in Pride and Prejudice, and that was followed by a much sexier turn in The Go-Getter.

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You may also remember her from last year’s utterly creepy horror flick The Ruins, if you can remember anything beyond being unbelievably skeeved out by creepy crawlies under the skin.

Coming up, she’s co-starring with Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton and Ben Foster in The Messenger, which revolves around an army officer assigned to notify the families of casualties of war that they won’t ever be coming home again, as well as Five Star Day, which stars Cam Gigandet as a man on a quest to disprove astrology. Then, in the far flung future of 2011, we can expect to see her in Zack Snyder’s (300, Watchmen) next stylized project Sucker Punch, about a girl trapped in an asylum who has elaborate action-packed fantasies about the past and future, which he says is as crazy as anything he’s ever done.

With Jena Malone involved, you can bet it’s going to be as interesting as it is crazy.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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