Many people may know who she is, but Selma Blair rarely seems to get mentioned in the media as the truly talented and versatile actress that she is. Whether it’s because many of her films are off the radar, or that Blair somehow just bewilderingly gets lost in the throng of actresses stampeding through Hollywood is tough to decipher, but it’s about time she at least gets some much deserved attention here.
Most folks will remember first learning about Blair from her role in Cruel Intentions, an updated adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, but true fans may point to her various bit parts in such fun films (with devoted followings) as Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (as a disturbed concert attendee) and the teen comedy Can’t Hardly Wait as those that began to put her in the spotlight. However, there’s no doubt that Cruel Intentions was her breakout performance, and for good reason. Blair is pure gold as the sweet, innocent girl who’s taken advantage of by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe in a salacious teen tale of sexual amorality. During the movie’s most famous scene, Blair is manipulated into having a full make-out session with Gellar, and it immediately cemented Blair as an actress who isn’t afraid to make bold choices.
It’s from there that Selma moved on to even more daring work, including a part in controversial director Todd Solondz’s Storytelling. During the Fiction installment of the production, Blair plays a weak-willed lost soul named Vi, who aspires to be taken seriously as a scribe while attending teacher Robert Wisdom’s creative writing class. Not only does Blair immediately set an uncomfortable tone as the physical relationship with her boyfriend suffering from cerebral palsy is detailed (thus tackling Solondz’s first of many supposed taboo issues dealt with in the film), but she also goes on to carry on a rather inappropriate one-night stand with Wisdom that explores such intense subject matter as racism, physical domination, guilt and shame all in one act. They’re exercises in filmmaking that can only lead one to describe both Blair and Solondz as brave.
A year later, the diminutive actress appeared in a supporting role for The Sweetest Thing, a romantic comedy in the style of There’s Something About Mary. However, while it may technically be a supporting turn as far as screen time is concerned, it’s certainly not a minor part in terms of scope, as she easily steals the movie (though, it’s admittedly not the greatest film, but still a fun one) from capable co-stars Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate. The production calls for Blair to perform some of the more “troubling” scenarios, including an instance where she gets stuck in a very sensitive and embarrassing position with her boyfriend, and pulls them all off with incredible zeal. Blair is responsible for many of the film’s laughs and The Sweetest Thing wouldn’t be quite as sweet without her.
Next, for anyone who doesn’t believe that Selma is capable of versatility, she moved on to director Guillermo del Toro’s big-budget sci-fi tale Hellboy (and its eventual sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army), as the sensitive girlfriend with pyrokinetic powers to the title character. Blair looks right at home among all the monsters in the movie, and it serves as a testament to her ability to shift gears and take on a more dramatic role where the sexuality is toned down quite a bit. In fact, no matter what the performance requires, the challenge never seems to be a problem for Blair, whether it’s a comedy, drama or both. However, she did jump right back into the overt sexual arena when she teamed up with legendary unconventional director John Waters for A Dirty Shame. It’s not every actress who will don a pair of grotesquely enormous fake breasts for a job, but that’s just what Selma does for this comedic vehicle that deals with a sexually repressed town that gets invaded by a bunch of decidedly more open-minded citizens. Blair plays Caprice Stickles (aka Ursula Udders), a top-heavy stripper who gets locked in her room by her mother (Tracey Ullman) because she can’t stop committing sexual turpitude. It isn’t long before a battle ensues in town between the lascivious addicts and the uptight “neuters,” with Blair providing plenty of zaniness in all the typical Waters’ moments of “bad taste.”
Most recently, Selma has starred in Lori Petty’s directorial debut, The Poker House, a semi-autobiographical account of Petty’s childhood. Blair plays the neglectful, drug-addled, prostitute mother to a trio of girls. It’s her abysmal behavior combined with other horrific turmoil that makes the oldest daughter realize she must escape her surroundings. Blair also starred in the short-lived NBC series Kath & Kim as Molly Shannon’s oblivious, blindly hopeful daughter with stars in her eyes. While the show was unsuccessful, it still proved that Blair’s talent is apparent, and she will hopefully be entertaining audiences with her audacious presence for many more years.