If you want to get a good idea of Katie Holmes, actress -- as opposed to tabloid star -- you can't do any better than "Pieces of April," a gem from 2003 in which she plays a pony-tailed, tattooed New Yorker desperately trying to prove herself to her visiting suburban family with an improvised, downtown Thanksgiving dinner.
This was back when Miss Holmes was transitioning out of "Dawson's Creek," that teenage soap set in a fictional New England coastal town. But she already had amassed an early filmography that any young actress would envy, including "The Ice Storm," "Go" and "Wonder Boys."
The budget for "Pieces of April" started at $6 million, but dwindled to $300,000 and was shot over just 16 days. Writer-director Peter Hedges recalls shooting in "condemnable" buildings with paint dropping off the walls of Miss Holmes' makeshift dressing room.
"You learn a lot about a person's character when you work in those conditions," Mr. Hedges said. "What I always say about Katie is she's a good girl, she was raised right and she knows what it's like to have flown coach."
But for whatever reason, Miss Holmes' promising start was detoured. She met Tom Cruise, gave birth to a daughter, married and, at one time, spent three years off-screen. After starring in "Batman Begins" in 2005, she pulled out of "The Dark Knight," leaving Maggie Gyllenhaal to take her place in what became one of the biggest movies of the decade. Her work since has been sporadic and not always substantial.
Now that she's divorcing Mr. Cruise, and their 6-year-old daughter, Suri, is school age, there are mounting expectations that Miss Holmes could again be the actress some thought she could become. At just 33, she's emerging from the public hysteria of her relationship with Mr. Cruise with open roads ahead and, possibly, renewed ambition.
"I'm excited to see what she does now," Mr. Hedges said. "She'll surprise a lot of people, because she's really very gifted."
Instead of films, she recently has tested herself more on the stage.
Miss Holmes co-starred in a 2008 Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," earning mainly good reviews for a straightforward part that nevertheless utilized her Toledo, Ohio, folksiness. Though that brought its own sideshow -- there were Scientology protests outside the theater -- it was precisely the kind of classy production that earns actors respect.
Miss Holmes also increasingly has turned back to the medium that brought her fame: television. Along with guest appearances on the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother" and the legal drama "Eli Stone," she played Jackie Kennedy in "The Kennedys."
The actress also recently taped a guest appearance as a judge on "Project Runaway," presumably with an aim toward promoting her developing fashion line, Holmes & Yang (with stylist Jeanne Yang).
What Miss Holmes has on the horizon, though, appears more promising. She recently shot a modern adaptation of Chekhov's "The Seagull," and soon will begin shooting "Molly," which she co-wrote and produces.
The film is about a single mother and daughter, so it surely will be picked apart for signs of her personal life. But her larger involvement in the project suggests she's taking more creative control.
"It could be a brand-new beginning for Katie Holmes," said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "All she needs to do is put herself in the right projects. Whatever her next project is, there will obviously be a curiosity factor. But at the end of the day, she's got to do good work."
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