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Clea DuVall

September 24th, 2008 · 5 Comments


Clea Helen D’etienne DuVall was born September 25, 1977 in Los Angeles. She grew up – in her words – in “the shitty parts of Hollywood.” An only child, DuVall spent a good deal of adolescence by herself, memorizing scenes from Annie, The Empire Strikes Back, or The Jerk and performing them for her parents. Her mother and father divorced when DuVall was 12 and by the time her mother remarried four years later, DuVall had moved out. “I was done being at home. I was unhappy there, so I left. I was very much an individual and independent at a young age. It was the natural thing for me to do.” She took a job at Buzz Coffee on Sunset Boulevard and enrolled at Los Angeles High School for the Arts.

DuVall’s experience at the school – which counts Jenna Elfman as alumni – was not a pleasant one. “Things were just so confining. There’s no freedom in it, there’s no fun in it. It’s so rehearsed and so false that I just couldn’t get into it. I couldn’t even pretend. And they just didn’t care for that.” DuVall credited support from one of her teachers – Penny Johnson Jerald – and her father for helping her make the decision to go into acting. In 1995 at the age of 18, she sent out headshots and “my resume that was non-existent” and landed an agent. That led to a role in something called Little Witches. The movie was unseen, but at the Sundance Lab, DuVall met actress Robin Tunney. She introduced DuVall to her manager, who took DuVall on as a client and signed her with a serious agent.


Under new management, DuVall soon appeared as a convenience store clerk in a film that Tunney was starring in – Niagara, Niagara – as well as a commercial for Kudos. She made a guest appearance on ER, and then on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, playing a teenager so unpopular she turns invisible and terrorizes Sunnyvale High in the episode “Out of Sight, Out of Mind.” Work in barely seen films – Life During Wartime, Girl and How To Make The Cruelest Month (in which DuVall was cast as the lead) – followed. She then won a much more visible role, playing a sullen teenage tomboy in The Faculty. The sci-fi/horror flick directed by Robert Rodriguez was not a success, but DuVall’s performance did get her nominated as Favorite Female Newcomer at the 1999 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards.

In 1999 – after a showy role as Charlize Theron’s sister in The Astronaut’s Wife and a key part in the female ensemble of Girl Interrupted – casting directors in film and TV started taking notice. DuVall turned up in Ghosts of Mars (as a lesbian commando), Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (as the survivor of a hit and run accident), HBO’s The Laramie Project (a theatre performer), 21 Grams (as Naomi Watts’ grief stricken sister) and the CBS mini-series Helter Skelter (playing Manson Family member turned witness for the prosecution Linda Kasabian). DuVall also played one of several victims who gets the life sucked out of her by the spectre of The Grudge.


DuVall became a force on some of the more popular TV shows of the decade. Describing the series as “Grapes of Wrath and Twin Peaks coming together,” DuVall was in all but one episode of HBO’s Carnivàle, playing Sofie, the tarot card reader in a circus traveling through the 1930s Dust Bowl. In 2005, she made a memorable guest appearance on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation as a murderous UFO cult member. In 2007, she joined Season One of Heroes playing an FBI agent for seven episodes, and the following year, DuVall turned up on Grey’s Anatomy for a pair of episodes as the survivor of a bear attack. Her portrayal of steely women was evident on the big screen in Zodiac, playing a convict who supplies Jake Gyllenhaal critical information on the Zodiac Killer.

Recalling why Los Angeles High School for the Arts was so difficult, DuVall summed up her approach to acting. “It’s tough because they teach acting in a very technical kind of way. And acting is everything but scientific. It’s not like math where there are formulas. Performing arts schools try to turn it into that and make it so there’s only one way to do something and if you don’t do it like that, then you’re not good and you deserve to fail. It’s not like English class. Acting is something that is very individual and very personal and I don’t think it should be graded. You can’t give a test on it, because your tests happen in your work. Your call is 6:30 in the morning and you go and you work for fourteen hours. That’s your test.”


© Joe Valdez

Screenshots courtesy Clea

Tags: United Federation of Character Actors

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Andrew Wickliffe // Sep 24, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    DuVall’s always been one of my favorite actresses (starting with Faculty).
    It’s a shame she hasn’t found a solid following. I keep seeing her in things and she’s great… but I’m always kind of surprised to see her.

  • 2 sir jorge // Sep 25, 2008 at 10:26 am

    she’s one of my screen crushes…I think she’s so dreamy.

  • 3 Moviezzz // Sep 25, 2008 at 10:50 am

    Great post.

    I didn’t know that about Clea and Robin Tunney. I remember (possibly first) seeing her in NIAGARA NIAGARA (a highly underrated film) and now I know why.

  • 4 Joe Valdez // Sep 25, 2008 at 10:58 am

    Andrew: Thanks for dropping by and commenting! The Faculty has to be one of the worst returns on quality versus the amount of talent in the cast – Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Jon Stewart – but DuVall showed even then the ability to shine to matter what type of material she was in or how small the role. I was awed by how much power she displayed with relatively little screen time in 21 Grams.

    Jorge: No argument. DuVall won me over in Girl Interrupted, crying over The Wizard of Oz . Of all the girls in the nervous hospital, that character would have been my choice to take home.

    Moviezzz: This series has reminded me that anyone who makes it in the film industry had the support of someone who believed in them when not many other people did. DuVall clearly had a teacher, a fellow actress and a manager who helped her career and it is not diminishing her own talent to admit that no one is a success by themselves. Thanks for commenting!

  • 5 NorwegianMan // May 4, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Thank you for posting this. It was great reading it.
    Clea DuVall is my favourite actress. She is talented and beautiful. I fell in love with her after “The Faculty”, but “But I’m a Cheerleader” is her best performance in my opinion. I also love the scary movie named “The Watch”. It’s a shame I can’t find any of these movies in the stores.

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