Face • Shannon Elizabeth

Her rise as a sex symbol has been so fast it's, well, scary.

Shannon who? If this is your first response to the shapely Texas actress, you are living in Adult World. You saw St. Elmo's Fire as soon as it opened. You dig Sela Ward. You are over thirty.Shannon Elizabeth is a product of Teen World, and Teen World is what drives popular culture these days. It's a place where boy bands and hip-hop have the same fans, where actresses have two first names, and where the MTV Movie Awards are the closest thing to Cahiers du Cinéma. Elizabeth, best known for her work in last year's teen-sex comedy American Pie and as the star of the recent horror parody Scary Movie, is one of the queens of the current scene.

The 24-year-old has scored a Maxim cover, serves as the new face of the Nautica campaign, and even maintains her own official Web site (not to worry, a portion of the $9.95 monthly fee to subscribe to www.shannonelizabeth.com benefits a charity designed to end teenage prostitution). One of the most voluminous of the many unofficial Web sites requires visitors to prove that they are over eighteen. That's mainly because Elizabeth is also an old-school babe who isn't afraid to take her clothes off. "It was something that I wanted to do," she says of her Playboy spread from 1999. "It was the right time, I got to work with a great photographer, and they're artistic shots."

Those artistic shots were a logical tie-in with American Pie, in which Elizabeth played a foreign exchange student who gets all comfy, topless, and shall we say, self-reliant, while her "study date" spies on her using an Internet-connected camera. That scene is certainly the most convincing contender for this generation's version of Phoebe Cates's leaving the pool in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. She also deserves credit for pulling it off with considerable comic flair as well as for her convincing Eastern European accent. Call Elizabeth the Meryl Streep of the half-naked teen set.

Strangely, Waco's ruling fathers have yet to give her the key to the city. She moved to the Central Texas town with her family when she was in the third grade (she was born in Houston). She played tennis at Waco High and tried to do a little acting, but, as she says, "there wasn't much happening there." She passed up a scholarship to Texas A&M to pursue a modeling career in New York, and soon things got going in Hollywood. Though she made her splash as a sex symbol, Elizabeth is now ready to move to the next level. "Sometimes it takes something like that to get you noticed," she says. "Now I'm gonna prove there's some ability there."

Mission accomplished. Miramax has locked her into a three-picture deal that began with Scary Movie. Currently she is filming Tom Cats, a production that will take her out of the realm of senior proms and scanty clothes. " Tom Cat s isn't a teenage movie at all," she says. "I play a cop." A vice cop, in fact. Just imagine the wardrobe.

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