Real name: Larisa Romanovna Oleynik
Birthdate: June 7, 1981
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During her period as a teen idol, Oleynik was described as "one of America's favorite 15-year-olds" and "the proverbial girl next door".
Oleynik (pronounced oh-LAY-nick) was born in Santa Clara County, California, the only child of Roman Oleynik, an anesthesiologist, and Lorraine Allen, a former nurse. Her father's family is Russian (although "Oleynik" is a Ukrainian surname) and she was raised in the Russian Orthodox religion. She has cited No Doubt as her favorite band and used to play the piano. Oleynik grew up in the San Francisco area and began acting in a regional production of Les Misérables, after seeing an audition ad in a newspaper when she was eight years old. After appearing in the musical, she contacted an agent and began taking acting lessons. Oleynik attended Pinewood School and later Sarah Lawrence College, describing the latter as "the best decision I’ve made", and graduated in 2004.
Oleynik began her screen acting career in a 1993 episode of the television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; the same year, she also appeared in the made-for-television film, River of Rage: The Taking of Maggie Keene, and was subsequently cast in the lead role of the series The Secret World of Alex Mack, playing a teenage girl who receives telekinetic powers as a result of an accident. The series ran on Nickelodeon from 1994 to 1998, and was one of the network's top three most watched shows, becoming a favorite among teen audiences and turning Oleynik into a teen idol. During the show's run, she played one of the lead characters in the 1995 feature film, The Baby-Sitters Club (opposite Rachael Leigh Cook and Schuyler Fisk), appeared in several episodes of Boy Meets World, wrote an advice column for Tiger Beat magazine, and was involved in Nickelodeon's Big Help charity, Hands Across Communication, Surfrider Foundation and the Starlight Foundation. She has commented that she stayed "grounded" during her period as a teen star, mainly through the help of a "strong network of people" that she is close to.
After The Secret World of Alex Mack ended its run, Oleynik had a starring role in the film 10 Things I Hate About You, a teen comedy also starring Julia Stiles, Andrew Keegan, Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film was released in April 1999 and did fairly well at the box office, grossing a total of $38 million domestically. In 1999-2000, Oleynik appeared in fourteen episodes of the NBC series 3rd Rock from the Sun (alongside Gordon-Levitt). The same year, she appeared in two independent films: 100 Girls (opposite Emmanuelle Chriqui, Katherine Heigl and Jonathan Tucker) and A Time for Dancing (opposite Shiri Appleby); neither film received a theatrical release in the United States. She has appeared in Malcolm in the Middle as Reese's lesbian army buddy who developed a crush on his mom, Lois. Next, Oleynik had a supporting role in the film An American Rhapsody, which received a limited release in August 2001, and appeared in Bringing Rain, a low-budget film. Oleynik was cast in a supporting role in the series Pepper Dennis, which began airing on The WB in April 2006, but was not picked up by The WB's successor, The CW.