Born in 1989, in Riverside, California, to an Iraqi father and an Irish-Norwegian mother, Alia Shawkat had no shortage of culture growing up. Her diverse background helped infuse her with a tad more perspective than most kids who grow up in show business.
Alia Shawkat’s big break came when she appeared in a Calvin Klein catalog at age 9, which immediately attracted the attention of agents and casting directors across Hollywood. After landing bit parts in feature films, Alia Shawkat was cast as young Hannah Rayburn in State of Grace, a role that would showcase her acting chops and push her to the forefront of young actresses in Hollywood.
Although the period dramedy only ran for two seasons on FOX Family, Alia Shawkat still managed to make her mark as Hannah Rayburn, a 12-year-old Jewish-American who learns valuable life lessons along with her best friend Grace (Mae Whitman), a girl from a wealthy Catholic family. Her character on State of Grace was mature beyond her years and displayed compassion and wit uncommon for girls her age, a perfect precursor to Alia Shawkat’s trademark role on Arrested Development.
Maeby Funke, the precocious teen immortalized by Alia Shawkat on Fox’s Arrested Development, was not the prototypical angst-ridden teen girl. Instead, she consistently outsmarted her loopy parents, fooled high-powered studio-execs into thinking that she was one of them and sexually tantalized her awkward teenage cousin George-Michael Bluth. On Michael Hurwitz’s absurdist, groundbreaking series, Alia Shawkat didn’t just hold her own against some of the best comedic talent working today, but she sparkled while doing it. Unfortunately, the show’s rapid-fire humor and intricate story lines proved too challenging for what Alia Shawkat has lovingly referred to as “Middle America,” and the show was taken off the air after six Emmys and only three seasons.
A recent announcement that the Bluth family and its hangers-on will be reunited for an Arrested Development film to be written by Hurwitz and directed by series narrator Ron Howard has Alia Shawkat happy as a clam. Frankly, we just think she’s looking forward to kissing Michael Cera again.
Alia Shawkat has yet to leave her mark on the big screen, and it’s certainly not for a lack of trying. She was only 9 when she starred opposite George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube in David O. Russell’s Three Kings, and probably had no idea that she was among Hollywood royalty (Ice Cube excluded, of course). Since then, Alia Shawkat has made forgettable appearances in Rebound with Martin Lawrence, Deck The Halls with Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito and most regrettably the little-seen teen comedy Prom Wars. Alia Shawkat insists that she was initially attracted to the role because it was different than the generic female characters she was accustomed to seeing, but we’ve watched the film and can only hope that Alia Shawkat displays better judgment in the future.
Her role opposite William H. Macy and Cheryl Hines in the 2008 festival darling Bart Got a Room played more toward her indie sensibilities. Her plum spot as Ellen Page’s best friend in the upcoming Drew Barrymore-directed Whip It! may be what catapults her to the top of the movie food chain, where she can take her rightful place alongside her TV cousin/lover and now superstar Michael Cera once and for all.