Twenty years ago today, the movie “American Pie” took Shannon Elizabeth from an unknown actress to “sex symbol” status, as posters of foreign exchange beauty Nadia lined the walls of teenagers’ bedrooms across the country.
“I am honored by it,” Elizabeth, 45, told Page Six of the label. “But there’s a part of my being that doesn’t believe it. You know, like, no that’s not me … I almost don’t associate with it because, I don’t know, it’s just so surreal to me”
She added, “To be remembered I think for anything and anything positive in that sense, I mean, I’m blessed and grateful for it. I really, really am.”
In 1998, Texas-born Elizabeth, who was 24 at the time, pulled over across the street from her house off Los Angeles’ Melrose Avenue as she answered the call that would change her life forever. Until that point in her career, she had been cast in various episodes of short-lived TV shows and TV movies, and “American Pie” would become her break in Hollywood.
Excited to share the news with Joe Reitman — her then-boyfriend who she later married, then divorced — Elizabeth took off running toward her house, leaving her car in the street.
“As I’m running in, I step in a hole in the yard and twist my ankle,” she recalled. “I get inside, half-crying, half-excited, he doesn’t know what’s going on. That’s, like, the first memory I have of [the movie].”
“American Pie” follows a group of guys who make a pact to lose their virginities before high school graduation, with Jason Biggs, who plays the lead character Jim Levenstein, attempting to sleep with Elizabeth’s character, Nadia. The whole ordeal culminates in a scene where the guys film Nadia in Jim’s bedroom as she’s changing her clothes and accidentally send the live-feed out to the entire school. Jim then returns to his bedroom but a case of premature ejaculation leaves his virginity intact.
“It was a closed set and it was just me in this room and the boom guy above me,” she recalled of filming the now-famous scene. “I was like, ‘This is so weird.’ It was square room they had built in the middle of a warehouse and we made everyone that didn’t need to be there leave set. That’s the main thing I remember, just me and the boom guy, and trying to make jokes with the directors and make light of it because if I wasn’t nervous maybe they wouldn’t be so nervous … I just tried to make it no big deal.”
Despite Nadia having no knowledge of the camera in the room, she is sent home to Slovakia and none of the boys are reprimanded for the video.
“Gosh, do I get sent home?” Elizabeth asked, adding, “If this had come out after the #MeToo movement, there would definitely be a problem. I think that it would have gone down differently.”
Despite only having two major scenes in the movie, Elizabeth became a well-known name in Hollywood following its release.
“It was like the biggest premiere I think I’ve ever been to. It was like going to the Oscars,” she said, adding that she brought her parents with her and they “were totally fine because it’s not like we had a big intense sex scene or anything, you know? Luckily, I have really cool parents.”
After “American Pie,” Elizabeth went on to act in “Scary Movie,” “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” and “Love Actually,” and returned for “American Pie 2” and “American Reunion.” She and Reitman, who split in 2005, started their animal rescue charity, Animal Avengers, in 2001. After over a decade, Elizabeth decided she wanted to do more for animals.
“There was an Instagram post one night that I saw, where a ranger was walking in the field and found an elephant that had been poached,” she said. “When you watch the video first you see the trunk, it was separated from the rest of her … and as you’re watching it she moves and you realize she’s still alive and crying out for help, but nobody is coming. It flipped a switch in me like no other video I’d ever seen. I couldn’t stop crying for days. I couldn’t get it out of my head.”
In 2016, after making multiple trips to South Africa to learn more about endangered animals, Elizabeth moved to Cape Town, where she is still living full-time working with her charity that has since been renamed the Shannon Elizabeth Foundation.
“I want to find ways to help these animals now because if there’s a chance they could go extinct in our lifetime and we don’t do anything, what kind of people are we?” Elizabeth said.
Currently, Elizabeth and her boyfriend Simon Borchert, who works as a director for her foundation, are getting ready to launch their website Rhino Review, which will teach people all about the endangered species including, “Where they came from, how they moved around the planet, which ones have already gone extinct and what we’re left with.”
While she isn’t focused on acting as much anymore, Elizabeth will be back on the big screen portraying Justice in the “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot,” and still looks back on “American Pie” as her big moment.
“It was like the best thing I could have happened to me,” she said. “That film launched my whole acting career. I’m so grateful for it.”