07.27.11 6:10 AM ET
Hollywood's Surprise Ingenue
You are a star actress… we think that’s probably the direction you should go.
With those words, host Tyra Banks bid farewell to a teary-eyed Analeigh Tipton on the reality competition America’s Next Top Model, eliminating her in third place. Tipton's brush with fame should have ended there, with her vanishing into the abyss of the L.A. club scene or hooking up with an Entourage cast member like so many contestants before her. But after Tipton landed starring roles in HBO's Hung, Venice Film Festival closer Damsels in Distress, and the highly anticipated ensemble dramedy, Crazy, Stupid, Love, the latter earning her the distinction of being one of The New York Times's "Faces to Watch," Tyra is looking mighty prescient.
Tipton, now 22, was born in Minnesota and began skating when she was just 2 1/2 years old. "You learn to skate then you learn to walk," she says. At age 8, she moved to Sacramento, California, where she was home-schooled and, for a time, lived with her skating coach to avoid the travel time to the rink. After being crowned two-time regional champion in the pairs division and competing twice at the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships, Tipton retired from the ice. "I was really good at being pretty on the ice, but when it came to jumping, I think I landed more on my bottom than I did anywhere else," Tipton says. "We even went to a doctor to see how tall I would get. They said I was going to be 5-4, and when I was 16, I woke up and I was nearly 5-10."
At 17, she moved to Los Angeles to write and direct films. Soon after, a woman at the gym approached Tipton and said she wanted to sign her to a modeling agency. Tipton then went out to a dinner to meet some men, presumably in the fashion world, only to discover that she was the dinner date of a Saudi prince. "I didn’t know anybody and these nice people offered friendship," Tipton says. "They ended up being bad people that wanted to exploit young, trusting girls." Not long after, she began receiving phone calls that said, "You have to come to Saudi Arabia. He wants to make you his wife." It turns out she had been "sold" to the aforementioned Saudi prince for an undisclosed sum. "That was my moment of, 'OK, I have to grow a spine,'" says Tipton, who removed herself from the situation before the deal was sealed.
While browsing the mall one day, 19-year-old Tipton met some actual modeling recruiters, and was then contacted through MySpace to become a contestant on cycle 11 of America's Next Top Model. Throughout the show's 2008 season, Tipton was very genial—no thrown drinks or back-stabbing, just a plethora of pick-me-ups—and adorably clumsy. After she was eliminated, she signed with Ford Models and appeared in a multipage spread in Maxim as well as catalog work for Guess and Forever 21.
"I tried modeling, but I really didn't enjoy it," Tipton says. "I showed up to most of my shows in Birkenstocks and T shirts, and it just wasn't my world. I was never graceful in modeling."
After impressing CBS brass while auditioning for her cameo on their hit series, The Big Bang Theory, she was scooped up by Abrams Artist Agency in both the commercial and theatrical divisions, and landed a role as Seth Rogen's gorgeous one-night stand in The Green Hornet. However, she often found herself being pigeonholed by Hollywood casting directors as just another pretty face.
"I'll meet great directors and I'll go in and I could give them an Oscar-nominated performance, but it would not matter because the people would just look at the sheet and won't see anything else I've done," Tipton says. "They do this little side head cock and go, 'So…you were on America's Next Top Model?' And in that one sentence, it just sums it up. They're saying, 'Oh, how cute! You think you're going to act! This should be fun.'"
While attending the New York Film Academy's Film School program out in L.A., for both writing and acting, Tipton got to work on a scene in class from Crazy, Stupid, Love. She immediately called her agent afterward and said, "I really, really love this scene. Can we try to get me an audition?" Even though she didn’t have much of a sizzle reel, she landed the audition and, although her gawky affability wasn’t fierce enough for Top Model, it was perfect for the role of Jessica, Cal Weaver’s (Steve Carell) bumbling 17-year-old babysitter, who is both crushing on her middle-aged employer and artfully dodging the romantic overtures of his 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo). It's an endearing performance every bit as impressive as that of her costars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and was made easier by Carell's easygoing nature.
"We have this scene in the car, and it's an awkward scene: I’m trying to confess my love to him and he just got dumped by his wife," Tipton says. "Before we started shooting, I just remember having conversations about how his kids are going to space camp and his daughter wants to figure skate. He's so calming and nice."
Tipton also confessed to having her fair share of older-guy infatuations back in the day. "He was the son of the principal at my school, and I went to an all-girls school and all the girls had crushes on him," Tipton says. "When you're at an all-girls high school, you get creative on your crushes." She adds, "I thought the janitor was sexy, too."
Following Crazy, Stupid, Love, Tipton moved to New York to, as she says, "live among the most inspiring female writers and young, artistic individuals." She also landed a starring role opposite Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody in Damsels in Distress—a comedy-musical set in a cliquish college dreamscape about a transfer student (Tipton) who tries to negotiate between the perfume-obsessed Damsels, led by Greta Gerwig, and the artistic, intellectual community. Damsels is the first film in more than a decade from Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco)—whom she describes as "a saucy Woody Allen"—and it was announced recently as the closing-night film of the 2011 Venice Film Festival. She'll also appear as a schizophrenic Midwestern gal who pimps out her two-timing fiancé in the third season of HBO’s Hung.
When asked if she'd ever been on the receiving end of a spectacular pickup line similar to the ones Ryan Gosling's lothario character doles out in the film, she pauses for a while, and says, "I think the worst is, 'You look so nice that there must be something wrong with you, so I thought maybe I’d give you a go.' I was like, 'Wait—is that a compliment?'" In Analeigh Tipton’s case, perhaps it is.