Before her over-the-top fairytale romance with the loopy, larger-than-life movie star/madman, Holmes lived a relatively normal existence as a TV actress with a promising career in movies. After "Dawson's Creek" ended in 2003, she relocated from North Carolina (where the show was produced) to New York (where she rode the subway as if she were a struggling actor en route to an audition.) Holmes balanced her good-girl "Creek" role as Joey Potter with darker big-screen parts in "Pieces of April," "Go" and "Wonder Boys." Then came a slew of mainstream roles in "First Daughter," "Batman Begins" and "Thank You For Smoking."
Then she met Tom Cruise.
Holmes' acting resume since 2005? Strikingly thin, save for a meaty part as Jackie Kennedy in the controversial mini-series "The Kennedys," which failed to win critical acclaim -- and awards recognition for its stars -- when it aired earlier this year. The 32-year-old mom has tried her hand on Broadway, where she made her debut in a revival of "All My Sons," and in the fashion industry, where she's attempting to gain Olsen-level credibility for her line of trendy basics, called Holmes and Yang.
But nothing seems to stick. She can't quite shatter the public's perception of her as Stepford Katie: an empty fembot of a woman whose soul was sucked out by Scientology. Her glazed expression seemed to suggest the lights were on but nobody was home. Cruise's A-list magic had worked wonders for Nicole Kidman, but appeared to have done a number on Holmes. (Remember when Oprah interviewed the couple at their Colorado home? Holmes was like Jackie O. giving a televised tour of the White House, on-message but exuding zero personality.)
Lately, however, Holmes is looking ... different. Happier. More present. Dare we say: back to normal. She's wearing her hair long again -- like in her pre-Tom days. At Sunday's L.A. premiere of "Jack and Jill," her new comedy with Adam Sandler, the actress -- wearing a pretty pink-and-black dress of her own design -- left Cruise at home and walked the red carpet solo, radiating a healthy, sporty energy. It makes us wonder whether she made a conscious decision to show some independence and establish an identity apart from her controversial husband. (She went to the Emmys alone, too.)
Last month, Holmes appeared in a cameo as the "Slutty Pumpkin" on CBS' "How I Met Your Mother," and she was surprisingly funny and natural. Her next role as the other lead in a Chace Crawford rom-com sounds terrible, but if Holmes can keep this "Resurrection of Joey Potter" thing going, perhaps she can sell skeptics -- aka 99% of America -- that she's not just Mrs. Tom Cruise.
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