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An intelligent, commanding presence with a bombshell physique, Jeri Ryan was a highly prolific television actress, most often cast as powerful, authoritative women. An Army brat who grew up around the world, she entered beauty pageants to pay for her tuition to Northwestern University and, as Miss Illinois, won fourth place in the 1990 Miss America pageant. Quickly earning TV credits on every imaginable show, Ryan found firm footing with a role on the UFO conspiracy drama "Dark Skies" (NBC, 1996-97). The experience sent her down the sci-fi path, where she broke through as the recovering Borg Seven of Nine on "Star Trek: Voyager" (UPN, 1995-2001). Poured into a skintight catsuit, Ryan won a Saturn Award and the hearts of millions of male fans, becoming one of the era's most distinctive and downloaded beauties. Although sex appeal was vital to Seven's success with fans and critics, Ryan touchingly revealed the character's humanity, and even in campy or niche projects, the actress managed to deliver performances grounded with great heart and humor. Rarely seen on the big screen - "Dracula 2000" (2000) and "Down with Love" (2003) were the exceptions - Ryan focused on building an outstanding TV pedigree...
An intelligent, commanding presence with a bombshell physique, Jeri Ryan was a highly prolific television actress, most often cast as powerful, authoritative women. An Army brat who grew up around the world, she entered beauty pageants to pay for her tuition to Northwestern University and, as Miss Illinois, won fourth place in the 1990 Miss America pageant. Quickly earning TV credits on every imaginable show, Ryan found firm footing with a role on the UFO conspiracy drama "Dark Skies" (NBC, 1996-97). The experience sent her down the sci-fi path, where she broke through as the recovering Borg Seven of Nine on "Star Trek: Voyager" (UPN, 1995-2001). Poured into a skintight catsuit, Ryan won a Saturn Award and the hearts of millions of male fans, becoming one of the era's most distinctive and downloaded beauties. Although sex appeal was vital to Seven's success with fans and critics, Ryan touchingly revealed the character's humanity, and even in campy or niche projects, the actress managed to deliver performances grounded with great heart and humor. Rarely seen on the big screen - "Dracula 2000" (2000) and "Down with Love" (2003) were the exceptions - Ryan focused on building an outstanding TV pedigree with roles on "Boston Public" (FOX, 2000-04), "The O.C." (FOX, 2003-07), "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), "Leverage" (TNT, 2008-12), "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) and "Body of Proof" (ABC, 2011-13). For the most part an under-the-radar celebrity despite her quirky, fascinating résumé, Ryan possessed extreme beauty but chose instead to be defined by her intelligence, which made her all the more a rare and exciting talent.
Born Feb. 22, 1968 in Munich, West Germany, Jeri Lynn Zimmermann was the daughter of Sharon and Gerhard Florian "Jerry" Zimmermann, a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army (and her namesake). An Army brat, Ryan grew up on bases in Kansas, Maryland, Hawaii, Georgia and Texas. Her father retired when she was 11, and the family settled permanently in Paducah, KY, where the aspiring young actress appeared in every theatrical production she could. Named a National Merit Scholar - as well as "Most Talented" by her high school class - Ryan moved to Illinois to attend Northwestern University after high school graduation, pursuing her degree in theater. An early break came when the college student landed a miniscule role in John Hughes' holiday comedy classic, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (1987), but her role ended up on the cutting-room floor. To earn money for tuition, she participated in beauty pageants, and racked up a collection of titles, including Miss Illinois. In 1990, the brainy beauty graduated from college and placed fourth in the Miss America Pageant, winning the swimsuit competition.
While dealing blackjack at a charity event, the up-and-comer met Jack Ryan, an investment banker and future Republican politician. The two married in 1991, which also proved to be a momentous professional year for Ryan, during which she broke into showbiz with an appearance on "Who's the Boss?" (ABC, 1984-1992). The couple divided their time between Los Angeles and Chicago as they each pursued their working goals of acting for her and politics for him. Hitting a hot streak right out of the gate, Ryan - initially billed as Jeri Lynn Ryan - filmed five additional TV guest spots that year in everything from the workplace sitcom "Nurses" (NBC, 1991-94) to the superhero fantasy "The Flash" (CBS, 1990-91) to the legal/crime drama "Reasonable Doubts" (NBC, 1991-93). A prolific TV actress, Ryan continued to notch series guest spots as well as breaking into the TV movie market with "Nightmare in Columbia County" (CBS, 1991). Based on real-life events, the film followed a young woman (Ryan) dealing with the kidnapping and murder of her sister, and the killer's extended campaign of terror against the remaining family.
Ryan gave birth to a son in 1994, but her professional momentum continued to increase, with the actress earning credits on such venerable TV institutions as "Matlock" (NBC, 1986-1992; ABC, 1992-95), "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996) and "Diagnosis Murder" (CBS, 1993-2001). Revealing a talent that would prove vital to her ascension to stardom, however, Ryan showed she could spin campier roles into gold without embarrassing herself. With her trademark arched eyebrow and wry sense of humor, Ryan managed to maintain her dignity while essaying vixenish roles on the guilty pleasures "Melrose Place" (FOX, 1992-99) and the Tori Spelling campfest, "Co-ed Call Girl" (CBS, 1996). Ryan's feature film debut arrived with the black comedy "Men Cry Bullets" (1997), detailing the twisted relationship between an older woman and younger man who happens to be an aspiring drag queen. As the woman's gorgeous cousin, who is concealing her own bizarre secrets, Ryan revealed an impressive willingness to inhabit even the strangest roles with zest and depth.
Used to the nomadic lifestyle of an Army brat and working actress, Ryan entered uncharted territory when she won a series regular role on the UFO-conspiracy drama "Dark Skies" (NBC, 1996-97), a spiritual descendant of the groundbreaking "The X-Files" (FOX, 1993-2002), and Ryan's formal introduction to the sci-fi community. Although "Skies" was short-lived, the stars would continue to align for Ryan. Despite knowing nothing about the globally beloved "Star Trek" franchise at the time, the actress joined the cast of "Star Trek: Voyager" (UPN, 1995-2001) during its fourth season. Poured into a skintight silver catsuit, Ryan played Seven of Nine, a member of the terrifying Borg alien race, freed from the collective and slowly adapting to her newfound humanity. Just as Leonard Nimoy had imbued his expressionless Vulcan Mr. Spock with depth and sparkle on the original series, Ryan was able to add subtle undercurrents of likability and intelligence to the unemotional and yet über-sexy Seven. In fact, viewership rose 60 percent with the addition of Ryan, and she became one of the burgeoning Internet's most downloaded women, as well as the object of adulation and worship for millions of fans, sci-fi and otherwise. Although some complained about the objectification of Seven's character - her catsuits were so tight Ryan rarely ate or drank on filming days since a restroom break would cause an hour's delay or more -most fans and critics adored her and considered Seven's journey towards humanity the most memorable and powerful aspect of the series. And while Ryan's impressive physique and beauty could not be denied, it was the personality and depth the actress brought to Seven that made the character so indelible and endearing. For her work on the show, Ryan won a 1999 Golden Satellite Award as well as a 2001 Saturn Award and three additional nominations.
Ryan and her husband divorced in 1999 - this would have long-ranging consequences no one could have predicted - but her professional success showed no signs of slowing down. Again bringing a classy touch to a campy project, she returned to the big screen as a cutthroat TV producer who becomes one of the toothsome brides of a young Gerard Butler as "Dracula 2000" (2000). While the horror film tanked, Ryan received an unwanted real-life scare when a crazed fan began stalking her and then-boyfriend Brannon Braga, a "Voyager" producer. Authorities would later apprehend him. After "Voyager" signed off in 2001, Ryan returned to the big screen with an offbeat role in the Renée Zellweger/Ewan McGregor comedy "Down with Love" (2003). Highly stylized as both imitation and loving parody of the Rock Hudson/Doris Day sex comedies of the 1960s, the film featured Ryan as one of McGregor's paramours, a sly stewardess who becomes an empowered feminist thanks to Zellweger's anti-love manifesto, and the actress delivered her role with gusto and a winking humor.
In 2003, the actress's ex-husband, Jack Ryan, began his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois. The media lobbied to have the couples' divorce and custody records unsealed, and the pair agreed to the former but not the latter, in order to protect their son. Controversially, a Los Angeles judge released the custody records anyway, and the media had a field day with the previously confidential information, where Ryan described incidents where her then-husband had asked her to have sex with him in public and in various clubs. Jack Ryan denied the allegations and the actress refused to comment, but the public relations damage was done and he withdrew his candidacy. Jack Ryan's opponent, Barack Obama, won the Senate seat, which gave him the platform to eventually reach the presidency.
On television, Ryan resurfaced as Ronnie Cooke, a lawyer-turned-teacher on "Boston Public" (FOX, 2000-04), a role written specifically for her by show creator, David E. Kelley. Ryan relished the opportunity to play the complex role, and true to quirky Kelley form, Cooke often had to use her legal expertise to help students out of colorful situations. Offscreen, one of Ryan's great passions was gourmet cooking, and while appearing on "Boston Public," she worked weekends in the kitchen of Los Angeles restaurant The House. While at a chef's charity event, she met French chef Christophe Émé, and the two became a couple. Although she continued to act steadily, Ryan's sterling reputation allowed her to land higher-profile guest spots, and she memorably recurred on two of the networks' hottest series - the Charlie Sheen sitcom "Two and a Half Men" (CBS, 2003-15) as Jon Cryer's girlfriend, and the glossy soap phenomenon "The O.C." (FOX, 2003-07) as a con artist attempting to scam Kelly Rowan's former alcoholic. In 2005, Ryan and Émé opened a restaurant, Ortolan, and when the actress appeared on yet another David E. Kelley show, "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), he returned the favor by featuring the restaurant as the favorite of her character.
While feature film success still eluded her, Ryan continued to land television work, including the role of high-powered, ultra-capable district attorney Jessica Devlin in the buzzed-about James Woods legal drama, "Shark" (CBS, 2006-08). Although the show lacked long-term bite, Ryan continued to make strong impressions as powerful women, and she stole scenes when she recurred on the modern-day-Robin-Hood drama "Leverage" (TNT, 2008-12) as Tara Cole, a world-class con artist who joins Timothy Hutton's team of high-tech avengers. In real life, Ryan married Émé in France in 2007, and she gave birth to a daughter the following year. Back onscreen, Ryan again channeled a strong authority figure when she began a handful of appearances as an attorney on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ), as well as also appeared as a doctor on the charming "Psych" (USA Network, 2006-14). Still, Ryan never lost her quirky taste in sci-fi/fantasy-flavored projects, and as a favor to a friend, she appeared as Sonya Blade in the video short "Mortal Kombat: Rebirth" (2010), a gritty reimagining of the fantasy martial arts video game/film series that director Kevin Tancharoen hoped would lead to a full-length feature. Reflecting her hard-earned status as a top-drawer TV talent, Ryan continued to topline movies like "Secrets in the Walls" (Lifetime Movie Network, 2010), and signed on to star alongside Dana Delaney in the medical procedural drama "Body of Proof" (ABC, 2011-13). On "Proof," Ryan played Dr. Kate Murphy, the city's chief medical examiner, and Delaney's boss.
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