Jena Malone Biography

Film Actor/Film Actress, Film Actress, Actress (1984–)
Jena Malone started acting while still a child and has appeared in films including Bastard out of Carolina (1996) and Contact (1997).


Born in Nevada in 1984, Jena Malone got her breakout acting role in Bastard out of Carolina (1996) when she was only 12 years old. She went on to appear in a number of hit films including Donnie Darko (2001), Contact (1997), Into the Wild (2007) and Sucker Punch (2011).


Actress. Jena Malone was born November 21, 1984 in Sparks, Nevada. The product of a one-night stand, Malone was raised by her mother, Debbie Malone, and her godmother – her mother's lover. Although she only met her father once, as a four-year-old, Malone says she did not miss the absence of a father figure: "The thing is, I had two loving parents. Love in any shape or form is a beautiful thing. I didn't grow up missing my father."

Malone's family was deeply impoverished throughout her childhood. Her mother, an aspiring actress and singer, struggled to maintain steady employment, and the family spent large chunks of time on welfare. They moved frequently around Lake Tahoe before moving to Las Vegas ("Can you imagine a worse place to raise a kid?") living in 27 different residences (including their car) by the time Malone turned nine years old. Inspired by her mother and the show business atmosphere of Las Vegas, Malone set her heart on acting at a very young age. She recalled, "We had only lived in Vegas nine months when I asked my mom if I could go to an acting class for my birthday. It cost 25 dollars."

Rise to Fame

One day, when Malone was nine years old, she asked her mother on a whim whether they could move to Hollywood and try to make it as actresses; much to her surprise, her mother agreed. "So she quit her job and we moved to L.A," Malone remembers. Miraculously, the plan hatched from the capricious impulses of a nine-year-old worked out almost immediately. Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, Jena Malone landed a role in a USC student film project called Sunday's Child, through which she met her manager Beverly Strong. Over the next several months, she also appeared in a Michael Jackson music video and a 1996 episode of the TV show Chicago Hope. Malone delivered her breakthrough performance later that same year in a film called Bastard Out of Carolina. Playing a physically and sexually abused young girl, Malone turned in a mature and riveting performance that earned her an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance.

After appearing in the TV movie Hidden in America (1996), Malone raised her profile with an acclaimed performance as the childhood version of Jodie Foster's character in Contact (1997). The 1998 film Stepmom, costarring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon, was enormously popular and established Malone as a household name amongst movie lovers. Also around this time she appeared in For the Love of the Game and various TV movies.

Despite her growing success as an actress, Malone faced increasing troubles in her personal life. As a child actress she did not have legal rights to her earnings, some of which went to her mother while the rest were stowed away in trust funds. When Malone discovered that her mother had lost most of her money on "investments" in the nonexistent business plans of relatives and that she did not have enough left over to pay her taxes, she filed for emancipation so that she could gain access to her trust funds. Malone received her legal emancipation in early 2000, at the age of 15. "Financially I had come to a sink or swim situation," she said. "I ran into some strange tax problems, and the only way out of them was to get to my trust fund."

Transitioning from Child Stardom

Despite these financial and family issues, Malone continued to excel professionally. She appeared opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Mary McDonnell in the 2001 film Donnie Darko, which developed a large and fervently devoted cult following. In 2003, Malone again teamed with Jodie Foster in the Catholic school comedy The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, and a year later she played a leading role opposite Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin in Saved! Gradually making the transition from child star to mature actress, she appeared in small but key roles in the highly acclaimed films Cold Mountain (2003), Pride & Prejudice (2005), Into the Wild (2007) and The Soloist (2009). Most recently, in March 2011, she starred in the action-fantasy film Sucker Punch.

Malone is unmarried and does not have children.

Having successfully weathered the transition from child star to mature actress, Jena Malone is at once a seasoned veteran and an up-and-coming actress whose career appears to be only just taking off. While she has been working nonstop from the age of nine and has been a legal adult since the age of 15, Malone retains a youthful optimism and faith in humanity that shines through in all of her roles. "What motivates me in life is not being scared," she says. "We all start out wanting to know the world. We see it through unjaded eyes. I think unjaded eyes are what we should all continue to look through."

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!