There are certain films in which a casting decision can create a character so vivid that the characterization becomes forever burned into the memory, becoming an archetypal embodiment. Heather Matarazzo's infallible portrayal of the graceless and prickly Dawn Weiner in Todd Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse (which garnered the young actress an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut) was so resonant that unfortunately the role bled over into her real life; Matarazzo claims that on more than one occasion she was taunted with that film's unsavory moniker "weinerdog." Born in 1982 and raised on the East Coast, Matarazzo took the role of Helen Keller in a local production of The Miracle Worker, and began taking roles in television with appearances in Nickelodeon's The Adventures of Pete and Pete, before her breakthrough role in Dollhouse. Appearing in numerous critically praised independent films, and often displaying an impressive range of abilities and characterizations, Matarazzo seems at her best while taking on roles of bravely defiant but awkward characters who often find themselves in adverse situations. Often shifting gears between television and film, Matarazzo appeared in such television staples as Roseanne and Townies before taking on her next major role in Getting to Know You. That same year Matarazzo took on the challenging role of a mentally handicapped teenager who is viciously attacked by a group of high school athletes in the fact-based, made-for-television Our Guys: Occurrence at Glen Ridge. Her turn as the terrified victim who dares to expose the truth behind her assault -- a truth that reveals what's "crawling under the rock of the American dream" -- gained Matarazzo even more praise. Though Matarazzo stuck to the small screen for the sci-fi series Now and Again (1999), her film roles began to become more regular and substantial, taking roles in mainstream films and playing the keeper of a key piece of evidence in the final episode of the Scream trilogy. In 2000 Matarazzo began shooting another of Dollhouse director Solondz's nightmare journeys into adolescence, this time set in college.