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After Cruise, what’s next for Holmes?


– If you want to get a good idea of Katie Holmes, actress – as opposed to tabloid star – you can’t do any better than “Pieces of April,” a gem from 2003 in which she plays a ponytailed and tattooed New Yorker desperately trying to prove herself to her visiting suburban family with an improvised, downtown Thanksgiving dinner.

This was back when Holmes was transitioning out of “Dawson’s Creek,” that teenage soap of a fictional New England coastal town childhood. But Holmes had already amassed an early filmography that any young actress would envy, including “The Ice Storm,” “Go” and “Wonder Boys.”

The budget for “Pieces of April” started at $6 million, but dwindled to $300,000 and was shot over just 16 days. Writer-director Peter Hedges recalls shooting in “condemnable” buildings with paint dropping off the walls of Holmes’ makeshift dressing room.

“You learn a lot about a person’s character when you work in those conditions,” says Hedges. “What I always say about Katie is she’s a good girl, she was raised right and she knows what it’s like to have flown coach.”

But for whatever reason, Holmes’ promising start was detoured. She met Tom Cruise, gave birth to a daughter, married and, at one time, spent three years off-screen. After starring in “Batman Begins” in 2005, she pulled out of “The Dark Knight.” Her work since has been sporadic and not always substantial.

Now that she’s divorcing Cruise, and their 6-year-old daughter, Suri, is school age, there are mounting expectations that Holmes could again be the actress some thought she could become. At just 33, she’s emerging from the public hysteria of her relationship with Cruise with open roads ahead and, possibly, renewed ambition.

After Holmes began dating Cruise, she took a three-year break from acting that concluded with the poorly received heist film, “Mad Money.” She followed that up with the wedding drama “The Romantics” and small roles in the comedies “The Extra Man” and Adam Sandler’s “Jack and Jill,” and the thrillers “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and “The Son of No One.”

Instead, she’s tested herself more on the stage.

Holmes co-starred in a 2008 Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” earning mainly good reviews for a straightforward part that nevertheless utilized her Toledo folksiness.

Holmes has also increasingly turned back to the medium that brought her fame: television. Along with guest appearances on the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and the legal drama “Eli Stone,” she played Jackie Kennedy in “The Kennedys,” the controversial miniseries that ended up at ReelzChannel after the History Channel opted not to broadcast it.

The actress also recently taped a guest appearance as a judge on “Project Runaway,” presumably with an aim toward promoting her developing fashion line, Holmes & Yang (with stylist Jeanne Yang).

What Holmes has on the horizon, though, appears more promising. She recently shot a modern adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” and will soon begin shooting “Molly,” which she co-wrote and produces.

The film is about a single mother and daughter, so it will surely be picked apart for signs of her personal life. But her larger involvement in the project suggests she’s taking more creative control. Holmes is also attached to later make a romantic comedy “Responsible Adults.”

“It could be a brand-new beginning for Katie Holmes,” says analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “Holmes was definitely on the rise and obviously took a left turn and got into a relationship with Tom Cruise, which kind of overshadowed her career and slowed her momentum.”

But, added Dergarabedian, “Actors often make a choice to pursue family rather than career. All she needs to do is put herself in the right projects. Whatever her next project is, there will obviously be a curiosity factor. But at the end of the day, she’s got to do good work.”