Blair was born Selma Blair Beitner in Southfield, in the Metropolitan area of Detroit, Michigan, the youngest child of Judge Molly Ann (nee Cooke) and Elliot I. Beitner.
Blair had a Jewish upbringing – her Hebrew name is Bat-Sheva. Her father was an attorney, active in the U.S. Democratic Party and labor arbitrator until his death in 2012 at the age of 82. Her parents divorced when Blair was 23; she subsequently legally changed her surname. She has three older sisters – Katherine, Elizabeth and Marie Beitner.
Blair attended Hillel Day School, a Jewish day school in Farmington Hills; and Cranbrook Kingswood in Bloomfield Hills soon after, she spent her freshman year (1990–91) in Kalamazoo College, where she studied photography and acted the play The Little Theater of the Green Goose. At that time, she wanted to be a ballerina and a horse trainer.
Later, at the age of 20, Blair moved to New York City, where she lived at The Salvation Army in poor living conditions. She attended NYU as well as acting classes at the Stella Adler Conservatory, the Column Theatre and the Stonestreet Screen Acting Workshop; later, she returned to Michigan to finish her studies. After transferring from New York University, she graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1994 with a BFA degree in Photography, BA in Psychology, and a Double major in Fine Arts and English. After graduating from Michigan, Blair returned to New York City to pursue a career in the arts.
In 1990, during her time at Cranbrook Kingswood, Blair was involved in a production of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. According to Blair, it was a failure, but her English teacher told her not to give up; that was the first time she thought she could be an actress. In 1993, she began training at acting schools in New York. She was discovered by an agent in acting class; subsequently, Blair signed with her. After 75 auditions, she got her first advertising contract for a television spot ad for a theater in Virginia, for which, she received her Screen Actor's Guild membership.
Blair began auditioning in the mid-1990's. Her first audition was for a cereal commercial. She won her first professional role in 1995, in an episode of the children's television sitcom The Adventures of Pete & Pete. She portrayed the love interest of the main character Big Pete. In 1996, she landed her first feature film role in The Broccoli Theory, an "unromantic comedy" set in NYC. In 1997, she made her first appearance on a mainstream feature film, the Kevin Kline comedy In & Out. Blair auditioned six times for the role and remained several weeks on the set, but most of her scenes were cut from the final screened edition. She won her first lead role in a feature film on the teen drama Strong Island boys, based on true events about a Long Island 80's street gang. Alec Baldwin gave her a favorable review – he called her "a cross between Debra Winger and Marlene Dietrich".
Later, she was selected to take the lead in the fantasy film Amazon High alongside Karl Urban. Blair starred as a present-day orphaned high school student who accidentally travels back in time to the mythical days of the Amazons. Amazon High, which also was proposed as a third show set in the Hercules and Xena mythological genre, never has been aired. Later, portions of the pilot were adapted and edited into the Xena: Warrior Princess episode "Lifeblood" in 2000. In the same year, Blair was cast as Joey Potter on Dawson's Creek but was later replaced by Katie Holmes. Soon afterward, she auditioned for the title role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Sarah Michelle Gellar was chosen instead. Blair starred opposite Suzanne Somers in the family drama No Laughing Matter as a pregnant teenager. She subsequently appeared in several independent short films and movies including Debutante opposite Josh Hartnett, a short film shot in New York. The drama won multiple awards after its premiere in September 1998.
In 1998, Blair starred the teen drama Girl alongside Dominique Swain, as well as the suspense thriller Brown's Requiem, based on the crime novel of the same name. In the same year, Blair appeared in My Friend Steve's 1998 music video for the song "Charmed" (which later appeared as the opening theme for the first season of Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane). She also appeared in the music video for the single "Every You Every Me" by the British alternative rock band Placebo; the track was featured on the Cruel Intentions soundtrack.
After several auditions, independent film roles, and guest roles in various television series, Blair achieved her breakthrough role opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe in the 1999 film Cruel Intentions, loosely based on the 18th century novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The film initially started as an indie project, but when the film was released, it became a commercial and mainstream success. The movie debuted at number two at the US box office. Blair played the role of an innocent student manipulated by two of her classmates. For her performance she was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for "Best Breakthrough Performance" and won for "Best Kiss" shared with Gellar. Blair went on to star as Zoe Bean on Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane, alongside Azura Skye and Michael Rosenbaum. The first season follows the lives of four high school classmates from Manhattan. When she began filming the sitcom, Blair passed out on the set in front of the live studio audience due to stress. The second season was just renamed Zoe..., which follows the title character a few years later as a psychology student; the show was not renewed for a third season. She was nominated for the Teen Choice Awards for "TV – Breakout Performance" category for her role in Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane.
In 2000, Blair won a Movieline's Young Hollywood Award in the "Exciting New Face – Female Category". That same year, she portrayed a seductive college student in the teen comedy Down to You alongside Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Julia Stiles. The film ranked #2 at the box office in North America. Her film career continued with the independent drama Kill Me Later opposite Max Beesley. She starred as a suicidal bank teller taken hostage during a bank robbery, who tries to persuade her captors to kill her. The film had a limited release in September 2001 in New York and Los Angeles.
In the second half of 2001, Blair co-starred in the comedy Legally Blonde opposite Reese Witherspoon. The movie was a commercial success, topping the US box-office in its opening weekend. Blair played a preppy, snobby law student. She next appeared in the controversial drama Storytelling alongside Leo Fitzpatrick. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 2001. Blair portrayed a college student who has an affair with her professor. The film had a worldwide limited release, reaching the top 20 in Europe and the top 40 in North America.
In early 2002, Blair appeared in Pirelli Calendar alongside Rachael Leigh Cook. Later, in March 2002, she co-starred in the crime drama Highway, featuring Jared Leto and Jake Gyllenhaal. The indie film, which is about a road trip to the 1994 Kurt Cobain vigil, was filmed in locations of Seattle and is set in the mid-'90's grunge music scene. The movie went straight to DVD in the U.S. Soon after, Blair co-starred in the comedy The Sweetest Thing alongside Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate, for which she was nominated again for a Teen Choice Award, this time for "Best Actress in a Comedy". The movie debuted in the top 3 on the North American box office and achieved commercial success in Europe. However, the film was widely panned by critics.
Blair appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in April 2002 and appeared in a television commercial for The Sims Online video game. Later, she had a guest role in the episode "The One with Christmas in Tulsa" on the hit TV series Friends. In early 2003, Blair co-starred with Jason Lee in the romantic comedy A Guy Thing. The movie debuted in the top 10 at the U.S., Germany and the U.K. box offices. She then had supporting roles in the action film Dallas 362 and the comedy-drama In Good Company. Soon after, she appeared alongside former NBA star John Salley in the television movie Coast to Coast with Judy Davis.
In 2004, Blair starred in the role of Liz Sherman, a depressed pyrotechnic superhero, in Guillermo Del Toro's blockbuster fantasy film Hellboy co-starring Ron Perlman. The movie, based on Mike Mignola's popular comic book series, was a commercial success, topping the box office in the U.S. and Canada. Later, she took the titular role on ABC's unaired drama pilot DeMarco Affairs in a story about three sisters who run a wedding planning business located on Long Island. In the fall of 2004, Blair played the role of an exhibitionist dancer in John Waters’ satirical sex comedy A Dirty Shame alongside Tracey Ullman. Later, she took part on the social project The 1 Second Film as a producer. Selma Blair was included on the FHM list of "The 100 Sexiest Women of 2004".
In 2005, she attended The 20th IFP Independent Spirit Awards as a presenter. Soon after, she starred as a young Harvard-trained economist involved in an international oil scandal in the political thriller The Deal alongside Christian Slater and Angie Harmon. The film had a limited release in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. She then appeared in a supporting role in the black comedy Pretty Persuasion with Evan Rachel Wood. In November 2005, she starred opposite Tom Welling and Maggie Grace in John Carpenter's ghost movie The Fog, in which Blair did her own stunts; among other acts, she spent 12 hours in a water tank over two days to shoot her underwater scenes. The movie debuted at number one in its opening weekend in the United States and Canada. She also stars alongside Elias Koteas in the fantasy short film The Big Empty, based on the story The Specialist and produced by George Clooney. The film is about a young woman who suffers a psychosomatic medical condition.
Blair's next starring role was in the dysfunctional family drama The Night of the White Pants alongside Nick Stahl in 2006, which received a limited theatrical release in NYC. She also appeared in a small role in the comedy-drama The Alibi. In 2007, Blair took the lead role in Edward Burns' Purple Violets, a romantic comedy, alongside Burns, Patrick Wilson and Debra Messing. It was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was the first feature film to debut exclusively on the iTunes Store. In the film, Blair played a frustrated and lonely writer who falls in love with her childhood sweetheart. In January of that year, Blair was reported to be starring in the Ethan Coen road-trip comedy Drive-Away Dykes, but the project was suspended due scheduling conflicts with Hellboy II in Budapest. She also co-starred in Robert Benton's Feast of Love opposite Greg Kinnear and Morgan Freeman. Blair plays a woman who begins a lesbian relationship due to her marital frustrations. The film received mixed critical reviews after its US theatrical release. She then appeared in the British crime thriller WΔZ opposite Stellan Skarsgard, Melissa George and Tom Hardy. Blair starred as a lab assistant who is sexually assaulted by a criminal gang, and becomes a serial killer after watching her mother's death. The film had its premiere in Germany, and was well received by critics.
Blair was included in the list of People Magazine's "World's Most Beautiful People 2007". In 2008, she again starred as Liz Sherman in Hellboy II: The Golden Army. In this sequel, her character has a larger role in the storyline than its predecessor. She was nominated for the Scream Awards for Best Actress in a Fantasy Movie or TV Show. The film became a worldwide commercial success, ranking first at the box office in North America, United Kingdom, Germany and Italy among other countries.
In 2009, Blair starred as a drug-addicted and alcoholic mother in Lori Petty's family drama The Poker House opposite Jennifer Lawrence (in her breakthrough role) and Chloe Grace Moretz, who starred as her daughters. The film is set in 1976 and it was based on Petty's real story, in which she and her two little sisters were abused by their mother and a violent pimp. It initially had a limited release in U.S. theaters only, but was later re-released in 2015 in the U.K. as Behind Closed Doors. The film received generally favorable reviews from critics. According to the film review by The Hollywood Reporter in 2008, Blair's performance in The Poker House became one of the best of her film career. Blair also worked with Antonio Banderas and Meg Ryan in the adventure comedy My Mom's New Boyfriend, where she played a young FBI agent. The movie was screened only in Iberoamerican cinemas and went straight to DVD in the U.S. Blair was included in Glamour's list of the 50 Most Glamorous Women of 2008. Soon after, Blair accepted the titular role on the NBC sitcom Kath & Kim, opposite Molly Shannon. The sitcom was based on the Australian television series of the same name about a mother and daughter who are obsessed with celebrity culture. Blair had to gain weight and use hair extensions to play her role as Kim, a self-absorbed suburban young princess who is forced to reassess her relationship with her mother. The TV series was canceled after one season. Blair also appeared with Rainn Wilson singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" for the 2008 Gap winter ad campaign.
In 2009, Blair returned to the stage and took the lead role of Kayleen in Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries opposite stage actor Brad Fleischer. The drama made its world premiere at Houston's Alley Theatre on October 16, 2009. It premiered to positive reviews in Texas.
In 2010, Blair lent her voice to narrate The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, originally written by Holocaust victim Anne Frank. The audiobook received generally positive reviews from critics and readers. Her performance received a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children nomination.
In 2011, Blair appeared in a supporting role as a lesbian teacher in the black comedy The Family Tree with Madeline Zima. Later that year, Blair had the lead in the psychological thriller Columbus Circle, featuring Amy Smart and Giovanni Ribisi; she portrayed an agoraphobic heiress who has to face her fears after she killed a man in her apartment.
Blair also starred in the music video for Danko Jones' "Full of Regret"; the video also featured Elijah Wood and Lemmy Kilmister. She later had a guest role in three episodes of the online series Web Therapy starring Lisa Kudrow. In the same year, Blair appeared as a guest judge in Heidi Klum's fashion reality show Project Runway. Soon after, Blair starred the trailer shot for Jamie Foxx's drama project Tommy's Little Girl, in which she played a traumatized orphan who grows up to become an attorney by day and a killer by night. However, the pilot was never picked up to series.
In 2011, Blair appeared as guest star in the Portlandia episode "Blunderbuss". Later, she was reported to be starring in the cross-cultural comedy-drama Different Kind Of Love with Richard Dreyfuss, but the film was suspended. Then, she starred in Animal Love, a short college film about life in the post global warming world, which premiered at the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival. She also stars in the comedic short film The Break-In, directed by Jaime King and attended the 2011 Hollywood Style Awards on November 13, 2011 as a presenter.
In 2011, Blair also starred in the comedy-drama Dark Horse with Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow, where she reprised her role as Vi from Storytelling. Dark Horse received positive response from critics.
Press reports revealed that Blair would have been cast as Lois Lane in McG's project film Superman: Flyby.
In 2012, Blair starred in the short film Slideshow of Wieners: A Love Story, a satirical love story about the Internet.
Shortly after, Blair returned to the small screen as the female lead with the premiere of FX's Anger Management co-starring Charlie Sheen. The sitcom is loosely based on the 2003 Jack Nicholson's film of the same name. Blair starred in 53 episodes as Dr. Kate Wales, Sheen's neurotic therapist and love interest. The series premiere was met with mixed critical reviews. Anger Management broke ratings records with 5.74 million viewers in its series debut and ranks as the most-watched sitcom premiere in cable history. Blair left the show during the shooting of season 2 due to disagreements with Sheen. According to NY Daily News and Daily Mail, she privately told a friend of her frustrations about her co-star, commenting, "Charlie was a menace to work with – he's late all the time and has a shoddy work ethic. Blair's departure was officially in June 2013.
In the summer of 2012, Blair narrated Xfinity TV commercials, including the London 2012 olympics ads. Later, Blair reprised her role as a woman who pretends she is pregnant in two episodes of the reformatted TV version of Web Therapy.
Blair starred opposite Rachel Miner and James D'Arcy in the thriller In Their Skin, about a woman and her family who suffer a brutal home invasion by their psychopathic neighbors after the death of their daughter. The drama received a mixed critical response after its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film had a limited theatrical release in the United States and Canada.
In 2013, Blair was the voice of Destiny in the IFC's animated series Out There. She also had a guest role on the season two of the TV series Comedy Bang! Bang!.
Blair will take the lead in the role of Andrea in the upcoming thriller Polar Seasons, which was written and will be directed by Jaime King.
Blair will star in the upcoming drama Sex, Death And Bowling alongside Adrian Grenier and Bailey Chase. The film is about the marriage of an American soldier who fought in the American intervention in Iraq and who suffers from terminal pancreatic cancer. The film began shooting in October 2013. The movie was directed and produced by Ally Walker.
In August 2014, Blair starred her first small screen role since she left Anger Management in mid-2013. She was cast as Joanna, in the Amazon's comedy pilot Really alongside Sarah Chalke. The comedy, about the complicated life of a group of friends in their thirties, is, as of May 2015, available only in the U.S. and the U.K.
According to Variety magazine, Blair will star in the musical comedy-drama Geezer, alongside Green Day punk rock frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. The film is set to be released in 2015.
In 2015, according to Entertainment Weekly, Blair will star as Kris Jenner in the upcoming FX series American Crime Story: The People vs. O. J. Simpson alongside Cuba Gooding Jr., John Travolta, and David Schwimmer. The series began shooting in Los Angeles in May 2015. The project will recreate the 1995 publicized O. J. Simpson murder case.
In 1990, Blair's childhood sweetheart died in an accident at the age of 18; later, talking about her tragic loss, she commented: "It made me realize I have to live... Having the boy I loved not anymore on this planet, I'd better live, I'd better do something".
On January 24, 2004, after six months of dating, Blair married writer and producer Ahmet Zappa (son of musician Frank Zappa) at Carrie Fisher's mansion in Beverly Hills, California. She filed for divorce from Zappa at the Los Angeles Superior Court on June 21, 2006, citing "irreconcilable differences". In a statement to People magazine, a spokesperson for the couple said, "Selma and Ahmet have decided to divorce but love each other very much and will continue to be close friends”. The divorce became final in December 2006.
Blair dated her Kath and Kim co-star Mikey Day from 2008 to 2010.
In 2010, Blair began dating fashion designer Jason Bleick. In January 2011, Blair's representative announced that she was pregnant with her first child. Their son, Arthur Saint Bleick, was born on July 25, 2011. In September 2012, Blair and Bleick announced that they had separated after two years.
On May 27, 2012, Blair attended the National Memorial Day Concert as a special guest, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. She presented the story of Brigette Cain, a war widow, who lost her husband (Pfc. Norman L. Cain III), in Afghanistan.
Later, in October of the same year, Blair starred in the political satire sketch The Woman for Romney, about the campaign proposals of the former Republican Party's nominee for the 2012 United States presidential election, Mitt Romney. She also supported Marianne Williamson for the 2014 congressional elections.
During the early 2000s, Blair appeared two times on the cover of the Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue; as one of the "Hollywood's Next Wave of Stars".
Blair is known to follow new style and fashion trends in addition to her radical hairstyle changes, lending her image to the Marc Jacobs-Brian Bowen Smith clothing line. Blair has also worked with others fashion-designers including Karen Zambos, Martin Margiela, Isaac Mizrahi, Reinaldo Herrera and Stella McCartney. She also is a frequent guest star at New York Fashion Week, among other fashion events.
On October 30, 2005, Blair appeared in The New York Times Magazine award-winning photography gallery, "The Selma Blair Witch Project: Fall’s Dark Silhouettes Have a Way of Creeping Up on You" by the art photographer Roger Ballen, which was in exhibition at the Palau Robert in Barcelona in 2012.
In 2010, Blair posed with Demi Moore and Amanda De Cadenet for a spread in Harper's Bazaar magazine. In 2012, Blair became the spokesperson for, and first actress to appear on, the Get Real For Kids campaign. In the spring of that year, she released a line of handbags and wallets called SB, which she designed. Blair has appeared on the covers and photo sessions of several magazines. In 1999, she appeared in Seventeen, and in subsequent years the list has grown to include Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, Vogue, Glamour, Rolling Stone, The Lab Magazine, Interview, Dazed & Confused, The Hunger Magazine and Elle among others. Blair has been the face of several fashion houses including Chanel, Miu Miu and Gap.
Blair enjoys child and animal care; moreover, she has practiced horseback riding since age 17. Wink, her dog since her beginnings in the acting industry, died in February 2011. She also collects black and white photographs and practices ice skating.
Blair's charity work and causes include Marc Jacobs' Skin Cancer Awareness Campaign, H&M's Fashion Against AIDS 2011 Campaign, Children's Action Network, AmFAR AIDS Research 2011, Lange Foundation (dedicated to saving homeless and abandoned animals), Bulgari-Save the Children 2012 Ad Campaign, No Kid Hungry, Staying Alive Foundation and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. On October 2, 2015, Blair was awarded "The Universal Smile Award" during THE SMILE GALA LA 2015 in favour of little kids with cleft lip and palate.