Shawnee Smith was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and at the age of eight moved to Van Nuys, California where she landed her first paying gig in a McDonald's commercial. A member of the Screen Actors Guild at age nine, she made many more commercials before transitioning to the big screen as one of the dancing orphans in John Huston's film version of the Broadway smash Annie. An appearance at age 15 on stage in a play starring Richard Dreyfuss stoked her love for the stage, where she eventually won the Drama-Logue Critics Award for her performance in the original stage production of To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, the youngest actor up to that time to receive such an honor.

Smith has appeared in such television shows as Cagney and Lacey, All is Forgiven, Murder, She Wrote, The X-Files and 129 episodes as a regular cast member of the hit series Becker starring Ted Danson.  She can be seen starring opposite Charlie Sheen in the FX series Anger Management.  Her feature film work, which began with Annie, includes Iron Eagle, Summer School, The Blob (with Entourage's Kevin Dillon), Who's Harry Crumb? starring John Candy, Desperate Hours directed by Michael Cimino, The Stand, Leaving Las Vegas, Armageddon, A Slipping-Down Life, Breakfast of Champions, The Island and the first four of the groundbreaking Saw horror series. She can soon be seen in the Billy Bob Thornton directed Jayne Mansfield's Car.