Yep, 'True Blood' Star Jurnee Smollett-Bell Is Jess Merriweather From 'Friday Night Lights'

One of the biggest criticisms levied against HBO's True Blood in its later seasons has been its compulsive need to expand its cast by introducing a dozen new characters every year. A natural consequence to this is that viewers fell into a trend of automatically despising any new face that appeared on the show, whether it be Andy's fairy daughter or Jason's vampire lover. But that knee-jerk reaction isn't always fair: take Jurnee Smollett-Bell as an example. Sure, her character — Nicole, Sam's pregnant human girlfriend — may be nobody's favorite, but it turns out the actress herself is quite talented. And you've probably seen her before, whether you remember her or not.

Born in New York City in 1986, Smollett-Bell was the daughter of a cable splicer and the fourth of six siblings — she has one sister, Jazz, and four brothers: Jussie, JoJo, Jake, and Jocqui. When she's not acting, Smollett-Bell is busy as an HIV/AIDS activist, a cause that's been near and dear to her heart since a crew member on a TV show she was working on died when she was seven years old. She's on the board of directors for two different organizations; Artists for a New South Africa and the Children's Defense Fund.

So where have you seen this beautiful actress before? It might have been in one of the following:

Full House

At the age of, Smollett-Bell was introduced in the sixth season of ABC's show as Michelle Tanner's new best friend Denise. When Michelle's old best friend Teddy moves back from Texas, he and Denise demand that Michelle choose which of them is her "best" friend, but she convinces them she can have more than one. Smollett-Bell was written off the show in Season 7 due to her new role on...

On Our Own

ABC must have loved Smollett-Bell's work on Full House, because they created a sitcom specifically for her family. All six Smollett's starred together on this show about the seven Jerrico siblings, who are trying not to be split up by the authorities after their parents die in a tragic automobile accident. (Light-hearted stuff.) The only Jerrico who wasn't played by a Smollett was oldest brother and protagonist Josh, who was portrayed by comedian Ralph Louis Harris. The show lasted for one 20-episode season.

Eve's Bayou

Smollett-Bell won her greatest critical acclaim playing the title role in this 1997 drama. She co-starred with Samuel L. Jackson as the daughter of a well-respected doctor growing up in Louisiana. When Eve witness her father having an affair, her life descends into confusion, violence, and voodoo. Smollett-Bell won awards from the likes of the Broadcast Film Critics and the Chicago Film Critics for her portrayal of headstrong Eve.

The Great Debaters

After a decade of guest starring on TV shows like NYPD Blue, Cosby, and ER, Smollett-Bell landed a role in the Oprah Winfrey-produced, Denzel Washington-starring historical film The Great Debaters. She portrayed Samantha Booke, a character based on the very real Henrietta Bell Wells, the only female member of Wiley College's 1930 debate team, which participated in the country's first-ever collegiate interracial debate.

Grey's Anatomy

Smollett-Bell continued her relationship with ABC by appearing on the Season 4 two-part finale of the network's popular medical soap. She played Beth, a young girl with a brain tumor who was in love with Jeremy, another patient she'd met at a support group. Both of them are enrolled in Derek's trial, but after the doctors allow them to consummate their relationship for the first time, Jeremy dies. Derek manages to save Beth, the first successful outcome of his trial. Interestingly, Jeremy was played by True Blood's Marshall Allman, who portrayed the shifter's younger brother Tommy Mickens, but he and Smollett-Bell never appeared onscreen together.

Friday Night Lights

The next year, Smollett-Bell joined NBC's critically-acclaimed series Friday Night Lights as a series regular in its final two seasons. She played Jess Merriweather, a student whose father was a state-championship-winning quarterback for the school. She initially resents the team, but eventually decides she wants to become a coach, shadowing Coach Taylor throughout Season 5. When the series ended, after relationships with both Landry (Jesse Plemons) and Vince (Michael B. Jordan), she was headed to Dallas to continue pursuing her dream of becoming a coach.

Parenthood

After a stint in the main cast of the one-season CBS legal dramedy The Defenders, Smollett-Bell returned to the world of Jason Katims (FNL's headwriter) to appear in a recurring role on his next show. In Season 5 of Parenthood, she played Heather Hall, the manager of Kristina's campaign for Mayor of Berkeley. Though Kristina's campaign is ultimately unsuccessful, the feisty Heather helps the mother-of-three, who had just finished a battle with cancer, believe in herself again.

True Blood

In the Season 7 premiere of HBO's vampire hit, Smollett-Bell's Nicole (the founder of the Vampire Unity Society) was kidnapped by Hep-V vamps, who chained her up with Arlene, Holly, and others in the basement of Fangtasia. Will Sam find them in time to rescue his girlfriend and her unborn baby?

Images: HBO; ABC (3); The Weinstein Company; NBC (2)