Anna Kay Faris was born on November 29, 1976, in Baltimore, Maryland, the second child of Jack, a sociology professor, and Karen Faris, a special education teacher. Both her parents, natives of Seattle, Washington, were living in Baltimore at the time of Faris' birth, as her father had accepted a professorship at Towson University. When Faris was six years old, the family relocated from Baltimore to Edmonds, Washington. Her father worked at the University of Washington as a vice president of internal communications, and later headed the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association, while her mother taught at Seaview Elementary School in Edmonds. Faris has an older brother, Robert, who is also a sociologist and professor at the University of California, Davis. In interviews, Faris has described her parents as "ultra liberal" and said that she and her brother were raised in an irreligious but "very conservative," traditional atmosphere. At age six, her parents enrolled her in a community drama class for kids as they usually encouraged her to act. She enjoyed watching plays and eventually produced her own material in her bedroom with friends who lived in her neighborhood. Faris has said in interviews she often imagined her retainer talking to her, remarking that she would picture herself "on talk shows to talk about [her] talking retainer".
In 2004, Faris debuted on the last season of the sitcom Friends in the recurring role of Erica, the mother whose twin babies are adopted by Chandler and Monica ,  and in the summer that year, she filmed a small part in Ang Lee 's drama Brokeback Mountain (2005). As her character had just "one scene in the movie", she only spent two days on set in Calgary .  For the film, Faris, along with her co-stars, received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture .