News Column

Duluth native hits the big screen in Jayne Mansfield biopic

August 1, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 01--When Duluth native Hailey Heisick showed up for a costume fitting for her upcoming movie "Diamonds to Dust," something strange happened. The vintage dresses fit perfectly and needed no alterations.

"They just zipped right up like they were my own," Heisick said.

The dresses were owned by 1950s actress Jayne Mansfield, the subject of the biopic in which Heisick stars. "Diamonds to Dust" producer Frank Ferruccio has spent most of his adult life building a Mansfield collection, which was a main source of film props. He chose Heisick for the lead part after auditioning more than 600 actresses. Her figure mirrors bombshell Mansfield's and Ferruccio said she had the acting chops he wanted.

"She really did become Jayne," he said.

Heisick got her start acting on the Denfeld High School stage. Her first starring role was in the show "Bus Stop" in 2004. Her career came full circle in "Diamonds to Dust" when she re-created a scene from "Bus Stop" in which Mansfield also acted.

"It's kind of a fun coincidence," Heisick said.

Duluth actress and singer Carolyn LePine directed Heisick in that first play. Heisick had been dancing and singing most of her life, but "Bus Stop" was her first acting gig. Despite that, LePine cast her in the lead.

"Sometimes you meet people and you can tell they have ability beyond their high school years, and I think she was one of those people," LePine said. "I wasn't surprised when she decided to make acting her career."

Heisick's parents are professional musicians, so art was a big part of her childhood.

"I always had this element of performance and arts going on in my house," she said.

She appeared in theater productions throughout her high school years, including "Oklahoma" and "Peter Pan," but she didn't plan on acting professionally after graduating.

"I was poised to go to the Naval Academy," she said. "That was my dream, to be a naval officer, and six weeks before I was supposed to ship out for the summer training, I changed my mind. I sent in my withdrawal card and said, 'I think I want to be an actress instead.'"

So in fall 2005, instead of heading to the East Coast military academy, she headed west to Los Angeles. She studied theater at the University of La Verne and then set off for London, where she got her Master of Fine Arts. She made her professional theater debut on a London stage in her final year of graduate school. She moved to New York shortly after, appearing in three Broadway shows before turning her attention to film and television.

She's appeared on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and "Black Dog, Red Dog," a film directed by James Franco starring big names like Olivia Wilde and Chloe Sevigny. Living in New York and working in film, Heisick said she no longer gets star-struck.

"I'm really good at playing it cool," she said, though she admits meeting Britney Spears or Angelina Jolie would "completely destroy" her.

Starring in "Diamonds to Dust," Heisick said she felt like she'd finally made it.

"It's pretty awesome," she said. "I'm the star of that film. I had my own trailer. I wasn't doing my own hair and makeup in the bathroom. I had a team of stylists."

Ferruccio said it didn't seem like Heisick's first starring role.

"She's a true professional and she's extremely accommodating to everyone, whether they are playing a one-line role or a huge scene with her," he said. "She really was amazing."

Ferruccio, who has written two books on Mansfield, said he wanted to make the movie to honor her -- and clear up some falsehoods perpetuated by "The Jayne Mansfield Story," a 1980 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Loni Anderson.

"I really want people to remember Jayne," he said.

According to Ferruccio, "Diamonds to Dust" focuses on Mansfield's private life, digging into the woman behind the blond bombshell persona. Mansfield had an IQ of 160, spoke five languages and was classically trained in violin and piano. For many years, she was a single mother and sole provider for her five kids.

"The whole dumb blonde image was just ... a fa ade," Heisick said. "She was really a trailblazer. She changed the face of entertainment."

In addition to 34 of Mansfield's dresses, Heisick drove her 1959 Cadillac, wore a number of her wigs and sat at her desk during filming.

"What an amazing opportunity for an actor to be able to play an historic figure in their own clothes," Heisick said. "I feel that Jayne's presence was very strong on some days."

The props helped Heisick get into character and Ferruccio said they add authenticity to the movie.

"It brings a degree of realism that most bio pictures don't have," he said.

The movie is in post-production now and Heisick said they hope to debut it at a film festival early next year. Heisick said they will have a premiere in Duluth and run the movie for at least a week in local theaters, probably next summer.

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(c)2013 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)

Visit the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.) at www.duluthnewstribune.com

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