Film & TV

Dree Hemingway on Playing a Pornstar in ‘Starlet’ & Her Mysterious Heritage

Film & TV

Dree Hemingway on Playing a Pornstar in ‘Starlet’ & Her Mysterious Heritage


Dree Hemingway’s 25 years on earth have been a stream of bold-faced happenings. The young acting ingénue and great-granddaughter of literary icon Ernest Hemingway is stubbornly determined to blaze a path of her own, independent of her family name. After years spent marching down the runways of Givenchy, Karl Lagerfeld, and Isabel Marant, Hemingway has taken her malleable skill-set to the silver screen. In Starlet, the actress plays a rare bird: Jane, a proud porn star. “I liked the fact that, instead of most movies, which focus on the adult film world as such a tragedy, here it’s not. Jane is genuinely happy to be involved,” says Hemingway. With a body double, the “amazing” XXX star Zoe Voss, tackling the film’s graphic scenes, Hemingway was able to focus her attention on the steely but naive character. In the process, she’s achieved a purity that appears to be genetically linked to that of her mother, and original acting inspiration, Mariel Hemingway—the innocent, Oscar-nominated gamine from Woody Allen’s iconic Manhattan. Next up, she’ll appear alongside Sienna Miller in the French film Nous York.

How did you get involved with Starlet?
My manager had seen that they were casting for Sadie. He called and asked if they had cast Jane yet, and they said no. Next thing I knew I read the script. I fell in love with it, and I was on a Skype meeting with Sean [Baker] the director for about two hours and left that having the role.

Your interaction with your co-lead Besedka Johnson was hilarious. Did you two have a rapport from the get go?
I loved her from the minute I met her. She’s so wise and she’s such a sweetheart. It made the long grueling heat and the hours a lot easier being with her.

Did she mind you cursing at her as often as you do in the movie?
No. She’s hilarious.

Were you apprehensive at all about playing a porn star?
I was in the beginning. You know what, no. I think that one scene obviously made me a bit apprehensive. When I had that one Skype meeting with Sean, it was all about what I was comfortable with and I told him that I didn’t want to do nudity. So we brought in this amazing girl named Zoe Voss to be my body double. I think that, because I didn’t have that pressure of it being me, it let me kind of focus on my character Jane for the making of the film.

How’d you prepare for the role?
A lot of it was as we went along. I think the main thing was getting her look down the way it should be. It was a growing process. I met a couple porn stars. I attempted to watch porn, which didn’t work out so well. I just feel like I’m in trouble. I just can’t. [Laughs] It freaks me out.

What was it about Jane that drew you to the character?
I liked her naiveté. I liked the fact that instead of most of the movies you see that focus on the adult film world as a serious tragedy. For Jane, it’s not tragedy, she’s genuinely happy to be involved and have something that she can look forward to. She kind of reminded me of a lot off girls I grew up with in high school and middle school. I went to school in California for high school. It wasn’t really the Valley, but semi-Valley. It’s very like pearl Escalade with a dog hanging out of the car and lots of Juicy Couture velour outfits and UGG boots, which at the time was quite trendy, oddly. I think we all sadly fell into that a little bit. I would not want to admit to the fact I owned a Juicy Couture tracksuit. It happened.

I think it was nice to be able to channel those girls, I was in no way the popular girl, so I used to observe these girls I used to find them fascinating and almost wanted to be them, in a way. I think that we spend a lot of our time growing up observing people, trying to find ourselves and bring to find characteristics we like or don’t like.

You have quite an enviable career as a model. Is that on the backburner now that you’re acting?
No. I don’t want to give it up! I think it’s quite a cliché to be a model transitioning into acting. I think I can do both. I think a lot of actresses are models and a lot of models are actresses because we create a character in our head for even photo shoot and vice versa. I mean, I got into modeling because I was obsessed with people’s style and the way they held themselves and the certain things they wore, and because it is so closely related to acting. I wouldn’t be acting unless I had modeled as well, because I met my manager through Bruce Weber. I think it’s been undercover training for me in a way.

Do you think modeling has given you skills usable in film?
I think I’m very aware of myself in a way that’s not about beauty. My whole thing with modeling is connecting with the camera or the person who’s shooting with you, which is ultimately your director. It’s about listening and being present and aware of what’s going on. I think that also, it’s helped because it teaches you to follow direction.

Obviously, your mom is also an actress. Do you ever go to her for acting advice, or does she, like every other mom, give it to you anyway?
I more use her as an inspiration from her work and the amazing things she’s done. I know when I’ve auditioned, I’ve gone to her to read lines with me and to kind of help out, but it’s a really weird situation, because me being the daughter, it’s a real mother-daughter relationship: I’m stubborn and want to do it my way. But my mother is my number one inspiration.

Did you ever consider a career outside of the creative sphere?
I’ve never been one who really loved to sit in school, so I wouldn’t trust myself being a doctor. I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to be in some kind of the entertainment industry. It’s funny, a really long time ago, I interned for LA Confidential magazine, before I started modeling or doing anything. I remember I really liked it because I like doing things and getting things done, but I was always a little bit faster than everybody. And they ended up just giving me the layouts to do for front of the book.

If you could have any role in a movie past or present. What would it be?
Claire Danes’ part in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. I would have loved to be in To Catch a Thief, Grace Kelly’s Role, Pride and Prejudice, Kiera Knightley’s role, even Breakfast Club, all those kind of Brat Pack movies.

Molly Ringwald or Jennifer Jason Leigh?
I’d be Jennifer, for sure.

Has life ever felt surreal to you, being a Hemingway?
No. I think it’s embarrassing how little I know about my heritage. The funny thing is it’s impressive, and I think I take it for granted a little bit, for the fact that it is what I grew up with. My parents really did seclude me from all the hype. At the same time, I’ve always been really stubborn and felt that I need to be my own person. I’m so honored by it. There are things that are so unreal and amazing and I’m so proud, but there are still things that I just don’t know that much about. There are a lot of people who are such huge Ernest Hemingway fans that know ten times more than I do, and it’s kind of embarrassing because I get asked all these questions as if I can divulge new information so that they can go, “I met a Hemingway and I learned this.” And embarrassingly, they can probably teach me more than I actually know.

So what’s up next?
I really want to do another amazing movie, something completely different. I’m still doing shoots. I have another film Nous York. It’s a French film. It’s coming out in late November in New York. I’m starting to read scripts and I’m really excited, but I’m also really picky. I don’t want to settle on something just because. My boyfriend’s taking me away to Tuolumne for my birthday. That’s kind of the number one thing that’s on my mind right now. It’s like sunshine! I just need it. I feel like a ghost.

Starlet is now in theatres. For more on the movie, check out our interview with Starlet’s director Sean Baker here.