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Rising Star


  • pg 1
									Risng Star: If You Haven’t Heard of Melissa
Sagemiller, You’re About to . . .

By Shana Liebman

sealed my growing suspicion that life is not fair.
     It has been almost ten years since I saw Melissa, the
blonde with the contagious laugh who was the most popular
kid at Georgetown Day through to grade 12. These days, she
is not – despite what my father promised me about the fate
of popular kids – fat, dull and yearning to return to the
glory days of high school.
     Instead age 26-year-old model/actress is living in the
Hollywood Hills, awaiting the release of two major motion
pictures in which she was starring roles. Even as she tells
of her incredible success, she is cool.
     “I heard they were casting for this movie Soul
Survivors. I read three different times, and then I got the
part.” She says this as she had gotten a really good
parking space.
     “Weren’t you excited?” I ask.
     “Well it was a confusing time because at the same time
I got offered a six0episode part on Dawson’s Creek and a
supporting role in a Morgan Creek film. Everything hit at
once. I was a little freaked out by it. I and to choose
because we didn’t know what any of these movies were going
to be like.”

Melissa did not spend many of her pre-stardom years waiting
tables or dragging herself to auditions. Her acting career
began in Washington, where she grew up with her mom, Donna
Larson (now her business manager), her sister, Amanda, and
her stepfather – whom Melissa always refers to as her
father – former Redskins running back Pete Larson.
     In sixth grade Melissa decided she wanted to act
outside school plays. “I looked up auditions in the
Washington Post Style section and auditioned for a
community-theater production of To Kill a Mockingbird and
landed the role of Dill,” she recalls. She studied at the
Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts and was a member of
Alexandria’s Joseph Anton Theatre Group.
     At 14, in a New York jewelry store, she was discovered
by modeling agency head Eileen Ford and gave up her theater
for modeling, spending much of the next three years
traveling from Washington to New York to Paris. By the time
she enrolled at the University of Virginia, she’d stopped
modeling to stuffy art history. After graduation she moved
to New York and worked for Christie’s and then MTV before
deciding to give acting another try.
     After only four months of waiting tables, taking a
course through New York University’s Tisch School of the
Arts and others at Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting, she
signed with a commercial agency and in the next year
appeared in seven TV commercials, including ones for Chevy,
Playtex, Pepsi, and Blockbuster.
     A few months later she was cast in Souls Survivors
scheduled to open in March. Melissa plays a college student
who survives a car accident in which her boyfriend, played
by Casey Affleck, dies. “The whole movie takes place from
my mind,” she explains. “It’s Jacob’s Ladder meets The
Sixth Sense. It’s a dark movie that you might have to see a
couple times to understand.”
     Soul Survivors was shot in Chicago, where, Melissa
says, “we worked our butts off for 14 to 20 hours a day –
especially me, because I’m in every shot.” A minor miracle
considering this is her first movie. Costar Wes Bentley, of
American Beauty, kindly served as her guide through the
process: “He knew what it was like to be a rookie. They all
were wonderful considering I was the new kid on the block.”

Was cast in another starring role – in Get Over It, an
over-the-top comedy being released this month. This one is
“Shakespeare in Love meets Say Anything,” says Melissa. She
plays Allison, the fantasy crush of Ben Foster (Liberty
Heights). Kirsten Dunst has a supporting role, and there
are cameos by Ed Begley Jr., Swoosie Kurtz, Vitamin C, and
Carmen Electra.
     Asked how she is coping with success, Melissa laughs.
     “In the beginning it did not seem real. It happened
really fast. Now, I’ve got time to reflect and brace
myself. The movies might not do so well. You have
notoriety, but it doesn’t guarantee you stardom.”
     She calls her new Hollywood residence – shared with
childhood friend and Georgetown Day classmate Jennifer Culp
– “a nice, quaint sort of little oasis.” Even her glamorous
accommodations on the movie sets held only practical
allure: “Because you’re getting thrown around and you’re
getting bloody and you’re crying every day, it’s sort of
like, thank God you have a suite to go home to.”
     Despite reading, auditioning, and meeting with
directors, Melissa finds some time to enjoy the scene. “I
went to one party in the hills,” she says. “Someone came up
and said she had to go home and put on her girdle because
she had just gotten lipo!” •

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