By Dale McGarrigle
FOR THE MIDCOAST BEACON
WALDO — It takes a strong person to make the jump from a small town of 1,100 in Maine to Los Angeles with its 4 million inhabitants.
Actress Heather Hemmens, who stars in the new CW drama “Hellcats,” credits her upbringing. The daughter of Jim and Ravelita Hemmens of Waldo, Hemmens, 22, and her two older brothers and older sister grew up in a house with electricity from a generator, wood heat and no running water.
“It was an extreme environment, and it brings out the real characteristics of a person,” she said in a phone interview from the “Hellcats” set in Vancouver. “It also made me long for the exact opposite lifestyle, which is Hollywood.”
Hemmens started acting at a young age in community theater around Belfast. After she graduated in 2006 from Walnut Hill School for the Arts near Boston, she assessed what to do next.
“Since there was very little film opportunities in Maine, I moved west to Los Angeles to pursue it, with no backup plan,” she said. “Now I’m finally getting some work.”
She definitely experienced some culture shock during her move, Hemmens admitted.
“It was a big change,” she said. “Being young and in a big city, there was a lot of things I had to wade through. But having the foundation of growing up the way I did continues to give me strength.”
Hemmens earned guest spots on “CSI: Miami” and “Without a Trace” and can be heard as a regular voice on Joss Whedon’s new “Buffy: Season Eight Animated Series.”
But “Hellcats,” a role she got after an extensive audition process, is her first starring role on TV. She plays Alice Verdura, a cheerleader on the Lancer University Hellcats who gets sidelined with a wrist injury after a fall. Alice feels threatened by her replacement, Marti (played by Aly Michalka), a reluctant cheerleader who joined the squad for the scholarship money so she could continue to pursue a career in law.
In early episodes, Alice has been drawn as a mean girl from a privileged background, who previously had a relationship with team member Lewis (Robbie Jones). She has just started taking illegal prescription drugs to speed her return to the team.
But Hemmens argues that there’s much more to Alice than has been seen so far on “Hellcats.”
“I admire her strength,” she said. “We could all take a lesson about how she stands up for herself. We’re establishing characters in these early episodes. We’ll see more sides of Alice [as the season continues].”
With all the tumbling, dancing and aerials that cheerleaders do, “Hellcats” offers a physically challenging role for an actress. While Hemmens has a martial-arts background, she was never a cheerleader.
“All of the dancing is us, but most of the flying is our stunt doubles, with shots of us cut in,” she explained. “We had two weeks on the pilot to get ready for the dancing and stunting, but less time to prepare with [subsequent] episodes. That means working more on your own, and getting less sleep. There’s a lot to learn.”
Like most new shows, “Hellcats” has a 13-episode commitment, with ratings determining if another nine episodes will be shot to fill out a full season of 22 episodes. Hemmens said the early ratings are consistent with other shows on The CW, which generally draws lower ratings than the other networks because of a smaller number of stations affiliated with it.
In her spare time, Hemmens has directed and produced a pair of short films.
“It was a chance to step behind the camera,” she said. “I’ve latched onto directing as something I’d like to explore further.”
Hemmens still gets home to Waldo a few times a year, and her parents get out to Los Angeles, where she and her older siblings live.
“It’s still a bit of culture shock for them,” she said.
“Hellcats” airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays on The CW.
Heather Hemmens of Waldo is enjoying her first TV starring role in The CW’s “Hellcats.”
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