Dree Hemingway is in bed at the Standard Hotel. Her knees are folded neatly to one side, and she’s leaning—almost awkwardly—on one hyper-extended arm. Her blonde hair is stringy, dark at the roots, and she’s wearing navy short-shorts that are so small, they’re almost hidden under a flowing white top. Her legs go on for days, and there’s no sign of makeup anywhere on her face.
She’s in Los Angeles to promote her new film, Starlet—out this week—the moving story of a 21-year-old girl, Jane (played by Hemingway), who’s setting up life in California’s San Fernando Valley. She comes from a broken family and now lives with an unstable and drug-addicted roommate (Stella Maeve) and her creepy boyfriend (James Ransone). Jane’s one true friend is a male Chihuahua named Starlet, who wears a bedazzled pink collar. In an effort to decorate her depressing bedroom, Jane buys a thermos from an older woman named Sadie (Besedka Johnson) at a local yard sale (“It’s a vase!”) and brings it home, only to find wads of money inside, to the tune of around $10,000. And so she’s faced with a choice: fess up and return it, or walk away with the cash.
Her decision falls somewhere in between. Driven, perhaps, by guilt, Jane forms a relationship with Sadie, who lives alone and tends to her overgrown garden. And so it begins: two women, decades apart, one too trusting and the other mistrustful, slowly becoming friends.
Hemingway’s Jane is at once tomboyish and distractingly sexual: she’s got a model’s good looks but doesn’t seem to know it. Visiting Sadie during an octogenarian Bingo session, Jane arrives braless, in micro-shorts, with thigh-high baseball socks and a pair of sneakers. If any of the old men look at her twice, she certainly doesn’t notice. (For the role, Hemingway did her own hair and makeup—and wore some of her own clothes, along with a slew of uncomfortable shorts from the costume department. “They hurt so bad, and camel toe like you’ve never experienced!” she says, laughing.) But Hemingway knows there’s a tomboyishness to her appearance. “I’m never going to be cast as a Bond girl,” she says. “I mean I could do it and I would love it. But I don’t ooze sexuality.”
Funny, then, that halfway through the film we discover that Jane is a porn star. It’s a surprise for a character who seems so oblivious of her sexuality; so gamine and awkwardly sweet. And it’s just disappointing—we had bigger dreams for her!—when she eventually crawls onto a bed with an actor who is a famous porn star in real life for her big scene.
It turns out, though, that Hemingway used a body double (the porn star Zoe Voss) for the sex scene. “I was really, really nervous about it because I know that people are going to think it’s me,” Hemingway says. “And I assume this is how some of the girls who are starting out feel. It’s a decision that you make, and it’s life-changing in a way, even if it’s not my body.” Hemingway says she wasn’t on-set during the scene—but came in afterward. “I remember right after being like, ‘That was hilarious.’ After being so worked up about it and so nervous about it, I imagine these girls walking out and being like, ‘I was really worked up about that?’ Because it’s a profession, and as odd as it sounds, it’s their version of getting up and going to the office.” (To prepare for the role, Hemingway met with several porn stars to learn about their lives.) Still, she says, the editing of the sex scene was so real that it really did look like her body on screen. Even her boyfriend was fooled. “My boyfriend watched it and was like ‘You lied!’ I was like ‘No, it’s in the credits in the end!’ and he said, ‘Nobody reads the credits!’”
Hemingway, who is the great-granddaughter of Ernest, has distinguished herself as both a model and an actor during her nascent career. Starlet is a coming-of-age story, and Hemingway deftly maneuvers from the role of a relatable kid to a caring young woman. Next, she’ll star in a French film called Nous York (which opens this month), and will continue to juggle her modeling and acting work. “I think people are always like, ‘She’s a model-turned-actress,’” Hemingway says. “And I don’t want to turn actress. I want to do both. I wouldn’t have built the confidence to do acting if I didn’t model.”
Though she’s not sure of her next project, Hemingway is eager for the future. And she maintains that whatever role she takes next, it won’t be about the accolades. “I’ve always said it’s not about winning an award for me, it’s …” she pauses, as if for emphasis. “I want people to go home and feel something.”