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A small-town dynamo with a lot on her plate, Hedy Burress has come a long way since leaving her band in Decatur, Ill., just over a year ago, using the time to co-star in a new series, work with Ann-Margret in a recent NBC miniseries, begin plans to produce an upcoming independent movie -- and still squeeze in a little rock climbing for sport.
"I'm very aware of how lucky I've been in the last year," says Burress. "I just want to do as many things as possible because I hate to sit back. I want to keep busy. You have to constantly keep testing yourself to learn to do more or you get rusty."
Born in Alton (just east of St. Louis, Mo.), Burress grew up in nearby Wood River and Edwardsville, Ill. Originally named Heather, she adopted "Hedy" because it was the closest her young brother could manage in pronouncing her first name. The daughter of two teachers (since divorced), Burress studied stage directing and performing at Millikin University in Decatur, leaving just four months before graduating (she intends to complete her remaining courses soon).
Burress worked in stage productions while at Millikin until she was called by Jane Brody, a friend who was a Chicago casting director, for various acting jobs, including her first in a CD-ROM video game for Viacom. In 1995, she earned one of five ensemble lead roles in "Foxfire," a feature film co-produced by Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas"). As a result of word-of-mouth about the movie, she then came to Los Angeles to meet with agents, and three months later, she was cast in "Seduced by Madness: The Diane Borchardt Story" (starring Ann-Margret), portraying Brook Borchardt, the daughter of actor Peter Coyote's character. She also appeared in the HBO special "If These Walls Could Talk" (as the daughter of Sissy Spacek's character).
Now playing Wyleen, an ambitious Virginia student newly enrolled in a Boston liberal arts college, Burress finds the accent easy to come by. "I just use a Midwest accent and thicken it up a bit," she says. "As for Wyleen, I think she's opinionated and somewhat set in her ways. She's not used to trying new things and doesn't like to be fenced in. She's motivated, expressive, and passionate -- and intelligent, too, which I like most."
In her leisure time, she enjoys rock climbing (despite previously breaking an ankle), reading, yoga, collecting children's books, and cooking -- especially her "gypsy soup" ("You put a little bit of everything in a big ol' pot!"). She lives in Los Angeles. Her birthday is October 3.