From Texas State studies to star studios, Heiman shines onscreen
By Catherine Harper
What do movie stars Kirsten Dunst, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Lynch and Will Ferrell all have in common? Jesse Heiman, a Texas State graduate and one of the most ubiquitous extras in Hollywood, has taken the stage behind these actors and more in both television and films.
Having graduated from Texas State in 2000 with a degree in English and mass communication, Heiman has climbed the ladder from his childhood dream of acting to stardom with appearances in more than 56 films and television shows throughout his career.
He shared his thoughts about his time at Texas State and his career in a recent interview with the author.
“I have always, since a little kid, wanted to do something involving the movies,” Heiman says. “Whether working in front of the camera or behind the scenes, it was my biggest dream to just have my name in the credits.”
Starting at a young age, Heiman focused his love of film on acting aspirations, participating in after-school elementary and junior high drama classes. While acting out after school, Heiman couldn’t help but to envision his name in lights among legends.
As Heiman grew older, he set his sights upon other creative pursuits such as writing and music. In high school and college, Heiman took part in marching band and wrote music reviews for Texas State’s student newspaper, The University Star.
As an English major at Texas State, Heiman says his course load — including classes in writing, production, computing, music and geography — helped to expand his view of the world and to build upon his knowledge of the craft.
“The lessons I learned from my years at Texas State that I have applied to my career include being open to all subject matter,” Heiman says. “The best thing about college is all the different classes you can take to better your education but also to better understand things in life.”
While uncertain of his acting dreams ever becoming a reality, Heiman found inspiration in the knowledge that actor G.W. Bailey, of Police Academy fame, graduated from and taught at Texas State. Bailey was the Department of Theatre and Dance‘s artist-in residence in 1999-2000.
“I grew up watching the Police Academy movies and then when I went to school there he was,” Heiman says. “Even though I never took a class from him, I took it as sign that I should try to live my dreams.”
After his graduation, Heiman decided to follow his heart in search of his destiny in sunny Los Angeles, Calif.
Heiman landed a gig at a “real job” with a video duplication company shortly after arriving in L.A., which merely rewound his dreams for acting success. After beginning to apply for work as an extra, Heiman’s career sparked with his first part in the film Rat Race.
Throughout his career, Heiman has appeared in hit television shows such as Glee, Monk, Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm, as well as blockbuster films such as Spiderman, Catch Me If You Can, Old School and The Social Network. Heiman’s work went largely unnoticed until a Youtube video featuring clips of his movies went viral with more than 2 million hits, rocketing his notoriety skyward and leading him to be named “The Most Important Extra Actor of a Generation” by the blog Hypervocal in March 2011.
“I’m a little bit different from a typical actor, who takes classes and goes through years of training,” Heiman said in a recent interview for Texas Monthly. “I like to learn on the set. I had no idea that doing background work would blossom into the kind of career that it has. It’s amazing how many people have become my fans even though I pass by the screen for just a second or two.”
Off-screen, Heiman says he has learned to be prepared for whatever hurdles may come his way.
“The best lessons I’ve learned that stay true outside of set and generally in life are having a positive attitude, being professional in whatever you do and being ready, willing and able to do whatever comes up,” Heiman says.
In the future, Heiman says his direction in showbiz may be as unexpected as his many onscreen appearances, driven by his unique character and learning spirit.
“There’s an infinity of things I’d like to do before I’m done,” Heiman says. “Among them are starting my own production company and having a story I write make it to the silver screen or at least the DVD store. As far as acting goes, I would like to use my comedy training to get a part in a sitcom or movie and hope it all continues to open doors for me down the road.”