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Charlize Theron and David Lislegard

Charlize Theron and David Lislegard

Reliving Minnesota history through Hollywood

UMD student part of North Country cast

November 21, 2005

University of Minnesota, Duluth, political science major and David Lislegard was part of the cast of the movie North Country.

North Country, directed by Niki Caro from a screenplay by Michael Seitzman, was inspired by the book Class Action: The Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law, by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler.

North Country portrays the life of a woman working in the iron ore mines on Minnesota's Iron Range. It's based on the true-life experiences of Lois Jenson, who first began working at the site in 1975 and, along with other women, endured a continuous stream of abhorrent behavior from male employees. Jenson filed a class action lawsuit against Eveleth Mines.

In the movie, Josie Aimes (Charlize Theron) lives with her parents. Unable to feed her two children on a hairdresser's wages, she looks to the iron mines for work. She joins the labor force of miners, doing strenuous work and blasting ore from rock in quarries. She quickly finds herself an outsider in a male dominated job. The male miners see her as threat because she is taking a job in an already scarce market. To their way of thinking, she has no business in the mines because she is a woman. Aimes eventually speaks out against the harsh treatment she and other female miners are facing and complications arise.

After the screening and a call back, he was offered a part as an angry, rude union member. "I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to play that kind of person. It's not me," he says.

UMD's Lislegard, a third generation miner and former steel worker, plays a miner in the film. He says, "I worked right alongside women and didn't see harassment when I worked in the mines... [The movie shows] a different time. Stuff like that doesn't happen now." The movie shows a time in history before sexual harassment laws were in place. Without the real class action lawsuit that the movie portrays, work environments in business and industry might still be hostile.

Many of the movie's issues tie in to Lislegard's studies in political science. The Iron Range has a long history of union organizing. "Men died fighting for unions," Lislegard says, "They fought for an eight-hour work day and living wages." Lislegard is no stranger to politics. He lobbied with U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone (who died in a plane crash in 2002) and has worked with Minnesota Senator Roger Moe. Currently Lislegard is on the city council for the city of Aurora, Minnesota.

Although Lislegard has several lines and two scenes with Charlize Theron in North Country, he didn't plan on being in the movies. While attending Mesabi Range Technical College, Lislegard had taken theater classes. His acting teacher told him Warner Bros. was coming from Los Angeles to screen for a movie and encouraged Lislegard to audition. "At first I told him no," Lislegard says. He finally agreed to go when his teacher volunteered to come along. After the screening and a call back, he was offered a part as an angry, rude union member. "I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to play that kind of person. It's not me," he says. The casting director and Minnesota Film Board staff member, Rikki McManus talked Lislegard into it. "She helped me see that who you are portraying is not who you are."

A couple of weeks after they shot Lislegard in a union hall scene in Hibbing, he was called to Sante Fe, New Mexico. Caro had written a new bar scene for the movie and wanted Lislegard to be part of it.

"Life on the set is surreal," says Lislegard. "We worked 12-hour days, and each time we did a scene, for those couple of weeks, it felt like a family. And then, just like that, it was over." Lislegard's real family, his wife and young daughters, supported him from the very beginning.

The experience working on the movie reinforces what Lislegard is learning in the classroom. "Communication is one of the most important skills in life," he says. "If you can't communicate a message, your chance at being successful is slim to none."

UMD has another tie to the North Country film. Keith Hendrickson, 1980 UMD alum and Bulldog hockey star, gave actor Woody Harrelson, who plays Aimes' lawyer, hockey lessons.