The tale of murder and justice delayed was a horrific, emotional nightmare, but the fact it was true made it even more profound for actress Taryn Manning.
When she immersed herself in the role of Leslie Douglass for the film "Heaven’s Rain," Manning found a story of survival. Leslie and her brother Brooks were teenagers when a pair of drifters took their family hostage in 1979 and killed their parents. Leslie was repeatedly assaulted, and both teens were shot and left for dead.
It was a meaty role for the 32-year-old Manning, whose recent acting credits on the CBS drama "Hawaii Five-0" offered a higher profile than the independent film she made last year. Manning’s local fans will have a chance to see "Heaven’s Rain" in a special screening at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Regal Theatres Dole Cannery which is being sponsored by the Honolulu prosecutor’s office. Tickets are $10.
"Heaven’s Rain" underscores the painful struggles faced by the victims of violence as well as the conviction Brooks Douglass brought to making changes to the legal system on their behalf.
Moviegoers will be moved, Manning said.
"They are going to walk away with a heavy heart and just be astounded that it was a true story," Manning said by telephone from her home in Los Angeles. "It is an incredible story of forgiveness and understanding and compassion."
The role wasn’t easy.
"I felt a bit of pressure," Manning said. "It is a bit heavy, and when I was done it took some time to shake it."
Although Manning spoke at length with Leslie Douglass, she also drew upon a few of her life’s own scary moments, including a time she thought she was about to die in a plane crash.
"That’s what’s so great about being an actor," she said. "I can put myself in places and get myself into a frenzy enough to feel that fear. And I feel I did and brought that to the role."
Manning is a busy working actress. Besides her work on "Five-0," she was a regular on the FX series "Sons of Anarchy" and has parts in six films currently in pre-production. She’s best known for her role as Nola in the critically acclaimed 2005 film "Hustle & Flow."
Brooks Douglass, who went on to become an attorney, an Oklahoma state senator and a champion of victims’ rights, wrote "Heaven’s Rain" as a tribute to his parents after taking a screenwriting class in 2007. He plays the part of his father, a Baptist preacher.
"The strongest message of the movie for me is the whole notion of forgiveness, which is something I think people could use a lot more of in our society," said the 47-year-old Douglass, who now lives in Malibu, Calif. "It is something that is hard for people, including me."
Manning’s performance is riveting, Douglass said. When her character describes the events of that night, she delivers like "the right hook no one is looking for," he said.
"There is not a doubt in anyone’s mind that she is Leslie," Douglass said. "She is living those moments, and because of that the audience is able to live those moments."
IF YOU’VE missed seeing Manning as Steve McGarrett’s tough-talking sister on "Five-0," take heart. The actress said CBS honchos have told her that Mary Ann McGarrett will return.
"They are saying I will be back next season," Manning said. "I will still be around."
Her character appeared in only three episodes and was sent to the mainland after a failed kidnapping.
Manning likes Mary Ann’s chops. But more than that, she wants the show’s writers to build a relationship between Mary Ann and her crime-fighting brother.
"It would be cool for her and her brother to get close so they can realize they are all they have left," Manning said. "I think there is a place for her. I think she brings a different edge and a different audience. A lot of people have hit me up and wondered where I went."
AND that’s a wrap.
Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser’s film and television writer. His "Outtakes" column appears Sundays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.