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Who’s that on the cover?

Posted: Tuesday, Mar 6th, 2012

Brookings native Mary Oien poses for a photo in the November/December issue of “Simply The Best,” a South Florida life and style magazine. Oien works full-time as a model in the Miami area. Courtesy photo

• Mary Oien is living her childhood dream of modeling in Miami Beach

Arriving on the set to film a commercial for Werther’s Original candies, security was tight. Desperate Housewives was being filmed at the same studio that day, and Brookings native Mary Oien had to pull out her South Dakota driver’s license to prove she belonged there.

During filming, tour buses stopped outside and the drivers said something like “And over here, they’re filming the Werther’s Original commercial.”

“I look around and I kind of giggle to myself and I think, ‘Do they know I’m just Mary Oien from Brookings, South Dakota?’ I think I’ll never stop being in awe of some of my experiences,” she said.

Oien, 25, was a member of the Brookings High School class of 2005. Until last May she was studying journalism and public relations at Iowa State University. That’s when she signed a two-year contract with Next Model Management of Miami and moved to Miami Beach to begin a modeling career.

“Ever since I was young, the idea of modeling had always been something that had crossed my mind, but I just never thought it was a possibility. Especially living in the Midwest – we’re so far removed from any of the big markets,” Oien said.

Out of high school, Oien thought she was already too old to begin modeling. But she did photo shoots for a magazine at Iowa State and for her local hair salon. Then, a friend who works in L.A. encouraged her to look further into modeling in the Midwest, as a way to make easy money part-time. She contacted a company in St. Louis, Mo., and found herself signing a contract with Next, the agency whose website she had visited multiple times in high school to see how she might compare to its models. Next has a Midwest arm that discovered model and actor Ashton Kutcher and popular model Karlie Kloss. Oien enjoys working with Next’s small base of Midwestern girls in the Miami area.

Oien has worked full-time with Next since May, and she’s keeping “awfully busy” with work. She’s done a lot of commercials, including one for the Florida Keys and for Target. She also had a several-page spread and graced the cover for the November/December issue of “Simply The Best,” a South Florida life and style magazine.

In the Werther’s Original commercial she plays a woman gazing through a candy shop window who transforms into a little girl once she opens the shop door. This commercial is one of the more widely broadcast in the U.S. But much of her work is for other countries, including a commercial shot in France this fall, a makeup campaign for Peru and runway modeling for the season finale of Project Runway Latin America. Even she doesn’t always see the completed project, or even know where to find it.

And though she does have a contract with Next, her modeling jobs are earned through the casting process. The agency helps her find auditions and coaches her in what to do, but any one audition may draw 50 to 300 girls.

“There’s no guarantees when I came down here. Having a contract with an agency like Next is always a good start,” she said. “After that, it’s kind of up to you. There’s no 100 percent guarantee that you’re going to be working.”

Oien said she finds it exciting to never know what will happen next with her line of work. She’s been able to swim with dolphins and visit places she never would have been if not for modeling. She plans to pursue her modeling career as long as possible.

And, though Miami Beach is a long way from here, Oien continues to be thankful for all the support she gets from everyone back home. Her parents and brother continue to reside in Brookings.

“I’m very proud of Brookings and being from South Dakota, and I’m very grateful for all the support I’ve gotten from everyone back home, especially from my parents,” she said.

Contact Charis Ubben at cubben@brookingsregister.com.

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