Carolyn Hennesy laughs when I ask if it’s true that she is able to recite the list of every play she’s ever been in forwards and backwards, regardless of its length.
“If you gave me five minutes I think I could,” she replies confidently, and starts talking excitedly about adding to that list a new play that she recently began rehearsals for.
Over the last decade, Hennesy has consistently been working in film and television. Meet and Greet, which debuted in June at The Hollywood Fringe Festival, was the first time she was going to be on stage in many years.
An extensive filmography career
Some know Hennesy as Diane Miller from General Hospital or Rosalyn Harris from True Blood, while others recall her sassy one-liners as Barb in Cougar Town. Hennesy’s filmography includes over 70 roles in film and television since the early 1990s, including a role in Terminator 3, Legally Blonde 2 and Dawson’s Creek. She also starred in Disney’s Jessie.
The daughter of an Oscar-winning production designer and a niece of actress Barbara Rush, she grew up in L.A. and was in and around studios from a very young age. A self-proclaimed studio brat, she says she definitively wanted to pursue acting at age four after walking onto her first sound stage, Fantastic Voyage. Her father, Dale Hennesy, was the production designer for this show.
“I knew at that moment that [being on stage was how] I wanted to spend the rest of my life,” says Hennesy. “It was just luck of the draw that I have a talent for acting.”
This is a modest suggestion from someone who devoted herself to in-depth dramatic education. Hennesy studied at the American Conservatory Theater and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, before receiving a scholarship to California State University. After graduating, she began “pounding the pavement,” playing almost every stage in L.A.
Highlights along the way
The actress landed the three roles that she had coveted for many years, Cassius in Julius Caesar, Marquise de Merteuil in the opera Dangerous Liaisons and Eleanor in The Lion in Winter, back-to-back, within a six-month period. She says she was drawn to these roles because they involved strong, intelligent women and, in two cases, women who are fighting for what they believe to be an honourable victory. Hennesy also enjoys roles where her character is walking the fine line between morality and immorality, but who is unaware of this himself/herself.
“All of them were great broads,” she says, “with the exception of Cassius — but as I played him, he was a great broad.”
As a traditionally male role, Cassius was one of Hennesy’s most challenging roles. She wondered whether the actors and audience would now view her as a woman, or whether they still saw Cassius as another Roman who wanted to take down Caesar.
Another memorable experience was acting alongside Donald Sutherland in some scenes in Commander in Chief. After she and Sutherland viewed the playback, she says he looked at her and asked if his acting was good. “You’re asking me?” she thought, looking back at him instead and replying, “You’re Donald Sutherland, of course it was good.” They hugged and laughed about it, but it was at this moment Hennesy realized that even the most seasoned or experienced actors never lose the ability to critique and better themselves. “I’ve never forgotten that,” she reminisces. “I’ll never rest either,” she adds in regards to her own acting.
A world beyond acting
At one point in her career, Hennesy would have told you that she was always only an actor, but 10 years ago she began a literary adventure that led to the publication of seven books for young adults and a novel that landed her on the New York Times Best Seller list.
It all began in a writing workshop where Hennesy was working on a series of short stories — in which she gave misunderstood women in fiction a back story to justify their misdeeds, similar to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. One of those stories was Pandora, and a visiting author, who was also in the class, heard Hennesy read the story aloud and approached her about making it into a novel for young adults. She countered, suggesting she make several novels out of it, not realizing the scope of the work she was getting herself into.
Next, Hennesy says, “this writer threw down the gauntlet,” tasking her with writing 1,000 words a day for the next six weeks. At the end of this timeline, the actress had her first novel and without knowing enough to be daunted, she accepted the challenge.
“People will present you with alternative opportunities all the time, and you have to be open to them,” she says.
After publishing the Pandora series, she was approached by ABC Disney to write the Secret Life of Damian Spinelli — a novel about General Hospital, from one character’s point of view — which made number 10 on the New York Times Best Seller list.
“It’s certainly not as if I’ve given up acting, it’s just a parallel universe I’m living in,” says Hennesy, who has plans to explore other media and one day produce the Pandora series as an animated feature series. “I’d like to wear a production hat and a director’s hat — why not?”
Hennesy’s spare time
Outside of acting and writing, Hennesy spends her time doing trapeze — on both the flying and static ones — and even has a static rig in her backyard. She first discovered her love for it 13 years ago, while doing a play that involved a static trapeze.
On a fashion note, she enjoys occasional knitting, particularly sweaters. As Rosalyn Harris, Hennesy’s chic wardrobe heavily referenced iconic brands, including Chanel, Prada and Jones New York, and had a 1960s undertone.
Out of character, the actress has an edgy, more eclectic personal style and is no stranger to the Red Carpets. One of her favourite designers is Sue Wong, along with Oscar de la Renta, Dolce & Gabbana, Levis Strauss and Willow & Clay.
Getting involved in any animal conservation and preservation causes is also important to her. About seven years ago, a concerned citizen reached out to Hennesy on Twitter with a video about an animal abuse case. Feeling compelled to help, Hennesy responded and began corresponding with the director of the Wildlife World Museum in Phoenix, who became her animal mentor.
After realizing that she is deeply passionate about the protection of animals, Hennesy took every step to ensure that she was well-educated in order to speak out about these issues. The actress travelled to Thailand, Cambodia, and across the U.S., becoming involved in elephant conservation efforts and working towards introducing an elephant enrichment program, modelled after the one in Busch Gardens in Florida, to the L.A. Zoo. Travelling to Thailand and Cambodia also inspired her to start a weekly radio show, called Animal Magnetism, that explores the positives and negatives of the world’s current animal preservation and conservation efforts.
“I don’t [have time for everything],” she jokes, explaining that she is lucky to have a flexible schedule where she is not filming, rehearsing or on-air daily. “I write at night, or sometimes I don’t,” she admits with a laugh.
Image gallery credits: Image 1 (left): Carolyn Hennesy at the HBO “True Blood” Season 5 Premiere, Cinerama Dome, Hollywood, CA. Photo credit: s_bukley / Shutterstock.com; Image 2 (right): Carolyn Hennesy arrives at the ATAS Daytime Emmy Nominee Reception in June 2011 in Beverly Hills. Photo credit: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com.