At 12, Carolyn Hennesy auditioned for the role of Becky Thatcher in a film adaptation of The Adventures ofTom Sawyer. “It was just awful,” recalls Carolyn. Although she lost out to a young Jodie Foster, the experience lit a fire under Carolyn to train hard as an actress to do better next time. “I am the poster child for persistence,” she tells Closer.
Today, Carolyn, 60, is best known for her role as hard-hitting attorney Diane Miller on General Hospital. She is also in demand as a character actress with scene-stealing appearances on hits including NCIS, Cougar Town, Revenge and more. “I have done so many guest-star parts and other shenanigans,” she says. “I am having so much fun.”
When did you realize that you wanted to become an actor?
“My mom took me and my little brother over to 20th Century Fox to visit my dad when he was working on Fantastic Voyage. There were these fabulous oversize sets representing the heart, lungs and brain. I said, ‘What is going on here? This is for me!’ And there were free doughnuts, too! It was obviously something in my blood because I felt so comfortable there. Now, whenever I walk onto one of those old soundstages, there’s a very evocative smell that’s home to me. It takes me right back to being 4 years old.”
Your dad won an Oscar for visual effects on Fantastic Voyage. Was he supportive of your desire to become an actor?
“I would love to say yes, but I cannot. He did give me some tremendous life lessons though. When I told him I was going to be an actor, he said, ‘That’s fine, but don’t underestimate the crew. They are your lifeblood. Any of them are worth 100 actors. They are better read, better educated, kinder and more authentic than any actor you will ever meet. So be like them.’”
Do you think he was right?
“Well, I’ll be damned, but it was proven true! I don’t even like to associate with many actors. I try to eat lunch with the crew. My mantra on a set is that it’s my job to make your job easier.”
How did your mom feel about your acting ambitions?
“She said, ‘I just want you to learn to type so you’ll have something to fall back on.’ And I did. But I don’t really have that to fall back on because I can type but I’m not trained to do anything else.”
Your aunt was actress Barbara Rush. Did she have any good advice?
“My aunt gave me one piece of advice when I was just coming up. And it’s a real interesting lesson as to how just a few words can handicap you for years. Now, this was a woman who hadn’t really auditioned for anything in her life. She was in the studio contract system. She went where they told her to go. But she told me, ‘You get one shot. If you don’t impress those casting directors, they will never see you again.’ To an impressionable young mind, that was poison. It took me a long time to get over that, but I realized, no, that’s absolutely not true.”
What do you consider your big break?
“Everything happened so gradually, but when I got the call to do two days on General Hospital, that’s what’s led to 17 years and counting.”
How has that led to other roles?
“When you are already a working actor, you consciously or unconsciously develop this attitude that takes away any vestiges of ‘Please hire me, I need to make my mortgage.’ That cushion could go away at any moment, and it is not something you can rest on, but it helps you to relax a little more on auditions.”
What have been some of your favorite moments from General Hospital?
“Max losing the diamond ring he’s gotten for Sonny to give to Carly. He was picking it off the floor and [my character] Diane thought he was down on one knee proposing to her. That was hilarious. And Alexis walking in on Max and Diane on the couch in flagrante delicto. Most recently, Diane grilling Sonny on the stand as a witness. It was very difficult to grill my wonderful old boss.”
In 2017, you won a Daytime Emmy for your role on the web series ‘The Bay’. How did it change your life?
“It didn’t, really. I went back to work on General Hospital the next day. It’s like, ‘OK, I have a delightful paperweight.’ It wasn’t a true game changer. What I can say for the rest of my life is that I’m an Emmy winner. No one can take that away from me.”
What else are you proud of?
“I’m proud of keeping my humanity in this business. I am proud of the various roles I’ve played. I’m proud of what I can bring to the table. It’s all under an umbrella of being very grateful. I’m also proud that I’m a really good friend.”
Did you have to make any sacrifices to get this far as an actor?
“Nothing has been a sacrifice because this is what I was meant to do. To me, nothing is more important than this job. I didn’t have maternal instincts. So did I give up children? No, I always knew I would never be a good mother. Did I give up love? No, I’ve had a lot of it. I’ve not been great at it, but I’ve experienced it. ”
We know that you are a big animal advocate. What can Closer readers do to help our animal friends?
If you are in the LA area, please donate to the Los Angeles Zoo. They are not a torturous zoological institution. It has become an ark of preservation and conservation. We lose 150 species a day on our planet. Sometimes it’s amoebas, sometimes it’s the West African white rhino, but they’re just gone. And you have to understand that they don’t need us as much as we desperately need them. Also, please donate to your local animal shelters and adopt, do not shop, for pets. Please be mindful of your pets and treat them like family.”
What do you like most about being 60?
“Oh, I would not go back to being any other age! I love the mind I have developed, I love the philosophy I nurtured. I feel like I have not changed, but evolved. I am building on my mistakes and my triumphs. There is just no other person I would rather be.”