For Carolyn Hennesy, it started with a phone call for two days of work on General Hospital.
Seventeen months later, Hennesy was still there, and her character, Diane Miller, was sleeping with Sonny's bodyguard, Max. Somehow when Hennesy was hired for a couple of days, I don't think that's what the producers had in mind.
In soap operas, it can happen that way, when a performer's work demonstrates lots of potential for the character. Diane Miller is the tart-tongued, stylish and sophisticated attorney of Mr. Sonny Corinthos and Company. Not that the red-headed actress was terribly impressed by that, either.
"The casting director of GH, Mark Teschner, has been following my career," Hennesy says in that unmistakable voice. "He said, I have two days' work for you on GH. You'll be playing opposite Maurice Benard." To which Henessy replies, "Who's that?" After Teschner picked himself up off the floor, he informed Hennesy that Maurice Benard plays Sonny Corinthos, "Port Charles' biggest kingpin, the boss." And a hot name in daytime.
"Well," Hennesy explains, "I'm out pounding the pavement all day, and we don't have TIVO even now. And thank God all I knew about Maurice when I walked on the set was what Mark told me. Literally from day one, we started building this interesting rapport of two actors who liked to bring it on, to give as good as we get. If I had known who Maurice was, how big a star, it would have been a disaster."
Early on, the writers were giving Hennesy scenes where the formidable Diane was getting a little angry; instead, she was just plain letting him have it.
"A voice would come out of the control booth saying, 'You can't talk to Sonny like that, or he'll kill you,'" Hennesy recalls. "I was lighting into him a couple of weeks ago, and I said to Maurice, 'Do you realize I would have been reprimanded if I spoke to you like this before?' I don’t know if the powers liked the vibe, or if Maurice said something, but Diane is getting away with it now."
Having made Diane her own, Hennesy's idea of fun is going to work. "I wake up and it’s like, guess what I get to do," she says.
Hennesy has been involved in show busness her entire life. She comes from a distinguished show business family. Hennesy's dad, production designer Dale Hennesy, won an Oscar for his work in Fantastic Voyage in 1967 and was nominated two other times, for Logan's Run in 1976 and 1982's Annie. He also was the production designer of Young Frankenstein in 1974 and King Kong in 1976 and other major films. "I really decided on acting when I was visiting dad on the sets," Hennesy says. "I was exposed to the studios first. I was only four, but I knew this was what I wanted to be a part of, and soon.
"I became sort of a studio brat. I learned not necessarily about acting but the crafting of a finished product. I have the healthiest respect for the crew, the support systems, all that's required. I got from my dad."
From her aunt, the beautiful Barbara Rush, Hennesy picked up a few acting tips. Rush has a huge list of credits on screen, stage and television. She starred in such films as Magnificent Obsession with Rock Hudson, The Young Lions with Marlon Brando and Robin and the Seven Hoods with Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack. Younger audiences will remember Rush in a regular role on 7th Heaven.
Hennesy's cousin, Claudia Cowan, is a T.V. news journalist. So acting and standing before an audience or a camera are a strong part of Hennesy's DNA.Hot Stuff
In the time that she's played Diane, the attorney has embarked on a hot affair with Max (Derk Cheetwood). "Derk and I are trying to figure out where the sparks started flying," she says. "Max and Diane were playing cards waiting for Sonny, and we were each having our own conversation. I was talking about Kate, he was talking about Carly. That’s when Max and Diane had their first connection. It just blossomed from there.
"At the Metrocourt Bar, we were both getting hammered while having two separate conversations again. We looked at each other – and we had that Mrs. Robinson Graduate-esque scene which I loved. I said to Bill Ludel, the director, 'If you’re going to do this, you have to shoot Max under Diane's bent leg,' the famous shot in the movie. Thank God, they are willing to have so much fun on that show. That’s really when Max and Diane discovered one another. He was still in love with Carly, and he couldn't go through with it. I said, 'You’re going after a lindzer torte, and here you’ve got a nice piece of pie.'"
Hennesy hopes the romance with Max continues. "What’s wonderful is that Diane is discovering that there are wellsprings of untapped fabulousness to Max. It’s a shock to her. People love it. I said to someone, 'If this show is a circus, we are the clowns that come between the death-defying trapeze act. There's all this potential for death and mayhem, lots of angst, and then here come Max and Diane. We relieve the tension.'"
The circus analogy for Hennesy is a apt one, because it just so happens that Carolyn Hennesy is a trapeze artist. Watch out -- if they ever bring back the Nurse's Ball, she'll be flying across the ceiling. She admits, "I haven’t been on a trapeze since I started on GH. For about five years, I flew. I was in such good shape. I’m going to get my ass back up there. It’s wonderful exercise and so much fun. There’s the moment you leave the flybar and you haven’t quite caught the catcher yet – and it’s, I’m flying. You literally are airborne. There’s nothing else like it."
Hennesy is figuratively flying these days, too. Not only has fortune smiled on her with the show, but she and her husband, actor Donald Agnelli, recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary. "There’s the saying, you have to kiss a lot of frogs," she says. "Well, I was living in the reptile house. I chose poorly. There came a point where I said, I’m done. Then I met Donald by fluke. We both belonged to the same theater company. I asked a friend of mine about him. I got a call from him saying, 'I hear you were asking questions, I’d like to answer them.' We had three dates in three days. I finally realized, this is why I waited. I never thought it was going to happen." The couple is currently moving into a new house.
It doesn't sound like Hennesy has much free time, but she's written a book that is already in a second printing, though it was just published recently. Called Pandora Gets Jealous, about a curious little girl named Pandy, a box of evils, their unleashing, and Pandy's quest to save the world by collecting all of them again. The book is the first of a series about Pandy and her two best friends.
This from a woman who says, "Thank God, I happened to be good at the thing I wanted to do. At this point, I’m not trained to do anything else." Gee, I dunno, there's always the high wire and writing! It's clear, though, Hennesy's heart is in acting, and she's passionate about her role on General Hospital. "I’m having fun, and I think the audience is having fun," she says. "I liken myself to a Greek chorus – when I get to talk to Sonny and yell at him and at Jason, I think a large portion of the audience is going 'yes, yes, yes.'"
Since our interview, lots has changed for this strong, talented actress. She has gone on to semiregular status in two series, Cougar Town and , which meant leaving General Hospital. Happily for the fans, she has since returned.
For Diane Miller, the writers took her on a detour. Since Carolyn Hennesy is an author, Diane Miller became one, writing The Secret Life of Damien Spinelli and then she quit being a lawyer and became a gossip columnist. This was at a low point in the show. Since she has returned to GH and the new writers have been dusting General Hospital off, Diane is now an attorney again.