Carolyn Hennesy has played mob lawyer Diane Miller in nearly 200 episodes of General Hospital as well as guest-starring on That ’70s Show and Dawson’s Creek. She’s been in such films as Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. She can now also add successful author to her resume. The third book in the highly acclaimed Pandora series is out now. I recently had the pleasure of talking to Carolyn about Diane Miller, the Pandora novels and a few other things she has going on.
PCZ: What kind of shooting schedule is used to shoot Daytime TV?
CH: It all depends on what storyline is being featured. [On General Hospital] it usually has to do with Sonny and the mob, there’s Carly and Jax now and what they call the “scrubs”, the stuff going on at the hospital with Robin and Patrick. Then there are kind of peripheral storylines that are happening. Those people that are under contract and are major players usually are at the studio no less than three times a week. For the recurring characters it depends on if we are integral to that part of the story. We can shoot anywhere from two to four days a week. When you get to the studio it’s very quick, very professional, very precise. So, we all go through lulls. If there happens to be a trial going on, it’ll be two weeks of non-stop for me.
PCZ: So, it’s the same thing as actual jury duty?
CH: Very much so! And if called, we will serve.
PCZ: Is there a director per episode or per storyline?
CH: It’s a director per episode.
PCZ: I must confess, I am not a regular viewer of General Hospital, but I did catch some clips online. How enjoyable is it to play Diane Miller?
CH: It’s so wildly enjoyable that it’s liberating. She gets to say things with these witty retorts and bon mots that I couldn’t think of. I love to think I’m as quick as Diane and I flatter myself. She’s a fantastic neurotic dynamo. The two words that are most used to describe Diane are “smart” and “sassy.” That’s exactly what she is. Take no prisoners, take no guff.
PCZ: I’d want her to represent me if I had to go to court.
CH: Are you kidding, I’d want her to represent me.
PCZ: It seems like she has the perfect personality to represent the Mob. You want someone who’s going to take apart the other side.
CH: Exactly! Someone who knows exactly what she’s dealing with and has no illusions, not in love with Sonny and that’s a big plus. She’s not going to fall for either Sonny or Jason and has her own agenda, which is basically money…and clothes. And she’s smart enough to know which side her bread is buttered on.
PCZ: You did some stage acting early on, is that correct?
CH: I still do. I like to say I’ve done more theater than most people will ever see.
PCZ: Does that blend in well with doing Daytime TV, which started out as a live production?
CH: Yes. You have to always kind of bring it down for the screen, whether large or small. But the characters are so larger than life. I’m acting opposite people who really are keeping it very intense and very small. That allows me to kind of play a little bit. I don’t keep it small all the time. Diane is a character of big emotions, big neurosis, big passions and big intellect. They have allowed me, and I now allow me, to let that come out. Listen, if you make the crew laugh, then your day is golden. There’s also the fact that I’m an improviser, having worked with the Groundlings and the ACME Comedy Theater, and they have embraced that which is, again, liberating.
PCZ: Have there been times where you just felt “in the moment” and gone in a direction that was embraced?
CH: No, usually I’ll be reading a scene and I will pull the director and producer aside and say, “Could I say this here, can we try this there?” and they say, “Absolutely, try it, go for it!” I remember just a short time ago a scene where I came out of Agent Rayner’s office and there was Jason and I was talking to him about how he must have worked some sort of magic on Agent Rayner because all of the charges were being dropped and the Elizabeth walks by. He couldn’t take his eyes off of Elizabeth so I said,”I might as well be on fire.” And I came up with that and they loved it and kept it in. They’re very, very good to us.
PCZ: I’ve always said that, because of the wide and varied storylines, Daytime Soaps are the place to go and learn, if you want to be an actor.
CH: Absolutely! You used to see some dreadful acting on Soap Operas. Not so much anymore. Actors are the cream of the crop now and they have to bring their “A game” every single time. It’s a great training ground for actors, especially today with some of the veteran actors being so well established and having come from other television shows, prime-time and film. You’ve got people like Shirley Jones and Constance Towers. It doesn’t get better than that!
PCZ: Yeah, and it seems like the attitudes towards Daytime TV have changed. It used to be if you couldn’t get any work you’d start off doing Soap Operas, but now, like you said, you have people from prime-time and film coming back to, or for the first time appearing in, Soap Operas.
CH: Exactly, the writing has gotten much more sophisticated and much more prime-time-esque.
PCZ: So, now let’s talk about Pandora.
CH: My girl.
PCZ: The third book is out now. Congratulations.
CH: Thank you. This one is Pandora Gets Lazy.
PCZ: For those of us who may have just heard about this series for the first time…
CH: *Mock Shocked Gasp* Well, that’s ok.
PCZ: …give us an overview of what the series is about.
CH: The setting is ancient Greece, shortly before the Anno Domini, roughly 49 BC. Gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters are flying all over the place. Pandora is a young girl, thirteen years old who happens to be semi-immortal. She goes to the Athena Maiden Middle School. She’s like every new teenage girl, she’s got insecurities and all sorts of fabulousness about her. There is a big project due at her school which she’s known about for three months, but her curiosity in other things has lead her to procrastinate. The day before the project is due she happens to find a box and in this box is another box, which contains all the evil in the world. And wouldn’t that be great to take to school? Nobody would have anything like it!
PCZ: What could possibly go wrong?
CH: Yes, and of course she wouldn’t let it get opened, she’s not that dumb. So, she takes the box to school and it’s a perfect illustration of the theme of the project, which is “the enduring presence of the gods in our everyday lives.” Her father, Prometheus, was given this box by Zeus to keep safe as part of his punishment for having stolen fire from mankind. He has to keep this box safe. Pandy, his daughter, found the box, took it to school and, naturally, it gets opened. All the evil is loosed upon the world, Pandy and her family are hauled up to Mt. Olympus where Zeus says “Ok, eternal torture and torment or here’s a map, figure out how to use it, you have six months, go and get everything back in the box. What’s your answer?” Pandy steps up to the plate and says, “I’ll do it.” She’s told no one else in her family can help her and off she goes.
She has one day to prepare. Her two best friends make a very astute case that they are not family. Basically, if she doesn’t get this done, there won’t be much of a home to come back to, so they decide to help her. So this intrepid trio sets out and they have to use their wits, their friendship, their loyalty to one another, their cunning all the smarts they’ve got together. The two friends are Iole, the smartest and Alcie, who’s a smart-mouth, who says funny things, but gets everyone into tremendous amounts of trouble. Pandy is the leader, with her curiosity and her willingness to explore and think outside the box. Along the way there are gods and goddesses who want to help them and a couple who want Pandy dead. Essentially it’s a primer on Greek mythology, the ancient world with modern sensibilities. Pandy is someone everyone can relate to in the sense that if you take responsibility for your actions when you screw up, sometimes you get to save the world.
PCZ: And this is something that all ages can enjoy?
CH: Eight and up. I’ve had sixteen year old girls who I sort of use as “test subjects.” They take the book from me and yawn and say they’ll read it when they get around to it. Then, they’ll come back to me and say, “Ok, I really didn’t want to like this, but I loved it! When’s the next one coming out?!?”
PCZ: Is mythology something you’ve always been interested in?
CH: From the summer between fifth and sixth grade, when I had this wild teacher, Mrs. Yvonne Ebert. This was the wild ’70s, so no holds barred. She was kind of crazy and all over the place. She taught us from Edith Hamilton and let’s face it, Edith Hamilton was not writing for kids. There was no sugar coating or downplaying anything. I was mad for Greek mythology and still am.
PCZ: It sounds like you, too, aren’t downplaying anything or writing down to children.
CH: I write what entertains me. I remember what it was like to be thirteen and what intrigued me and what made me laugh and what absolutely terrified me. The Greek myths absolutely terrified me when I was eleven and reading them for the first time. And I appreciated not being taught down to. This teacher [Mrs. Ebert] really whetted my appetite. I wanted to know all the gory stuff.
PCZ: Ok, so, where did you come up with this idea?
CH: I was in a writing workshop and I was basically a dilettante really. I was sort of noodling around. Other areas of my life were starting to take off and I was really enjoying the company of the other writers in the class. I was working on a series of short stories about misunderstood women in fiction, kind of like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. I was taking other characters in fiction and writing five to seven page stories and one of them was Pandora. In fact, chapter five in book one is basically the foundational short story. There was a very prolific author from Ireland who happened to just be sitting in on the class. I read the short story to the class and he said, “Oh no, that’s not a short story, that’s a novel for young adults.” And I went, “Really?” Basically he told me A happens, B happens, C happens, write a thousand words a day and in six weeks you’ll have your first novel. He wanted to see an outline by the end of the week and then he decided it’s a series of novels. Literally six weeks later I had the first novel. He threw down that gauntlet and I picked it up. It all started form there. I then came up with what was in the box and that each evil needed it’s own book.
PCZ: Do you still write a thousand words a day?
CH: Well…I could lie and say yes. I write when I am moved and the books fortunately still come out of me very fast. However, for instance, the last thirty pages of book four, which I just delivered, were very difficult. It’s difficult what happens, why it happens and writing it, I knew, was not going to be pleasant at all. There was a good four week period where I did anything else. I planted a garden rather than write. I bathed my cat rather than write. I did everything other than tackle it because I knew that it would be devastating. There are times where I feel I’m not in a space to write what’s coming next and then I know I have to plow through it.
PCZ: That’s interesting to me because just about every author I’ve talked to that has parts where not necessarily nice things happen to their characters are all the same way.
PCZ: Has writing these books given you any kind of aspirations to write in other areas, such as screenplays?
CH: Not necessarily screenwriting, but I do have a couple of ideas for novels for adult fiction. But I’m not looking into that right now with everything else that is happening. Not until the last sentence of the last book has been sent to the editor.
PCZ: And it’s going to be seven books?
CH: God willing! Or let me amend that to gods willing.
PCZ: With everything you’re already doing you do have some other projects going on. You have a recurring role on the new Courtney Cox TV series.
CH: Yeah, if they love me, if they choose, then I will be there. Cougartown is the new Courtney Cox vehicle.
PCZ: How can you balance shooting General Hospital while shooting a recurring role on another show along with writing?
CH: Joe, did you ever watch the Ed Sullivan Show and see the man with all the spinning plates?
PCZ: Yes and that’s you now.
CH: There you go. There you go. I just find the more I have to do, the more I have to get done.
PCZ: How different is your character on Cougartown than Diane Miller?
CH: Well, Diane’s a cougar, just ask Max! Barbara is a very demure, conservative Realtor by day. There’s that wonderful smile and saying exactly what the client wants to hear. Then she turns into a raging queen cougar at night, which is where a lot of Diane would come in.
PCZ: I also find it very awesome that you have trained to be a trapeze artist.
CH: I did! Yes, “High Flying Hennesy.” I flew for about six years and I just ran into some friends who are still flying and they said they missed me and wanted me to come back. And it’s been about a year and a half since I’ve been up on a trapeze and we have tremendous muscle memory, but with regards to the trapeze, your muscles do not forgive you at all. I would be hurt. I will be getting back up and soon, though.
PCZ: Well, that is all I have for now. Again, thank you very much for taking time out of you very busy schedule to talk to me.
CH: Thank you, it was my pleasure.
Thank you again to Carolyn Hennesy for her time. Check your local listings for ‘General Hospital’ and pick up ‘Pandora Gets Lazy’ in book stores now!