Interview: Carolyn Hennesy and The Secret World of Soap Stars Onstage
The General Hospital star is appearing in The Secret World of Archy & Mehitabel at the Whitefire Theatre.
Daytime Emmy Award winner Carolyn Hennesy has done it all as an actress. She has not only spent considerable time treading the boards in her native California, but she has worked consistently in film and television for the past 30 years, earning awards and acclaim for her work on such shows as Studio City, The Bay, and, especially, the ABC daytime drama General Hospital, where she co-stars as hotshot defense attorney Diane Miller.
On September 10, Hennesy returned to the stage in world premiere of The Secret World of Archy & Mehitabel at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks. Adapted for the stage by Dan Gilvezan, this unusual show brings the beloved New York Evening Sun columns by journalist Don Marquis — featuring a poetical cockroach and a fun-loving alley cat (played here by Hennesy) -- to theatrical life.
TheaterMania recently spoke to Hennesy about the play, her theatrical background and future stage ambitions, and her portrayal of Port Charles' smartest lawyer.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you become involved in the project?
I've known Dan and his wife for many years. He has loved the work of Don Marquis for a long time and, when he finally wrote the play, he thought I'd be the right choice to play the character of Mehitabel. I read the script and it was wonderful writing with wonderful source material – these articles are a fascinating and still timely commentary on the human condition – and a character you can't pass up. So I said yes!
I don't think most of your TV fans know about your stage background. Can you tell me about it?
I was basically raised on stage. I studied at RADA and ACT, and I've worked here with every company from Interact to Theatre West to the Acme Comedy Theater. Being in front of an audience is the most important thing to me. Doing Terrence McNally's Master Class at the Garry Marshall Theatre in 2017, for which I won an Ovation Award as Best Lead Actress in a Play, was truly a life-changing experience. I felt like Maria Callas inhabited me. But with my TV and film work, doing stage work has sometimes been unworkable.
It sounds like you always wanted to act. Is that true?
Yes, from the age of 4. I remember walking onto set of the movie Fantastic Voyage [ed. note: for which her father, production designer Dale Hennesy, won the Oscar] and thinking "I don't know what happens in this big dark room, but whatever is going on in that the pool of light over there, I am doing forever." I am so lucky my dad was supportive of my choice. Although he died when I was 19, to this day, I always want to make my dad proud whatever I do.
Did you ever consider leaving L.A.?
Of course. I thought about going to New York, but I had a family here in the film industry [ed. note: her aunt is the actress Barbra Rush] and the idea of going to New York and being a gypsy or maybe even starving was too scary. I knew New York can be cruel. And then at a certain point, I thought I'll do it when I become a famous film star. That hasn't happened, but I still want to do Broadway!
What shows would you want to do?
Well, I can't really dance to save my life; I used to skip dance class when I was school because I was ashamed. But I can sing; I am actually a belter. There's a chance I may get to do Dede in The Prom at the San Diego Musical Theatre fairly soon. That would be a boatload of fun. Anyway, I would love to do Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard since it is my all-time favorite movie. I can sing Defying Gravity beautifully in my car, but honestly, I think I'd be a really good Madame Morrible in Wicked. And then of course there's Lady Macbeth or anything by Tennessee Williams.
Lastly, let's talk a little about "General Hospital." Your character is a big fan favorite. Do you understand why?
Yes, Diane brings the comedy, and she lets you, the viewer, catch your breath between all the drama and realize it's not so serious. When I hear from fans, they also acknowledge what I affirm since I first got on GH: Diane is the one character who can say anything to anyone. I get to say everything that the audience wants to scream at these characters. They love having that connection.
I have to tell you, as an attorney, I think you're a very convincing lawyer. How do you prepare for that?
Honestly, most of the writers know how to write Diane, so its easy. But the best litigators, like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, know that it's their job to convince a jury, and if they act like they believe in their client, that comes through to the jury. Like acting, it's a performance. Still, I probably could be a good lawyer and maybe in the next chapter of my life, I'll go to law school. For now, though, I just try to steer clear of lawyers.