|About Jill Hennessy|
Actress Jill Hennessy, who spent three years as Claire Kincaid on "Law & Order," brings her directorial debut, "The Acting Class," to the Maryland Film Festival for its world premiere. Hennessy has also appeared in "Dead Ringers" and "I Shot Andy Warhol." She can be seen in the upcoming TNT miniseries, "Nuremberg," and the new Richard Gere/Winona Ryder film, "Autumn in New York." "The Acting Class" will be screened at the Charles Theatre April 29 at 6:30 p.m. and April 30 at 10 a.m.
Sherry, Baltimore: I was wondering why you choose to have your directorial premiere here in Baltimore? How do you feel the movie culture is represented here compared to major movie cities such as New York or L.A.?
Jill Hennessy: I had the best time here at the festival last year. This is one of the few festivals I've been to where people seem to want to watch films purely for the joy of watching films as opposed to a festival that's completely dictated by "business transactions" such as purchasing and "let's steal a client for our agency." Plus any town that gave birth to John Waters is alright by me.
Satya, Baltimore: What did you think about working on the "L&O"/"Homicide" crossover?
JH: It was a total party. The cast of "L&O" was so excited about this, especially since we were all huge "Homicide" fans. We ended up having the best crab cakes I've ever had in my life. The shooting format of "Homicide" is a joy for actors.
Darrel, Olney: Did you learn a lot about the judicial system while starring on "Law & Order"?
JH: Yeah, I learned I never want to be a lawyer. But seriously, I have so much respect for the judicial system now. But as for closing a real estate deal, I'm completely inept.
Alisa, Randallstown: Do you think that the "Law & Order" twists are a good representation of today's legal system, or just entertaining?
JH: Good question. Many twists are used to keep up the pace of the episode, yet more often than not they mirror actual cases ... seriously dude.
George, Baltimore: Do you think teenage gun violence on the streets is fed by the images and values glorified on television and in movies?
JH: In my opinion, I'm not crazy about seeing gun violence on TV or the movies and I can only guess that that has to affect people (particularly children) in some way. There's no way for me to guess, though, how much these images actually "feed" violence on the streets.
Scott, Essex: I'm going for broke and asking two questions:
JH: Oui, bien sur, io parlo, Italiano, un poco de espanol (sorry no ~), todah rabah! Yes, dude, I love speaking languages mainly because I love eating foods from as many countries as possible. In answer to Question Two, there really is no sister. It's all been a huge lie. Just kidding, my sister acts in "The Acting Class" and doubled for me in one scene of "L&O" while I was here in fabulous Baltimore shooting "Homicide."
Barbara, San Jose, Calif.: I am so happy to hear that you are directing as well as acting (following in the footsteps of another one of my favorite actresses -- Diane Keaton) -- what made you pick this particular subject as your first directoral foray?
JH: Good question! What's funny about this film, "The Acting Class," is that there was such a huge desire to tell the story of rather personal experiences in my various acting classes that I knew I had to do whatever I could to get it done, i.e. write it, co-direct and shoot it with my friend, Elizabeth Holder, basically everything from being executive producer to one of the craft service babes. This was one story that would not be left untold.
Marni, Columbia: When you decided you wanted to direct what steps did you take to reach that goal?
JH: I feel like I've had so much experience watching other directors from people like Ron Howard to Joan Chen to my friend Elizabeth Holder. Also, a great thing about "Law & Order" was that I got to see a different director every eight days and how they would deal with the demanding shooting schedule. Aside from that, I just jumped in, rented the equipment and shot.
Rosa, Baltimore: What did you find to be your biggest and most unexpected challenge in your first experience as a film director?
JH: I guess the most unexpected challenge was trusting myself. Elizabeth and I had so much fun doing this film that I realized, "Wow, I don't have to torture myself with criticism to create something I'm proud of." And believe me, not all sets are as much fun as ours was.
Kathy, Richmond:Is there any word on whether "Chutney Popcorn" will go into general release?
JH: Speaking of fun film sets, I'm so glad you asked. I know that Nisha Ganatra is in some hot negotiations as we speak. I don't think I'm at libery to give details at this point, but I think you'll be tasting a little chutney soon.
Ron, Catonsville: In the music field, so-called alternative artists are considered by many to be compromised by commercial success. Do you believe the same is true for independent films, or does success just allow many more people to see quality films?
JH: I thoroughly agree with the second part of your question. I think quality and creativity come in all shapes, sizes and mediums. As long as you're doing what turns you on.
Cam, Birmingham: You have done Broadway, television, movies, writing and directing now when are you and your sister going to put out the album?
JH: Cam, God bless you. You make me feel so accomplished. I would love to put out an album with my sister (she actually sings in "The Acting Class"). I play acoustic guitar and love singing with her.
Roy, Yuma, Ariz.: Getting away from some of the acting/directing questions -- I have always wondered what your ethnic background is.
JH: Wow. Roy, it's a long story, but I'll try. My father is Italian, French, Swedish and Irish. My mother is Ukrainian and Austrian, but mainly Ukrainian Gypsy. So, who knows where it goes after that. We might even be related, Roy.
Joe, Baltimore: Who was most influential in your life?
JH: Oh dude, aside from my father and grandmother, I would have to say my personality has been highly influenced by Ernie from Sesame Street. I know it sounds strange, but I did spend a lot of time with the guy.
Sue, Baltimore: What advice do you give teenage girls regarding careers?
JH: I think it's so important to allow yourself the confidence to follow a path that's truly exciting to you, regardless of what it is.
Scott, Baltimore: You look completely different every time I see you in a photo, or in an interview, or on TV, or in a film. How do you manage to actively maintain such visual diversity?
JH: Because I'm totally messed up, man. Just kidding. Thank you so much for saying that. One of the things I love about being an actor is playing different characters and I hope to keep tackling new and different roles. P.S. It's all about the hair.
Art, Westchester, Pa.: You're so popular on the Net -- have you ever considered starting your own Web page? All your fans would love that.
JH: Art, I had no idea! This might be a good move, except for the fact that I'm extremely computer illiterate, but I'll work on it.
Tom, Baltimore: You mentioned you had the best crab cakes -- do you remember where you got them?
JH: Tom, the memory of those cakes will forever be seared in my brain. The restaurant is called John Stevens in Fells Point (a popular "Homicide" hangout).
Carol, N.Y.: When is the N.Y.C. debut of "The Acting Class?"
JH: Carol, I, myself, would like to know the answer to that question. Maybe you could call Miramax for me. But I can tell you that we are premiering at the Maryland Film Festival Saturday, April 29 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 30 at 10 a.m. This is one of the best festivals I've been to. It seriously is. There's a wonderful appreciation of comedy at this festival.
Sean, Boston, MA: We know how unrealistic it is for Claire Kincaid to come back on "L&O?" Is there any chance you would return as another character?
JH: I would love to. I've already discussed this with Dick Wolf, but it's difficult executing this without making the show a wee bit unrealistic or "soapy". Dream sequences have been discussed.
Steve, Baltimore: As someone with absolutely no experience in either acting or directing, it would seem to me that the two vocations have little in common aside from working towards the completion of a film. How do you relate the two, and how easy is it for you to change hats?
JH: Steve, very good point. The connection I see between the two is story-telling. It was challenging, yet thrilling to "change hats," especially working with a friend who has directed me in the past and being able to ask questions of the many directors I have worked with.
Mandy, Fells Point: What is the most absurd thing that's ever happened to you on a set or in actual acting class?
JH: Mandy, awesome question. Babe, you've got to see the film. It really is based on many very real experiences I have had in acting class. One in which I was asked to don a bikini and sniff the carpet. Need I say more?
Art, Westchester, Pa.: I think you are very beautiful, are you married?
JH: Why Art, you charmer, you. I am actually "involved" with one of the actors in our film. Paolo Mastropietro. Consequently, he was one of the few actors we were allowed to truly exploit.
Larayne, Baltimore: You were the "take no crap" woman on "Law & Order." Does this hold true in reality?
JH: Oh Larayne, you'd be surprised at the crap I take.
Sharon, Rockhampton, Australia: Are you happy with the way your career has gone since leaving "Law & Order?"
JH: Sharon, you're from one of my favorite countries. I finished shooting a film on the Gold Coast a year ago. To be honest I'm thrilled with the work I've done since "L&O" most notably "Autumn in New York" with Richard Gere and Winona Ryder, directed by Joan Chen and "Nuremberg" with Alec Baldwin, as well as a lot of indies where I got to play really fun and diverse characters. I guess my objective is to keep working as much as possible and have an incredible amount of fun while I'm doing it. "The Acting Class" is one of these projects.
John, Hampden: I heard Alec Baldwin and Regina King have cameos in "The Acting Class." How did you get these actors to appear in this film? What was it like going back to the "L&O" set to film cameos with some of your other co-stars? Can't wait to see the film!
JH: Thank you, John! In regards to Alec Baldwin, I had a rough cut of our film in Montreal while we were shooting "Nuremberg" and the buzz on it from my 50 male co-actors had spread so fast that Alec approached me one day and gave me hell for not showing him. After seeing it he asked if he could play a part. As for Regina, Elizabeth Holder was assistant directing a film in Chicago with Regina and asked her to play a part, which she readily agreed to. And finally, in regards to going back to "L&O," it was a true joy. Everyone was so excited to be a part of this. Not just the actors on the show, but a few of the producers and crew members as well. These people were my family for three years. They rock!
JH: I just feel so honored that everyone took the time to talk to a nut like me! Let's meet for crab cakes.