INTERVIEW: General Hospital's Carolyn Hennesy remembers Diane Miller's best moments, shares slightly outrageous wishes for lawyer's future

Posted Friday, May 20, 2022 3:03:14 PM
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Carolyn Hennesy opens up about the fun of playing General Hospital's Diane Miller, why God should bless Genie Francis (Laura Webber), the creative endeavor of which she's most proud, circus tricks, and more.

General Hospital's Carolyn Hennesy (Diane Miller) would be the perfect person to meet at a cocktail party. Tedious chats about weather and hors d'oeuvres would most certainly be jazzed up with tips on how to do trapeze, tricks of the trade for raising butterflies, tales of early Disney artists, what gave soap actors a Marlon Brando-like freedom, and the ins and outs of how to set a serial killer free with what she's coined the "Tumor Defense."

Luckily, you don't actually have to sneak your way into a Hollywood cocktail party to get this fun conversation with Hennesy. Soap Central did the "hard work" for you, and we're bringing all the above bits of excitement plus some General Hospital scoop from the actress straight to you. So, sit back and enjoy our fascinating chat with Hennesy -- cocktail optional.

Soap Central: We have so much to talk about today, and I'd love to start by asking you about your new comedy film, Second Chances, which follows a former child star who's unexpectedly thrust back into the spotlight.

Carolyn Hennesy: Yes, Second Chances with Ryan Ochoa, who is a wonderful grown-up Disney kid who I am sure will end up running Hollywood in maybe five years, tops. Ryan wrote this film, he's in it, all of his siblings are in it, and he's got some wonderful co-stars, also from Disney. Ryan and I met on Mostly Ghostly... and he said, "I'm going to put you in something," and I said, "I dare you!" So, he did! And it was one of the best filming days of my life, truly. There wasn't a flaw in it -- everyone was just spectacular, and the film is going to be very funny.

Soap Central: Can you say how you fit into the story?

Hennesy: I am his then-and-still-current agent, and because he's a former child star, I've put him on the far back burner -- actually, he's basically in the freezer! But then something happens, he comes to the attention of social media again, and suddenly he's hot, so I'm back in the picture! [Laughs]

Soap Central: That sounds so very Hollywood!

Hennesy: Oh, of course it is! Absolutely. "You're not a moneymaker? Okay, bye-bye." "You're a moneymaker? Well, where have you been?! I've been calling you!" [Laughs]

Soap Central: What was it like to play that agent?

Hennesy: She's snarky and acerbic, money-hungry, a bit superficial, but deep down, she has a creamy marshmallow center. She really does love this kid -- when she remembers him, anyway. [Laughs] As I say, the snake gets the best lines and the best shoes. It's always wonderful to play the villain, either the light or the dark villain. And it's really fun when they have an arc or a realization, when they have a comeuppance and they reveal their humanity; that's the most fun, and that's exactly what happened in my role in Second Chances.

Soap Central: You mentioned Disney, and when I was looking up some of your history, I read that your grandparents on your father's side worked at Disney?

Hennesy: My father's father was one of Walt Disney's original layout artists. That's when things were done by hand, and he could sketch the background for Pinocchio or Fantasia or Peter Pan or whatever background from these films, he could toss these background sketches off like they were Christmas candy... And my father also worked at Disney; he was one of the three principal designers of Main Street at Disneyland and the original Tomorrowland. And then Dad, of course, went on to become an Academy Award-winning production designer for motion pictures. My older brother was an Imagineer at Disney, and basically, all of the work that I do is for ABC, so it's all Disney all the time! [Laughs]

Soap Central: Was there ever a time when you wanted to follow in any of their footsteps, or did you always want to be an actress?

Hennesy: From the time I was four, I knew I was going to be an actress. I can't draw to save my life! [Laughs] I have a great visual perspective and a great visual design sense, thanks to my father, but my hands betray me. I can't draw or paint or anything! So, I always knew I was going to be an actress. My mother's older sister was an actress, but I didn't follow in her footsteps, per se, because she was so much older than I was. I really grew up seeing the industry from behind the camera, and wanting to be an actress is somewhat unusual, because my immediate family were not in front of the camera. I will say that if I had not been an actress, I probably would have been a costume designer. I just love wardrobe. I love it to death.

Soap Central: But to be a designer, you have to be able to draw!

Hennesy: I'd absolutely have to have an assistant draw for me! And I can't sew -- but I could learn! [Laughs]

Soap Central: You mentioned your aunt, Barbara Rush, who actually appeared on All My Children [as Nola Orsini] in the late 90s. Did you ever talk with her about her soap experience?

Hennesy: She was somewhat advanced in years at that time, and I do recall her saying that when she got onto that set, her reputation carried her, because she had tremendous difficulty memorizing the lines and filming so fast. She also said that Michael Knight [ex-Tad Martin, AMC; Martin Grey, GH] saved her by telling her, "Barbara, it's what we call 'garbage memory.' It goes in, you say it, it goes out, and you forget it was ever on the page. And then the next part goes in, and so on." And it's also a muscle -- a muscle that Barbara had never exercised -- and then she started exercising it and became very proficient. But again, she credits all of that to Michael Knight. And it's so much fun, because Michael Knight is now on General Hospital, and I was able to tell him, "You saved my aunt!" And he told me that he just loved her. He said, "We would all just sit at her feet and listen to stories about Rock Hudson and Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin." So, Michael absolutely loved her.

Soap Central: Thinking back to your own early soap experience, do you remember anything from your General Hospital audition?

Hennesy: I didn't have to audition because the role of Diane Miller was only supposed to be two episodes. [GH's casting director] Mark Teschner called me and said, "I've got something for you. It's two days, it'll be a lot of fun, you'll play a lawyer -- Sonny's lawyer." And I said, "Terrific! Who's Sonny?" There was a loooong silence on the other end and I thought maybe he'd fainted. [Laughs] Then he said, "Sonny Corinthos is played by Maurice Benard, the hottest actor playing the hottest character in daytime." And I went, "Oh, okay, great!" So, I just walked in, and 15 years later, Diane has become a fan favorite and one of the most fun characters to play in my entire repertoire.

Soap Central: The show's 15,000th episode celebration is coming up. Do you have a favorite episode or moment from Diane's history?

Hennesy: My favorite episode is when Alexis [Nancy Lee Grahn] and Diane went on their road trip. They were both nominated for Litigator of the Year, and they got on a plane, they got kicked off; they got into a rental car, they got a flat tire; they ended up in a biker bar and they had to fend off bikers; they closed down the biker bar, and then they ended up turning what was a bitter rivalry into a best friendship. That particular small storyline will forever be my favorite.

Soap Central: I'm guessing many of the fans would probably choose that one, as well!

Hennesy: I do have a favorite moment, also, and that was when Diane mistook the engagement ring that Sonny was going to give to Carly [Laura Wright] for Max's proposal. She mistook Max showing her the engagement ring as a proposal for her, and the look on Derk Cheetwood's face, and Diane saying, "Oh, my God, yes! Yes, I'll marry you!" That was just a funny, funny moment. Another great moment was Diane being called in to rescue Jason [Steve Burton] at the PCPD on Valentine's night and then flashing Jason with what was underneath her trench coat. There are so many great moments, though. I mean, holding up a tumor in a mayonnaise jar and saying, "This came out of Mikkos' head. This is why he's a serial killer," I mean, really? The tumor defense! [Laughs] And Alexis walking in on Max and Diane on the couch in Sonny's living room and screaming, "My eyes! My eyes!" There are too many to count, but those are four of the greats.

Soap Central: GH will be airing a special episode in June to celebrate its 15,000th episode that will be focusing on Laura [Genie Francis]. They've said it will be featuring most of the cast. Can you reveal whether or not Diane will be involved?

Hennesy: I don't know yet! I hope I am, but to be honest, I'm probably not in it because Diane hasn't ever really interacted with Laura. However, my personal perspective on Laura is that she and Luke and Scotty and Robert Scorpio, they changed the face of daytime -- they absolutely, 100 percent changed it. Particularly those four: Kin Shriner, Tristan Rogers, Genie Francis, and Anthony Geary. They created a Marlon Brando-like freedom for daytime actors. They turned it on its head, all four of them. They upended everything, and they liberated us as actors. Yes, we still have to follow the lines and say the script, but the reactions became more real. What we were able to put forward and to inject into what we were saying changed after them. What they did opened up the entire world; it opened up the universe for us. So, God bless Genie Francis!

Soap Central: You said earlier that when you came on board GH, you didn't know who Sonny Corinthos was, but did you know Luke and Laura? And did you watch their wedding?

Hennesy: Oh, yes! Absolutely! Everybody watched the wedding, are you kidding me? And I've actually been on General Hospital two different times as two other characters. The first time I was on was during Laura's Ms. Star Eyes campaign, which was relatively close to their wedding. Laura was in New York, and Luke was trying to find her, and I played a photographer's assistant named Dora, and I had a one-way phone call with Luke Spencer. And then, a few years before Diane Miller, I played some lawyer -- I don't even remember the name -- for A.J., and that was also one episode. Mark Teschner has been as big a fan of mine as I've been of him, and he's been a champion of mine for many, many years. He would just call every once in a while, and it really almost didn't matter what I was doing -- I'd drop everything and say, "Yes, of course!" If Mark calls, then you go.

Soap Central: Why do you think Diane was the character that took off and became something more than was originally planned?

Hennesy: Well, they gave me moments, and they gave me Spinelli [Bradford Anderson] and Sonny! Those two are diametrically opposed, disparate opposites, and with one, I had to be very focused, and with the other, he held me in the first scene that we had together, and it was so unusual for my character, which I had already started formulating, obviously, that I just sort of seized up, and the powers that be saw that, and they saw that there was a bit of a connection there, and they saw that there was a bit of a connection with Maurice, and they thought, "Let's explore this."

Soap Central: And they obviously saw something great between you and Nancy Lee Grahn, because the Alexis and Diane friendship has endured. What do you think of their friendship, particularly in a genre that tends to focus on female rivalries rather than female friendships?

Hennesy: And also female friendships with women of a certain age who are there for each other! That's not seen very often, and I think we provide a wonderful example for the world, that women can be friends without robbing each other's husbands, backstabbing each other, trying to undermine each other, and gossiping about each other. We are stalwarts and are there for each other. We're there to catch each other when we fall, and we're honest with each other, and sometimes we have to give tough love to the other. It's a great blueprint for friendships.

Soap Central: What's it like working with Nancy?

Hennesy: Oh, she's fun -- she's a card, a caution, as they say. She's just a boatload of fun. She really is. She's also smart as a whip, and she knows Alexis so well. Alexis is like her twin.

Soap Central: Now that you've been playing a lawyer for so long, do you ever find yourself giving free legal advice to friends and family?

Hennesy: [Laughs] No, I don't do that! Although some people have come up to me at Costco, like, "Will you represent me?" And it's like, "Um, honey, no!" [Laughs] But I will say that every once in a while, something comes down the pipe in a script, a writer will write something, and I'll be like, "Nope, it wouldn't be like that," and I'll have to pitch an idea. You get used to the rhythm when you're playing a lot of court scenes, and I've done a little bit of research into the law, so there have been a few times when Diane will be in court, and the opposing counsel will be hammering the client or asking questions, and I'll say, "Okay, I've got to object here, or Diane isn't doing her job! I've got to say something!" [Laughs]

Soap Central: You're at the mercy of the writers, of course, but is there a super soapy storyline that you would love to play at some point that you haven't had the chance to play yet?

Hennesy: Oh, I want Diane to be kidnapped, I want Diane to have to be a cat burglar at some point, I want her to own a super dive-y jazz bar across the tracks so she can also sing, I want her to have to come from circus people, and I would really love it if Spinelli ended up being her child. And believe me, the fans want that, too. I also want tragedy to strike her. She's been given certain chances, but very few, to be vulnerable. Also, we don't see Max anyone. Derk, who played Max, is so happy in Nashville; he's just happy as a clam and thriving, and I don't think he's interested in leaving Nashville, so I would love to see Diane with someone else. I'd love for her to strike up a great romance.

Soap Central: I think the fans would love everything that you just said, and I particularly like the circus thing you mentioned, because I know you do trapeze in real life, and how cool would it be for them to incorporate that onto the show?!

Hennesy: I keep telling [our executive producer] Frank Valentini, "Look, you can lower Diane on a static trapeze into the Nurses Ball and have her singing at the same time." Come on! That would be hilarious! So much fun.

Soap Central: How does he react to your suggestion?

Hennesy: He walks away, and I don't even know if he's chucking when he walks away! I think so. I hope so! And I'm just like, "You're missing a great opportunity here, boss!" [Laughs]

Soap Central: The beauty of your situation at GH right now is you have the freedom to do other projects, so I guess that's the silver lining of not being hugely involved in the storylines. But is that freedom something you'd consider giving up if they wanted to incorporate Diane full-time?

Hennesy: I would, absolutely! When you have the amount of fun that I have, when you have the amount of creativity that I'm able to bring... and when you have that much playing something, then of course you're going to want to do it day in and day out. I don't think I could ever get bored playing Diane. And if they did put me under contract, they might have one of the storylines or juicy tidbits that we talked about, and that would be wonderful to sink my teeth into. But I love sinking my teeth into whatever they give Diane, anyway, because she loves the characters in Port Charles, she loves who she's representing, and she loves to hate who she hates -- so much, that every moment is chock-full of passion for Diane and for me. So, imagine getting to do that most of the year? That would be heaven. And yet, I know I have the best of both worlds, because I just completed three films, and I'm about to start another one, and that's terrific. I've always said that General Hospital is the gift that keeps on giving.

Soap Central: I'm switching gears here, but I saw on your Instagram page that you're growing monarch butterflies?

Hennesy: Yes, I raise monarch butterflies... and it's wonderful! In fact, I'm going to set up a monarch hatchery in my garage with a little viewing station. It's becoming monarch season, so, I planted milkweed in my garden, which is all they eat, and I'm going to be on the lookout and hopefully continue to perpetuate the species. They're so beautiful.

Soap Central: Why did you choose to raise monarch butterflies?

Hennesy: The answer is: why not? If you can perpetuate a species, and certainly as beautiful and as delicate and necessary to our environment as they are, then of course, do it! And it's fun! It's like having a science project that you can watch every single day. It's astonishing to me how these inch-and-a-half-long caterpillars get into a chrysalis that is half an inch long. I'm like, "I'm sorry, what did you just do? Did you just liquify yourself? What? What's happening?" And then out of this half-inch chrysalis comes this three-inch butterfly! It's amazing. My jaw just drops.

Soap Central: I've never heard of someone raising butterflies. You're the first person I've talked to who does trapeze. You're super interesting, Carolyn! You'd be the perfect person to meet at a cocktail party.

Hennesy: I think I could be fun! And you know what? The first thing I would probably talk about is my book series for young adults. It truly is the creative endeavor of which I am the most proud, my Pandora series for young adults. It's a retelling of the classical Greek myth of Pandora, except Pandora is a thirteen-year-old girl that finds the box, takes it to school, knows what's in it, knows she shouldn't have touched it, but uses it for a big project, and all hell breaks loose. Zeus gives her a choice of eternal torture and torment in Hades, or she has to go and get everything that got out of the box and put it back in the box, the source of the great evils of the planet, and she says, "Okay, I'll do it," and she sets out on a seven-book adventure.

Soap Central: Is there any childhood you in that character? Were you the type of kid to bring the box to school and let all hell break loose?

Hennesy: Are you kidding me?! It's all me! [Laughs] The story follows Pandora and her friends, Alcie and Iole. Alcie is a transfer student from Crete, she's the great niece of Medusa, and she's very smart and sassy -- a little sassy pants. Iole is the brains of the operation, while Pandora is the "every girl" who is riddled with angst. I mean, at thirteen, you don't know how to tie your shoelaces, and you have tremendous crushes on boys, but you don't think you're good enough or you think you're too unique, and you've got these fears that play upon your heart. So, it's all me. All three of those girls together are me. It was wonderful writing it and very cathartic.

Soap Central: This has been a really fun conversation, and you've been so generous with your time, which we really appreciate. Is there anything else you'd like to add before I let you go?

Hennesy: Everyone, just as best as you can, please save animals. Truly, save animals. Be kind to them. We're destroying our world and their world, and when they start to go, we're not far behind.

Soap Central: If people want to get involved, either with a charity or an organization, what would you recommend?

Hennesy: Support your local zoo if it's AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited. When you go to your local zoo, if you see something that looks off, tell one of the keepers or trainers or staff, make them more aware of animal needs. Do not follow the activist line of wanting to tear down zoos, because they're actually mandatory -- we need them because they are receptacles of species and gene pools; we've destroyed so much of the planet, we need zoos until we can find wild space again and repopulate. Become an advocate, not an activist. And adopt. And look up five-star rated charities and give to them. American Humane is one of the best.

Soap Central: Great recommendations. Thank you, Carolyn!

Hennesy: Also, anyone who wants to learn more can go to my YouTube channel and watch all of the episodes of my previous podcast, Animal Magnetism, where I spoke with all the greats in the animal advocacy world; we tackled real-world problems with real-world solutions. And I just started a new podcast, Life, Love, and Conservation with Carolyn Hennesy, and I think that is dropping very soon. So, stay tuned!

What do you think about our interview with Carolyn Hennesy? Can you think of anyone more interesting than she is? (We dare you!) What are your favorite Diane moments, and what would you like to see for the GH lawyer in the future? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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