For most audiences, this week’s woman to watch won you over years ago as the crowned victor of both Miss Louisiana Teen USA and Miss Teen USA. Since then, this Destrehan, LA native has gone from attending the ultra-prestigious New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts to landing the role of Stephanie Johnson on one of the world’s lon gest-running television shows, Days of Our Lives, where she was nominated for a Daytime Emmy as an Outstanding Younger Actress.
Currently finishing up her first season on CW’s cult supernatural show The Secret Circle, Shelley Hennig stars as Diana Meade, a young witch discovering the limits of her powers alongside her coven circle while the world outside becomes increasingly hell-bent on destroying them.
Shelley took a break from practicing for her first improv comedy show to speak with us about her new show, the challenges of wearing a crown and how to cause a ruckus at Guantanamo Bay.
Playboy.com: You were crowned Miss Teen USA back in 2004. What was the hardest part about being a contestant?
Hennig: I didn’t know that a lot of preparation was supposed to go into getting ready for the pageant. I found a dress for $90 at David’s Bridal, did my own hair and makeup. But I guess the hardest part for me was that I can be pretty candid. It was realizing this was a world that was fairly censored. I remember a lot of the girls were very professional, almost too old…I was like, “Guys, we’re teenagers. We can be teenagers!” [laughs] I was like, “I don’t know what this is about, but I’m going to dive in and do something bigger than myself and maybe get a scholarship somewhere.” I think that’s what helped me in the end, that I wasn’t prepared and was candid, and was a teenager. I think that’s why I won.
Playboy.com: As part of your tour you visited Guantanamo Bay. What was that like?
Hennig: It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. We got a briefing before we went to the North Gate, which is where the Cuban soldiers and American soldiers stand on guard 24/7, every day of the year. They were taking us there, and they said, “The only thing you can’t do is point. Whatever you do, don’t point.” Things were good at the time but they didn’t want to take any chances. So the first thing I do when I get there is yell out, “I don’t see any Cubans! Oh wait, is that them?” and I pointed. Three American army guys come over and put my arm down – it was like a movie moment in slow motion. I was so embarrassed! It was the one thing they asked me not to do.
We saw the prison camps, and it was also the time when they were concerned that the U.S. wasn’t treating the soldiers correctly, and all the senators were coming in to take a look. It was a crazy moment in history that I got to be a part of. The best part about it was that I got to run six or seven miles with the marines. I kept up and I got to pass the flag, it was awesome.
Playboy.com: What was it like transitioning from pageants to acting?
Hennig: From Teen USA I got a scholarship to the New York Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, which was my initial plan in entering Miss Teen Louisiana, to get a scholarship somewhere and make it easier on my family and myself. Granted, I had never acted a day in my life. [laughs] I started off very open-minded, and I loved it the first day…but I sucked. I was just not getting it, so I spent two years just busting my little butt, living the acting world.
Playboy.com: Was New York a culture shock for you after Louisiana?
Hennig: I believe I just adapted and didn’t think twice. I think my favorite memory was my first night, at 10 o’clock I decided I wanted groceries and found a place about twenty minutes away. I bought all these groceries because I was told they had something like home delivery. So I paid for it all and then what do I do about this delivery service, and they were like, “Sorry, ma’am, that ended at 7 P.M.” So I walked all the way back with all these groceries because I couldn’t find a cab. [laughs]
Playboy.com: You’re known for being “the innocent one” in The Secret Circle. With recent revelations that you have dark magic, are we going to see you head down that path?
Hennig: I think it’s inevitable, it’s in my blood. I think it’s inevitable that Diana will have to use dark magic to get them out of a situation, and initially Diana doesn’t want anything to do with it. But she might be put in a situation where she has to use it, and who knows, she might like it.
Playboy.com: Have you played an evil character before, or would this be a first for you?
Hennig: I played a bitch on Days of Our Lives when I first started. There definitely was some evil in Stephanie, and while it wasn’t a supernatural evil show, Stephanie is the opposite of Diana: she wasn’t good to begin with.
Playboy.com: If you could have a supernatural power like Diana, what would it be and why?
Hennig: To travel back in time, to see people that are no longer here; I have so many childhood memories that I’d want to revisit. I asked Britt (Robertson) when we were shooting an episode, “If you could travel into the past or future, which would you do?” She said future, and I said past. I’m not one who lives in the past, but I’m definitely a sentimental person so I’d love to go back to the good old days.
Playboy.com: What music will get you on the dance floor?
Hennig: [Laughs] I like rap, hip-hop, country, techno…wait, maybe not techno anymore. I don’t even think techno is a current term… [laughs] I’m a dancer so any music can get me out on the dance floor. Jay-Z is what I’m listening to these days.
Playboy.com: So acting, dancing…should we expect singing next?
Hennig: I definitely have gotten better at singing. With a bit of training I can pull it off, but I would not say singing will ever be my number one talent.
Playboy.com: Be it in the shower, car, or all alone. What are you singing? Do you have a guilty pleasure song?
Hennig: I’m singing Amy Winehouse’s cover, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” from her (Lioness:) Hidden Treasures album. The whole way I was driving back from Vancouver, I was listening to the country station on Sirius and memorized pretty much every country song that is out right now…and anything Miranda Lambert.
Playboy.com: What was your first Playboy?
Hennig: I was in Fred Segal for the first time and there was a coffee table book, as big as your coffee table, of every cover of Playboy Magazine since it started, and it was autographed by Hugh Hefner. So I bought it for my brother as a birthday present.
Playboy.com:You are a good sister!
Hennig: I know, I know. But I couldn’t pass it up for him; he has it proudly in his living room. [laughs]
Catch The Secret Circle Thursday 9/8c on the CW. Follow Shelley on Twitter @ShelleyHennig