Born in Alberta, Jill Hennessy has fought crime on the streets of New York on Law & Order as Assistant DA Claire Kincaid; solved mysteries of the flesh as a forensic pathologist Jordan Cavanaugh on Crossing Jordan; and glorified stages and subway stations with her musical talent.
Her new series LUCK, is fast-paced look into the belly of horse racing; and the dealings between the trainers, the owners, and of course, those betting for their lives. Directed by Michael Mann and created by David Milch; LUCK stars Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, and airs Sunday’s on HBO.
Jill sits down with Playboy.com to talk about her role as a track veterinarian; balancing a singing and acting career; and what it’s like to hang out with Dustin Hoffman in a barn late at night. Welcome busker-turned-actor extraordinaire, Jill Hennessy.
Playboy.com: Tell us about your character Jo on LUCK.
Hennessy: She’s a veterinarian for race horses. She’s involved with this Peruvian trainer named Escalante [John Ortiz]; who’s a rather suspicious dude. Incredibly talented, incredibly good at what he does, but he resorts to questionable tactics to get what he wants; and what he wants is a little suspect as well, it’s unclear. She’s got an interesting background, but we haven’t really revealed any issues from her past.
Playboy.com: What drew you to the role?
Hennessy: My agent just called me up and was like, “There’s this project with HBO with Dustin Hoffman, and Michael Mann is directing with David Milch writing.”
That’s all he said, and I was like, “When’s the audition? I’m in. I’m going to that audition; I don’t need to read the script.” It turns out only one scene was available; there wasn’t even a script yet. It’s a scene where I’m giving a horse a rectal exam.
Playboy.com: I was going to ask. What did you think of that first scripted scene on the show?
Hennessy: I thought that David Milch is one of the most brilliant writers around. That’s such a gutsy choice for introducing a female character. I thought, oh gosh, that’s me! I can do that. She was just giving a horse a rectal exam and as she looks at the trainer, she’s pulling on this shoulder-length glove and says “Don’t you wish this was you?” That’s just a cool chick. I was incredibly impressed.
Playboy.com: What did you do to prepare for your role as a track veterinarian?
Hennessy: I did a lot of shadowing. I would accompany vets on their rounds, and just hang out with them for hours. I’d help them with vaccinations, examinations, probes, all kinds of stuff. I witnessed a couple surgeries – it’s a fascinating, different world, a different form of medicine.
Playboy.com: What was it like to work with Dustin? What did you learn from working around him?
Hennessy: To be generous with yourself. It’s a pleasure, every scene I’m in with him. It’s just fun to close your eyes and listen to his voice – and also, to watch his approach. He’s so good at making you feel good about yourself. He’s incredibly encouraging, he loves what he does, and he loves playing with people. He’s like a little kid, such a joy. I learned a lot from him.
Playboy.com: Would you like to work with him again?
Hennessy: I would do craft service for Dustin. I would bring him his Cappuccino in the morning…or his juice. I just think he’s tremendous, one of the best I’ve ever worked with.
Playboy.com: Jo and Escalante’s relationship is interesting to watch on screen. How would you describe it?
Hennessy: I think she’s wondering what she’s looking for in this. I think he thinks he knows, but then he realizes he doesn’t. They’re both in the same boat. There’s a guy and girl here from very different backgrounds, but there are a lot of similarities. They don’t want their relationship to get out, but she’ll end up turning up on his doorstep. They’ll have some wine and cheese, watch the races, and go to bed together. There is nothing that is really black and white, which is what I really like about David Milch.
Playboy.com: What’s your personal view of track gambling? Have you ever bet on a race?
Hennessy: I’ve seen it going on. I’ve watched other people gambling. I’m just not much of a gambler because I’m just too cheap. I don’t get enough joy out of it to merit losing money. Vegas – I’d go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, or go people watching. I’m too used to remembering the days I was living on five dollars a day, looking forward to my cup of Lipton soup and bagel for dinner. So why would I go spend my money on gambling? As far as the culture though, it’s fascinating to watch.
To check out Jill's take on gambling, smart roles, and what comes next, click below.