Resident Falls Hard For the Movies
By JOHN WIRT
Leigh Hennessy, a former resident of Lafayette,
took hits for Demi
Moore in G.I. Jane and a spectacular fall for Lucy
Liu in Charlie's Angels.
When Helen Mirren got knocked around for Teaching
Mrs. Tingle, Hennessy
stepped in for the rough stuff. Hennessy also battled
armies of apes in
Planet of the Apes and did double-duty as stuntwoman
and actress in a
recent CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode.
She does double-duty again in The Guardian.
Opening today, the
action-drama about Coast Guard rescue swimmers stars
Kevin Costner and Ashton
The actress-stuntwoman's Guardian scenes
come at the beginning of the
film, when Costner plucks a floundering couple from
the rough Bering
Sea. Hennessy is in the film for just a few minutes,
but her rescue
introduces Costner's principal character. Memories
of the rescued couple
resonate later in a scene featuring Costner and
Sela Ward as his estranged
Hennessy shot the rescue-at-sea scene in
a wave tank in Shreveport,
where much of The Guardian was shot in February
"I had no idea what I was going
to see when I arrived on set," Hennessy
said from her home in Los Angeles. "I was blown
away. The wave tank was
huge and it kicked up to nine-foot waves.
"When we started, the waves were very low,
but they grew and grew and
grew. Suddenly the rain starts and the wind machine
starts and we hear
the megaphone: "Camera A! Camera B! Rolling!
"They had to scream so we
could hear. It really built up the excitement
and the adrenaline that the scene needed to be believable.
really, really challenging, but just the coolest
thing to be in there."
After her rescue, Hennessy's character - billed
in The Guardian's
credits as "Drowning Woman" - shares the
screen with Costner again in a
Coast Guard helicopter. The scene was shot on a
soundstage using a
helicopter suspended in front of a blue screen.
Hennessy is also seen when the
Drowning Woman and her husband exit from the rescue
latter scene was shot in Elizabeth City, N.C., where
the Coast Guard has
five major commands. During her days on The Guardian
set, Hennessy got to chat with the
film's leading man.
"I adore Kevin
Costner," she said. "I knew he's a big
star, but I
didn't know much about him. So I would say, 'How'd
you get in the business?'
I asked him all kinds of questions about his career.
And I said, 'Oh,
gosh, you've really done some classics. Dances With
Wolves, Bull Durham.
And I really loved The Upside of Anger and Field
of Dreams.' And he
was, like, 'Thank you, thank you.' He was very humble."
While filming in Shreveport, Hennessy also visited
attended the city's Mardi Gras celebration for the
first time in years. Her
parents live in Broussard and she has relatives
in Baton Rouge, Monroe,
Lake Charles, Winfield and Shreveport.
The actress-stuntwoman saw The Guardian at a cast-and-crew
last month. Costner plays a veteran Coast Guard
rescue swimmer who loses
his crew during a rescue that goes wrong. Kutcher
co-stars a cocky
rescue swimmer trainee. As she watched the story's
drama play out, Hennessy
said, "I got so involved with the movie I forgot
I was in it!"
Hennessy's early film and TV credits include commercials
stunt-double work for Demi Moore in G.I. Jane and
Tea Leoni in Bad Boys. The
latter films were shot in Florida, while Hennessy
was a Miami resident.
She's since returned to Los Angeles and built a
resumé containing 29
feature films and 18 television programs.
The 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes gave Hennessy
weeks of work. She
played a human about to be branded in a scene with
Helena Bonham Carter
and took part in many battle scenes. In the movie
business, the battle
scenes are known as utility stunt work.
was just day after day of fighting big monkeys,"
Her other utility stunt work includes playing a
member of a crowd of
wealthy zoo patrons who get thrown around by a giant
ape in 1998's Might
Hennessy spent about six weeks as Helen Mirren's
stunt double in
Teaching Mrs. Tingle, a film co-starring Katie Holmes
and directed by Scream-
and Dawson's Creek-creator Kevin Williamson. Hennessy
Tingle's students in the film, tumbles down a circular
staircase and gets
shot by a crossbow. Her stunt work was so realistic
first-time director Williamson.
Hennessy sees herself doing more work involving
both stunts and acting.
She used the two disciplines in The Guardian and
"In the beginning, I thought, 'Acting
is so boring. Who wants to do
that? I wanna throw myself off a building and catch
on fire. That's so
much more exciting.'
"But as time
went on and I was on film sets, acting became more
more exciting. A lot of my stunts required acting,
Certain emotions are necessary to sell the stunt.
Over time I just
naturally became a better actor, just because I
Hennessy studies acting and performs improv most
weekends. The poise
and confidence she gained through her years at the
Louisiana at Lafayette as a world-champion trampolinist
performances, too. Just as her athletic skills were
her avenue to stunt work,
stunts provided a path to acting.
can't be afraid of what people are gonna think,"
she said. "You
can't be afraid that you're gonna fail. You have
to say, 'What do you
want? I can do it.' And then you have to do it,
because if they find out
that you're not telling the truth, you're in big
As much as Hennessy loves her film work, she misses
home and Lafayette.
"There are times
when I want the best and it's just not here,"
said. "For example, a good bowl of gumbo or
an authentic zydeco band. If
there is an authentic zydeco band around I want
to jump up and two-step,
but everybody's left-footed out here."
The proximity of The Guardian sets in Shreveport
to Lafayette was a rare treat for Hennessy. Knowing
tax incentives are drawing films to Louisiana, Hennessy
watches show business trade publications for more
opportunities to work in her home state. "That's
how I got my role in The Guardian," she said.
"I hope I can get another job down there."
Story originally published in The Advocate