Sept. 29, 2006

Former Lafayette Resident Falls Hard For the Movies
Movie critic

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 and March.
"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! Action!'

"They had to scream so we could hear. It really built up the excitement
and the adrenaline that the scene needed to be believable. It was
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 helicopter. The
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 Lafayette and
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 screening
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 and
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.
"It was just day after day of fighting big monkeys," she said.

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
Joe Young.

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 fights with
Tingle's students in the film, tumbles down a circular staircase and gets
shot by a crossbow. Her stunt work was so realistic it frightened
first-time director Williamson.

Hennessy sees herself doing more work involving both stunts and acting.
She used the two disciplines in The Guardian and CSI.
"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 and
more exciting. A lot of my stunts required acting, especially fights.
Certain emotions are necessary to sell the stunt. Over time I just
naturally became a better actor, just because I had to."

Hennessy studies acting and performs improv most weekends. The poise
and confidence she gained through her years at the University of
Louisiana at Lafayette as a world-champion trampolinist enhance her
performances, too. Just as her athletic skills were her avenue to stunt work,
stunts provided a path to acting.

"You 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 trouble."

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," she
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
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