[Exclusive] 'City on a Hill' star Jill Hennessy lifts the veil on troubled, complex and utterly riveting Jenny Rohr
In an exclusive with MEA WorldWide, the 50-year-old spoke about her initial reaction after landing the role, the portrayal of women in the series and her thoughts on playing Jenny Rohr
'City on a Hill' ended with a flourish and the finale plot line bodes well for fresh season 2. It took its time to set the tone but did so clearly and scrupulously. The crime drama is audacious and formidable and rates high in the intrigue factor.
While the spotlight throughout was predominantly on Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge, their co-stars did a stupendous job in complementing the protagonists. It is quite hard to actually use the term co-stars as each of these actors have their own storyline that contributed to the plot. Ahead of the season finale, MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) caught up with Jill Hennessy ( plays Jenny Rohr) and the 'Law and Order' star shared her experience on being a part of the drama series.
"I was thrilled when I heard about the project," she says. "Kevin (Bacon) was attached and word on the street was that the writing was really good. My husband actually ran into Michael Cuesta, who directed the pilot. I worked with him a few years back on to an independent movie called 'Roadie' with Bobby Cannavale and Ron Eldard. And so it was one of those conversations where my husband asks him what he's up to and he says he's working on this great pilot called 'City on a Hill'. She also went on to explain that while Cuesta added in a good word for Hennessy, she was going to put her hat in the ring anyway she could. "It was a thrill you know," she continued. "This is great writing and an incredible cast. Chuck MacLean blew me away as soon as I got the scripts. It was really edgy outside the box kind of writing."
Hennessy plays Jenny Rohr in the series and playing the wife of a sleazy, corrupt FBI agent like Jackie Rohr (played by Kevin Bacon) was no walk in the park. Showtime's site for the series describes her character as "The thick-skinned wife of Jackie Rohr who, on top of keeping a dysfunctional family together, pursues her own agenda."
The actor, however, relished the prospect of playing Jenny. "That's exactly what I loved about the role of Jenny," she said. "It was challenging and also that she had so much that she wasn't able to say. I love playing characters like that especially, whose voices aren't usually lifting. She was blaming herself for so much and that really was not her fault. I just wanted to take care of her and see what I can do about it," Hennessy explained. "I'm very thrilled with how it has gone and with a character who had only one scene in the pilot."
The 50-year-old also added that she had a sitdown with MacLean and Tom Fontana (one of the EPs). The former had mentioned that the character was going to be much more in the series and Hennessy had some ideas of her own for Jenny's backstory. "Thankfully, they incorporated a lot of the stuff that I brought to the table and they came up with some beautiful circumstances shall we say. Together we just created a character so multifaceted, complex and unpredictable I love her, I'm having a lot of fun. It's some of the best material I've ever had to be honest with an actress to play with," she remarked.
Ardent followers of the show couldn't stop talking about Jenny's decision to slam back at Jackie (Bacon). She was jeered at, looked down upon and was cheated— resulting in her giving it back. Something that Hennessy terms as "a well-plotted outline". " From episodes one to ten, they were trying to create such pressure with her character with just the constant abuse from episodes one to five, I think that some point, somebody decided to help by episode six," she laughed.
"The dam would break and we see her reacting, you see her start to take control and express yourself. Sometimes when you've been suppressing something for quite a long time it comes out like an explosion. And you're going to see that periodically and you might see a bit of that in episode ten as well. It's always terrifying yet incredibly thrilling to play roles like that. So, I hope you like episode 10. There's so much we could talk about!"
Jenny often operated at two levels. One where she was bogged down and the other time when she actually looked to put it behind her. "She's actually very relatable and again knowing her back story, and sort of seeing things from her lens who has been who is so really abused as a child and was trained to take on the blame," Hennessy opined. Simply put, the idea of bringing Jenny to life was all about personalization. "That sort of colored the reaction of how everybody would treat her".
While 'CoH' was a crime drama, the show also shed light on issues such as the women struggling to find their voice and eventually managing to be heard. Hennessy agreed to this being a conscious call. "I think on all our part that was one of the things that we discussed in that first meeting with Chuck and Tom. Everybody was very adamant about making sure that all of these women had a voice and that was that they were proactive and not over-reactive. That was obviously music to my ears. If they didn't have strong, female characters, it will be just sort of a boilerplate," she said.
Hennessy also added that Jennifer Todd, one of the EPs was firm about the fact that these characters were built up and given a voice. " We don't want them to be window dressing and, and so from the get-go, we all knew that that's what we were told. In addition, she said that she loved playing roles that demanded moving out of the comfort zones. "Playing Jenny meant there's been a lot of painful history and was so much love and there is so much that was fractured and delicate," she continued.
"It was nice to see something that's so intimate and painful." Hennessy picked out a scene from one of the episodes where she tried enticing Jackie in her lingerie. "She's rejected and you never really see that on TV, it's just such a horrible gut-punching scene and I love playing things like that. Things that we aren't comfortable talking about," Hennessy said.
Stay with us as we bring out Part II of the interview where Hennessy sheds light on working with her co-stars.