While known for her roles in the NBC dramas ‘Crossing Jordan’ and ‘Law & Order’ as the career-driven Jordan Cavanaugh and Claire Kincaid, respectively, Jill Hennessy is playing against type in the new film ‘Roadie,’ which is now available on VOD, and is scheduled to hit theaters on January 6, 2012. The actress, who released her debut album ‘Ghost In My Head’ before beginning production on the independent drama, channeled her musical talents to portray struggling singer Nikki Stevens. While promoting ‘Roadie’ in New York, where the movie was filmed, Hennessy took the time to discuss with us how she found it both appealing and challenging to play a woman struggling to find happiness in her stalled music career and mundane marriage.
‘Roadie’ follows the title character, Jimmy Testagross (played by Ron Eldard), in the 24 hours immediately after he is fired by Blue Oyster Cult, the rock band he has been touring with, and working for, throughout most of his adult life. While he longs to stay on the road with the group, he reluctantly returns to his mother’s home in Forest Hills, New York. when the band won’t take him back. Unwilling to accept his fate, he lies to mother (portrayed by Lois Smith), telling her he’s the group’s manager, and has even written a few songs for them.
While home, Jimmy surprisingly reunites with his old high school nemesis, Randy Stevens (played by Bobby Cannavale), who reveals he’s married to Nikki, who used to date Jimmy in high school. Even though Randy and Nikki have been married for 17 years, Jimmy instantly bonds with her again, as they reminisce about their school days. To make himself look better, Jimmy lies to Nikki and Randy about his career as well. While together, the three wonder what their lives would have been like if they had all achieved their childhood dreams.
Nikki’s persistence and determination to further her music career held a great appeal for Hennessy. While the actress has had a modestly successful career as a singer-songwriter, she still understood her character’s struggle to launch her musical profession off the ground. So when Jimmy initially runs into Randy and Nikki at their neighborhood bar, and he tells them that he’s managing Blue Oyster Cult, “she sees it as an opportunity to advance her singing career,” Hennessy said. Nikki gives Jimmy one of her CDs, hoping that he’ll pass it along to some of his industry colleagues.
“Nikki isn’t entirely happy with singing for 30 people in the local bar, or being married to Randy,” Hennessy said of her character. The actress added that Nikki isn’t afraid to go after what she wants, and takes whatever means necessary to obtain her dream of becoming a successful musician, even if means spending time with Jimmy without Randy. She also bonds with her former boyfriend because “it reminds her of her high school days, when anything was possible.”
While Nikki and Jimmy bonded over their love of music, “I wasn’t entirely familiar with Blue Oyster Cult before I began filming ‘Roadie,'” Hennessy said. She lived in her native Canada until 1988, when she was 20, after the band rose to fame in the ’70s and early ’80s. She added that “once I listened to Blue Oyster Cult, I said, like Nikki, why isn’t the band more well-known?”
The relationships Hennessy’s character has with both Randy and Jimmy are believable and genuine, because she so easily connected with both Cannavale and Eldard. “We had about a week-and-a-half of rehearsal time before we began shooting, which is unusual for an independent film,” she said. While the cast didn’t have the luxury of improvising many lines, due to the short two-and-a-half week schedule, they still had a natural chemistry that arose from portraying the complex, diverse characters created by director and co-writer Michael Cuesta’s. Eldard and Cannavale “reminded me of my Candian and American families,” Hennessy added with a laugh, referencing their lighthearted, but dramatic, behavior.
Hennessy enjoys working on independent films like ‘Roadie,’ as “I never really connected with my show characters,” she said. The smaller productions have more appeal to the actress, as there are no real difficulties. Cuesta “had a clear sense of what he wanted every day, so there weren’t any arguments on the set,” she added. She also found it beneficial that the house the director used as Jimmy’s childhood home was a real location, and the owners allowed them to film in the house without changing anything. Hennessy felt the minimal set and production design allowed viewers to see what Jimmy’s life would have truly been like, had he truly grown up in Forest Hills.
While Hennessy bonded with her co-stars and truly enjoyed the independent working environment on the set of ‘Roadie,’ “the hotel scene was the hardest scene, as I don’t know much about Special K,” she said. During the scene, Nikki and Randy take Jimmy to the sun-down hotel they normally rent a room at before she takes the stage at the local bar. They convince Jimmy to take drugs with them, as it helps Nikki take the edge off before she begins performing. “Obviously we didn’t really take drugs during that scene, so it was difficult to get into Nikki’s mindset of why she still gets nervous before performing, and why she needs to take drugs beforehand,” Hennessy said.
While Hennessy has rightfully achieved success in her acting and musical careers, she still perfectly understood Nikki’s continuous desire to obtain recognition for her singing. Despite being a small, independent film, ‘Roadie’ provided the actress with the chance to fully develop her character as being someone who feels she hasn’t gotten the chance to carry out her dreams. Partnered with her natural chemistry with Eldard and Cannavale, ‘Roadie’ shows how the past can shape the way people live in the present.
Written by: Karen Benardello