Denis Leary couldn't have written a better role for Elaine Hendrix if he had her in mind while creating the role of percussionist and back-up singer Ava in FX's new series "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll."
That's because Hendrix started her career as a model, singer and dancer, appearing in videos for the likes of Keith Sweat and MC Hammer. But that all ended for her in 1992, shortly after she moved to Los Angeles and was struck by a car while riding her bike.
Hendrix survived the experience intact, but learning to get mobile again brought her singing and dancing career to an abrupt halt – something she now says she's "grateful for" because it forced her to switch gears and consider acting.
Hendrix now calls the profession a "true passion," and over the last 23 years she's worked non-stop, appearing in a string of movies and TV shows, including "Get Smart," "Married with Children," "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion," "Superstar," "CSI," "Charmed," "Criminal Minds," "Castle," "The Mentalist," "Rules of Engagement," "Fetching," "Two and a Half Men," "Maron," and, most recently, "Transparent," to name a few.
Millennials, however, know her best for Disney's 1998 hit remake of "The Parent Trap." In it, Hendrix plays Meredith Blake, the girl who stands between twin daughters and their dream of reuniting their divorced parents. Hendrix plays "dad's" hot, gold-digging girlfriend against Lindsay Lohan's portrayal of the scheming twins.
For Hendrix's latest project, FX's "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" - created by and co-starring Denis Leary, as well as John Corbett - she gets a chance to demonstrate her vocal prowess, and even busts a few dance moves.
HNGN chatted exclusively with Elaine Hendrix to get the lowdown on the June 16 debut of "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll," to talk about what it was like working on the series with rock icon Joan Jett, what drives her animal advocacy work and - of course - her geeky love of "Star Wars."
HNGN: So, what's the deal with "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll?"
Elaine Hendrix: It's a show premiering on FX this summer that was created by, executive produced by, written by, directed by and starring Denis Leary, who also wrote the music. Well, he had some help, but he really is a force. He plays an aging rock star named Johnny Rock who basically gets a second chance through his daughter. He self-sabotages everything. I play his girlfriend of about 25 years who's also his backup singer, percussionist and, really, his everything. So, it's basically up to me to stop him from self-destructing. It's a lot of fun, and one of the many amazing things about Denis is that he really knows how to write for women and likes strong, funny women, so I got to do a lot of varied things. My character's name is Ava, and you get to see a lot of different sides to her. It's very sweet, funny, irreverent and edgy and everything that Denis Leary is.
If someone asked why I should watch the show, what would you say?
I'd say, "Have you heard the title?" Sex and drugs and rock 'n roll - what else do you need?
What does that mean to you?
For the purpose of the show, it's about what life is really like behind the music scene. It's a world where people walk the line between fame and glory and money, but at the end of the day, they're part of a dysfunctional family like everyone else's in the world. So "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" can either be your friend or your worst enemy.
Have you ever delved into the "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" world?
Yes. I was a dancer and I did a lot of rap videos. So I was more in the rap world, but being a southern chick, I always loved southern rock and country music, which all has its roots in blues. All of this wasn't that foreign to me. It's also not that different to the acting world - just louder.
Did you draw on any friends for inspiration?
Not really. Sometimes a character just comes very naturally, and that's how this was. Auditioning was completely effortless, and while filming it became even more effortless. He (Leary) let me run with it so we got to do a lot of improv. I'm so spoiled now and I don't know how I'm ever going to work with anyone else [laughs]. Actors don't get many opportunities like this. I guess I'm going to have to work with Denis for the rest of my life.
Have you worked with Denis before?
We actually figured out we did a movie together, starring him and Elizabeth Hurley. In that movie I played one of his ex-girlfriends. It was years ago. Then I did a show of his called "Maron," and now this. I don't know how much of that came into play with this, but doing this brought a whole new relationship. We have very similar sensibilities, so that's probably why we keep coming together.
There's an online video of you playing an aspirin bottle for percussion. Did you get to break that out?
I've actually graduated from the aspirin bottle [laughs]. That whole thing was improv.
The show also stars John Corbett, who is a rock star of sorts?
But in the show he's gone on to do bigger things, but comes back to join the band because we are so dysfunctional that we can't stay away from each other. There's also Robert Kelly, who plays the drummer Bam Bam and John Ales, our bass player named Rehab. Denis' character Johnny Rock gave him that name because he's been in and out of rehab like 5 times. He hates the name, but it stuck, so we call him that all the time.
Is there a losely-based connection to Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed with your characters?
No, and unlike Shannon, I get to sing on the show. My character is a part of the band and we do all of this in real life on the show. I do actually get to sing and play percussion. Keep your fingers crossed that we get more seasons because all of that will develop.
Is there a soundtrack on the way?
There is, and I actually wrote one of the songs on it with Elizabeth Gillies, so it's been quite a journey.
Is this your first foray into singing?
I've done some stuff before. I've written and recorded about five or six songs for different movies, and I've always sung and danced, so this is really an opportunity to bring all of those talents together. It was an amazing opportunity.
So, this is a dream come true?
It's interesting because it started out as just another audition. But it was really after I got hired that Denis was like, "You sing and you dance?" So he really tailored the role to me. It was an honor that he trusted me and believed in my capabilities. The whole cast really loves each other so much and had the best time with each other. We're all hoping to basically do this for the rest of our lives [laughs].
Is there a chance the cast might actually play somewhere?
We keep hearing rumors about that, but I have no idea what the plan is. I think so, at some point. But to play something like the Roxy or something like that would be crazy. I'm not sure I could handle it. It would be so awesome.
You filmed 10 episodes?
Yes. They are all done and waiting for the world to see.
Are you doing anything special for the July 16 premiere?
We are hitting Comic Con and we'll be in New York for the actual premiere. They told us to basically keep the summer clear.
You must be excited about Comic Con because we've heard that "Star Wars Episode IV" is your favorite movie of all time?
I'm going to be in heaven; I just can't wait. But episodes 1, 2 & 3 were so massively disappointing, so please don't screw this one up. I know people were up in arms about Jar Jar Binks, but I don't mind him. But that stupid pod race that went on and on with that Howard Cosell commentator? And why did all of this take place where technology was 10 times better than in the original? How did we digress so much? I just hope they bring back Boba Fett!
How was getting back into singing and dancing after you were hit by a car while riding your bike? Were you upset that you had to give it up for a while?
I trained in modern dance and jazz, but that whole incident really put a cramp on things with the dancing. But it did push me more towards acting, so I often wonder what would have happened if I wasn't hit by that car. Who knows what would have happened? I still have trouble spots in my body from it, but I survived, and while my life and career certainly took a different path I'm kind of - do I dare say it? - grateful, for it on some level.
So, now that you're dancing again, do you get to revisit some old moves?
I don't get to "full on dance" in this, but I danced in one scene and Denis said it was one of the funniest things he'd ever seen. I also get to roller skate. Denis learned that I could sing, so I became a singer. Then he was like, "Oh you dance," so now I'm dancing. Then he saw I could roller skate, so I'm roller skating. It got to the point where I'm like, "Let me tell you what else I can do." Anything Denis wanted to throw at me, I was ready for.
Do we get some 80s flashback scenes in the show?
There are a few flashbacks along with old pictures and old video clips. I've seen all the episodes, and one of the things I'm really impressed with is how he really made the flashbacks very seamless. It's not like - stop and here's a musical number - everything in the show is very intuitive. It flows and makes sense. That really impressed me.
Which years do the flashbacks take place in?
They take place in the late 80s and early 90s. They had me in a plastic skirt at one point, which was insane. In Denis' character's mind, Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters is his archenemy, but only in his mind.
Does Dave Grohl guest star, and are there any other guest stars?
He makes an appearance, along with Greg Dulli from Afghan Whigs. Joan Jett also makes an appearance, and she is the coolest lady - holy wow! I'm a big animal activist, and she's an animal lover and vegetarian. When we shot the show, she didn't know that she was going to be inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame and was still waiting to hear, so that just happened and we were all like, "Yeah!" She was just so cool and really helped pave the way for a lot of women.
Are animal rights a constant concern for you?
Yes, and I work with organizations all over the world, along with having my own organizations. The Pet Matchmaker HAART foundation and I use that as the base of my work, which is really a full-time second career, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I love acting; it's my passion and how I make my living, but being an animal activist is my life. It's a passion that gives me purpose on this planet. Animals don't have anybody to defend them - except for some of us. They need all the help they can get.
What does your foundation, The Pet Matchmaker, do?
It really encompasses everything: I rescue, I build habitats, I create media, I lobby and I speak at universities. I also protest and demonstrate. I do all of that personally. The foundation itself is getting more involved with rescue, and we do a lot of outreach and awareness building.
What else are you currently working on?
Well, I always have something going on. At the moment, I'm kind of contracted to the show, but I do have a kids' movie coming out next fall. I am also campaigning for an Emmy nomination for a guest spot I did on "Maron" - only because it's one of the wackiest and craziest things I've ever done. There's also a movie in development that I wrote and will star in, so there is always something going on. Given all that, the animal work, and all the stuff for the show, I'm always busy.
"Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" will premiere on July 16 at 10 p.m. on FX.
(With reporting by Steve Gidlow)
In the preview of "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" below, Denis Leary's character, Johnny Rock, says, "This is the face of a rock star," and his girlfriend (Hendrix) simply has a blank, unenthused stare.
Her iconic look and intense eyes are pictured again when she listens to a conversation between Rock and his long lost daughter.
"Maybe mom was wrong about you," the daughter says.
"What did she say?"
"You're a lazy, selfish pothead alcoholic with a death wish," she says, to which Hendrix nods in agreement.
Reporting by Steve Gidlow
Watch the trailer for the new series, as well as a video about Hendrix's character, Ava, below: