Audrey Horne on the 1990 cult TV series Twin Peaks. She is also known for her roles in Of Mice and Men, Ruby, Boxing Helena, Rude Awakening, and Two Moon Junction and for portraying actress Elizabeth Taylor in Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story.
Early lifeFenn was born Sheryl Ann Fenn in Detroit, Michigan. She comes from a family of musicians: her mother is keyboard player Arlene Quatro, her aunt is singer Suzi Quatro, her grandfather Art Quatro was a jazz musician, and her father, Leo Fenn, managed such rock bands as Suzi Quatro's The Pleasure Seekers, Alice Cooper, and The Billion Dollar Babies. Fenn is of Italian and Hungarian descent on her mother's side and of Irish and French descent on her father's. She was raised Catholic. Fenn frequently traveled with her mother and two older brothers before the family settled in Los Angeles when she was 17. She did not want to start with a new school again, and soon enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute.
Early career (1984–1989)Fenn began her career with a number of B-movies including The Wild Life (1984, opposite Chris Penn), the 1986 skater film Thrashin' (opposite Josh Brolin and Pamela Gidley), the 1986 teen fantasy movie The Wraith (opposite Charlie Sheen and Nick Cassavetes), the 1987 horror film Zombie High (alongside Virginia Madsen), and the Beauty and the Beast-inspired erotic movie Meridian. She had a part in the 1985 cult teen-comedy Just One of the Guys in which she tries to seduce a teenage girl disguised as a boy, played by Joyce Hyser. Fenn starred alongside Johnny Depp in the 1985 short student film Dummies, directed by Laurie Frank for the American Film Institute. Fenn and Depp dated for three and a half years, subsequently getting engaged. In 1987, she joined Depp in a season-one episode of 21 Jump Street called "Blindsided".
Fenn has described many of these early films as sexploitation films "where directors tried to convince [her] to appear naked after the contract was signed." "Still, I did a lot of movies instead of waitressing or that kind of thing at the beginning, and it wasn't as if I even took acting very seriously when I started," she says. "I was in California for the first time. I was going to clubs, I was going here, I was going there, I was skipping acting classes when I could. Luckily, I had an agent who really believed in me and she just kept pushing me, thinking something would happen."
Fenn landed her first starring role, as an engaged heiress to an old Southern family who falls for carnival worker Richard Tyson, in Zalman King's erotic drama film Two Moon Junction, after which she said she wanted to hide for a year. "I was so embarrassed about how it turned out that I went into a cocoon for a year afterwards", she said. Junction was meant to be Fenn’s big break, but the film turned into another sexploitation film. "A lot of people said some really bad things about me for doing such a sexy movie. But I decided to do it because I wasn't comfortable with the material. I didn't want to make choices that would always put me in a place that was comfortable and secure. I thought interesting things would happen and I would grow. Interesting things did happen. I cried at the end of all my love scenes."
After these film experiences, Fenn decided to take control of her career. "I decided to be more myself and not to be pushed into what other people wanted me to be. It’s scary how little imagination many people in this business have."
Rise to fame – Twin Peaks (1990–1991)Fenn won her most famous role and made an impression on the public when she was cast by David Lynch and Mark Frost as the tantalizing, reckless Audrey Horne, a high school femme fatale, in the critically acclaimed TV series Twin Peaks. The series ran from 1990 to 1991, and the character of Audrey was one of the most popular with fans, in particular for her unrequited love for FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) and her style from the 1950s (with her saddle shoes, plaid skirts, and tight sweaters). Fenn reached cult status with a scene in which she danced to Angelo Badalamenti's music and a scene in which she knotted a cherry stem in her mouth. "With Sherilyn Fenn, Twin Peaks came on and effortlessly destroyed every other show’s sexuality", said co-star James Marshall. "Audrey is a woman-child who dresses like the girls in the '50s and shows her body", said Fenn. "But she's daddy's little girl at the same time." In the show's second season, when the idea of pairing Audrey with Cooper was abandoned, Audrey was paired with other characters like Bobby Briggs (played by Dana Ashbrook) and John Justice Wheeler (Billy Zane). About Audrey, Fenn said:
Wild at Heart, as a girl injured in a car wreck, obsessed by the contents of her purse, opposite Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. The film won the Golden Palm Award at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. "David’s direction was, ‘Only think of this: bobby pins, lipstick, wallet, comb, that’s it.’ It’s very abstract." "I just pictured her being able to do this", said Lynch of her scene, "she’s like a broken China doll." David Lynch, who once described Sherilyn Fenn as "five feet of heaven in a ponytail" (quoting from a 1958 record by The Playmates), said about her:
|“||She's a mysterious girl and I think that actresses like her who have a mystery – where there's something hiding beneath the surface – are the really interesting ones.||”|
She soon portrayed John Dillinger's girlfriend Billie Frechette in ABC's 1991 gangster TV movie Dillinger opposite Mark Harmon, and shot the neo-noir black comedy Desire and Hell at Sunset Motel in which she played a sultry, seductive femme fatale. After Twin Peaks, Fenn chose to focus on widening her range of roles and was determined to avoid typecasting. She stated, "They’ve offered me every variation on Audrey Horne, none of which were as good or as much fun." She turned down the Audrey Horne spinoff series that was offered to her, and unlike most of the cast, chose not to return for the 1992 prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, as she was then shooting Of Mice and Men.
Post-Peaks roles (1992–1995)After two nominations (Emmy and Golden Globe) for Twin Peaks, and a pictorial in Playboy magazine (for which she chose her then boyfriend, Barry Hollywood, to photograph her), Fenn was propelled to stardom and became a major sex symbol, with her Old Hollywood looks. In October 1990, while promoting Twin Peaks, Fenn made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine along with Mädchen Amick and Lara Flynn Boyle. In 1990 Us Magazine chose her as one of the "10 Most Beautiful Women in the World" and in 1991 People magazine chose her as one of the "50 Most Beautiful Women in the World". She posed for photographer Steven Meisel for the autumn-winter 1991–1992 Dolce & Gabbana campaign, for which he photographed her as a classical Hollywood femme fatale. In 1992, photographer George Hurrell took a series of photographs of Sherilyn Fenn, Sharon Stone, Julian Sands, Raquel Welch, Eric Roberts and Sean Penn. In these portraits he recreated his style of the 1930s, with Fenn posing in costumes, hairstyle and makeup of the period.
In 1991, veteran Hollywood acting coach Roy London chose her to star in his directorial debut Diary of a Hitman, in which she plays a young mother determined to protect her child from hit-man Forest Whitaker. According to Fenn, the turning point in her career was when she met London in 1990. She credits him with instilling confidence and newfound enthusiasm.
Australian magazine Movie. "I try to keep myself centered," Fenn said. "I don't go to parties and all that. I don't think being seen or being in the right place is going to make me a better actress. I care about my work and try to do what's right in my heart." As Mike Bygrave wrote in Sky Magazine: "One of the keys to understanding Fenn is that when she talks about the characters she plays she's really talking about herself." Fenn was eager to play varied parts that could eclipse her sex-symbol image. "People who think they know me would be surprised that my whole life doesn't revolve around sex," she said. After Twin Peaks, Fenn demanded a no-nudity clause in her contracts. She turned to independent films, choosing varied and unusual roles:
|“||The world has certain rules – Hollywood has certain rules – but it doesn't mean you have to play by them, and I don't, or I'd be a miserable person.||”|
In 1993, she starred in the romantic comedy Three of Hearts as Kelly Lynch and William Baldwin's love interest. During the shooting the relations between Fenn and director Yurek Bogayevicz became more and more strained as she refused to appear nude in the film.
Fenn was also considered for the title role in Roger Vadim's remake of his 1968 film Barbarella that ultimately didn't come off.
Another of her notable film roles was in the controversial Boxing Helena, directed by David Lynch's daughter Jennifer Chambers Lynch. Fenn portrayed a narcissistic seductress amputated and imprisoned by Julian Sands, who makes her become his personal Venus de Milo in an effort to possess her. Fenn said of the film, "Society, Hollywood, some men... they want to wrap women up in a neat little package." Both Lynch and Fenn were proud of their work in it but the film ultimately was a critical and commercial failure. However, both women enjoyed their collaboration. "Sherilyn is an amazing actress, a total bundle of energy and a real powerhouse and I think people will see a side of her that we have never seen of Sherilyn anywhere else before," said Lynch of the actress. "Jennifer’s one of the brightest person I know," said Fenn. "Boxing Helena was... not perfect, but I think for the story that we were trying to tell, it turned out pretty good. What it signified was really powerful to me: how society puts us in boxes one way or another."
She then starred in Carl Reiner's neo-noir parody Fatal Instinct as Armand Assante's devoted secretary and Sean Young and Kate Nelligan’s rival. She was asked to read for the femme fatale Lola (eventually played by Young), but opted for the secretary role.=
Fenn afterward portrayed Potiphar's wife Zulaikha in Showtime's 1995 Biblical TV movie Slave of Dreams opposite Adrian Pasdar and Edward James Olmos.
In 1995, she starred in an episode of Tales from the Crypt directed by Robert Zemeckis, alongside Isabella Rossellini and John Lithgow, in which she played the lover of Humphrey Bogart, who appeared in the episode via CGI special effects.
After a short break during which she married and gave birth to a son, Fenn was chosen out of more than 100 actresses to portray actress Elizabeth Taylor in NBC's 1995 telemovie Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story. Fenn called the role "probably the hardest job I’ve ever done." "Director Kevin Connor and I arranged a lunch, not an audition," said executive producer Lester Persky. "We knew 10 minutes into our meeting that Sherilyn was it. She has the same striking beauty, and because of that she's experienced some of the things in life and in this business that make Elizabeth such a fascinating person." When she accepted the part, Fenn was unaware that Taylor was suing to stop both the broadcast of the film and the unauthorized biography that it was based on. Fenn stated about the controversy, "I am somebody who doesn't make choices lightly at this point of my life. I'm not somebody who wants to exploit another's woman story or life in any way." Fenn felt a kinship with Taylor, stating, "There are stereotypes of what a beautiful woman is. She struggled with that. A certain part of her life she went on that calling card. I certainly know I've come into contact with that. ‘You are too pretty,’ I'm told." During the shooting, Fenn supported the original screenwriter's effort to concentrate on Taylor the person, not the legend:
Career slowdown (1996–1998)In the late 1990s, Fenn's career took a downturn. In 1993, she had stated,
ensemble cast in the romantic comedy Lovelife as a waitress who attempts to become a writer and has to rebuild her life. Fenn also appeared in the 1997 romantic comedy Just Write, along with Jeremy Piven, as the dream actress of a Hollywood tour bus driver, who mistakes him for a famous screenwriter. Both films have been well-received on the festival circuit.
In a 1997 episode of Friends, Fenn guest-starred as Matthew Perry's girlfriend Ginger, who has a prosthetic right leg (a possible Boxing Helena in-joke). She stated, "I like the show. I was happy to be a part of it."
The same year she was cast as the female lead in ABC's show Prey (originally entitled Hungry for Survival) and starred in the unaired original pilot episode. However, the pilot was reshot and Fenn was replaced by Debra Messing.
Fenn starred in the 1998 British psychological drama and huis-clos Darkness Falls as a wealthy and neglected wife, who is sequestered with her husband (played by Tim Dutton) by a man (Ray Winstone) determined to understand the events that led to his wife ending up in a coma. Fenn called the film "a wonderful character piece" While shooting the film in the Isle of Man in late 1997, Fenn considered settling in London in order to start a European career, but eventually decided to stay in the U.S.
She subsequently starred opposite Jon Tenney in the pilot for a remake of ABC's Love, American Style, for the 1998–1999 television season. The pilot, that also featured Melissa Joan Hart, Matt Letscher and Mariska Hargitay was not ordered into a series. Nevertheless, ABC aired it on February 20, 1999.
Return to television – Rude Awakening (1998–2001)Fenn gained newfound enthusiasm with the lead role in Showtime's sitcom Rude Awakening as Billie Frank, an alcoholic ex-soap opera actress, who tries to go sober and become a writer but continues to struggle with her self-destructive habits. The series ran from 1998 to 2001 and co-starred Lynn Redgrave, Jonathan Penner and Mario Van Peebles.
Jeremy Piven in a 1998 episode of Cupid, as Piven's love interest.
In 1999 she re-teamed with Chris Penn and Adrian Pasdar for Pasdar's art-house directorial debut, the neo-noir Cement, a contemporary re-telling of Othello, in which she played a tempting but imprudent femme fatale, the wife of jealous corrupt cop Chris Penn. "I play a character who's selfish and sloppy with her sexual energy. I saw the film and I was really happy with it. It's got a lot of soul." The film, which won Best Picture awards on the festival circuit, was written by Farscape’s screenwriter Justin Monjo and also starred Jeffrey Wright and Henry Czerny. She also reteamed with actor/director Bruce Davison for his 2001 family comedy, Showtime's Off Season alongside Rory Culkin, Hume Cronyn and Adam Arkin.
Recent roles (2001–present)Following Rude Awakening, Fenn's work consisted of a lot of episodic TV work. In the middle of the 2000s, she failed to find a role that could re-ignite her career as she got involved into many projects, that went unrealized.
In 2001, she starred in the episode Replica of The Outer Limits, playing a scientist who volunteered to be cloned. She also starred in an episode of Night Visions, as a woman who buys a used car possessed by a vengeful spirit. She was cast as a kindergarten teacher for the pilot of the 2001 American version of the British TV show Blind Men, alongside French Stewart. However, the pilot was not ordered into a series.
In 2002, Fenn was one of several former Twin Peaks stars, such as Dana Ashbrook and Mädchen Amick, to have a recurring role on The WB's Dawson's Creek. She guest-starred in three episodes from the fifth season, as Alex Pearl, the seductive manager of the restaurant where Joshua Jackson works. Fenn was afterwards cast as madcap villain Harley Quinn in The WB's Birds of Prey but was replaced by Mia Sara before the series began. Fenn starred in the original pilot episode but dropped out, due to scheduling conflicts, as the show's creators realized that the character of Harley Quinn would need to be a bigger part of the show. She also played a manipulative woman in a season-4 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit opposite Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay and appeared in Watching Ellie.
Fenn played a crime boss in the 2002 film Swindle opposite Tom Sizemore. She had a small role in the film The United States of Leland, opposite Ryan Gosling, in which she played a mother who captivates a troubled teenage boy.
In 2003, Fenn appeared on The WB's Gilmore Girls as Sasha, the girlfriend of Jess Mariano's estranged father (played by Rob Estes) in the season three episode Here Comes the Son, which was the back-door pilot for a California-set spin-off titled Windward Circle, that was to have starred Milo Ventimiglia, Estes and Fenn. The network dropped the project citing cost issues due to filming on location in Venice, California.
She then played the recurring part of Violet Montgomery on Fox's Boston Public (2003–2004), and appeared in Showtime's Cavedweller (2004) opposite Kyra Sedgwick. In 2004, Fenn joined former co-star Mark Harmon in an episode of NCIS, as an amnesiac woman. She was afterwards cast for the 2004 remake of Mister Ed, planned for the Fox network. However, after the pilot was shot, the show's writer/producer Drake Sather committed suicide, and the pilot was not aired.
In 2004, Fenn co-starred opposite Traci Lords and Paul Johansson in Emily Skopov's Novel Romance, released in 2006, in which she played a pregnancy shop owner who can't have children. She then appeared in the martial arts film Lesser of Three Evils alongside Ho Sung Pak, Peter Greene and Roger Guenveur Smith, as the unbalanced and alcoholic wife of a corrupt detective. The film was released in 2009 under the title Fist of the Warrior.
In 2005, Fenn made a notable appearance on The 4400, playing Jean DeLynn Baker, a 4400 who has the ability to grow toxin-emitting spores on her hands. She also guest-starred on the final episode of Judging Amy.
After finishing the Russia-set action film Treasure Raiders with David Carradine, Fenn starred in the Canadian psychological thriller Presumed Dead, opposite Duncan Regehr, as a detective working on a missing person case, who has to outwit a crime novelist.
In 2006, Fenn re-teamed with Amy Sherman-Palladino and reappeared in the sixth and seventh seasons of Gilmore Girls as Anna Nardini, the ex-girlfriend of Luke Danes (played by Scott Patterson) and protective mother to his daughter April. After the 2003 Gilmore Girls spin-off project, Sherman-Palladino wanted to work with Fenn again ever since, and wrote the character of Anna with her in mind. When asked why she cast Fenn for two different roles on Gilmore Girls, Sherman-Palladino said:
Fenn was cast as the female lead in ABC's 2006 comedy series Three Moons Over Milford but she was ultimately replaced by Elizabeth McGovern. Fenn was slated for a recurring role on CBS' 2006 crime drama Smith, but the show was quickly canceled.
She appeared in the 2007 Dukes of Hazzard prequel, The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning as Lulu Hogg. "It's just a fun silly role," she said, but Fenn who had already worked with director Robert Berlinger on Rude Awakening, wanted to do so again.
In July 2006, shortly after shooting The Dukes of Hazzard prequel, Fenn stepped behind the camera for the first time and directed in Pittsburgh a documentary film about child enrichment program CosmiKids and its founder, Judy Julin. She subsequently joined its executive team in 2007 as executive director of the film and television division.
In July 2008, Fenn filmed The Scenesters, a black comedy made by Los Angeles-based comedy group The Vacationeers, which premiered in October 2009.
In July 2009, Fenn made a guest appearance on In Plain Sight as a lesbian counterfeiter.
In December 2010, Fenn appeared on Psych with other Twin Peaks actors on the Season 5 episode "Dual Spires" as sultry librarian Maudette Hornsby. The episode, a homage to Twin Peaks, also makes many in-joke references to the show.
Personal lifeIn 1994, Fenn married guitarist-songwriter Toulouse Holliday, whom she met on the set of Three of Hearts, and gave birth to a son, Myles, in late 1993. The marriage came to an end in 1997.
Her second son, Christian, with IT consultant Dylan Stewart, was born in August 2007.
In 2009, Fenn created a blog named Postcards from the Ledge.