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Jill Hennessy on Music, Heartbreak and Hits

The talented actress and musician drops her second album

Jill Hennessy may be most known for her roles on hit shows like Crossing JordanLaw & Order and The Good Wife, but the actress also shares a strong passion for music.  Six years after the success of her first album, Ghost in My Head, Hennessy has released her second entitled I Do, and it seamlessly syncs deep storytelling with classic rock ‘n’ roll.

“My first album dealt a lot with my childhood, upbringing and people who affected me throughout my life quite profoundly,” says Hennessy. “This second album is the end of that; it’s part two. It’s my life with my own children and stories or incidents that occurred to them that affected me deeply.”

Here, the singer-songwriter dishes on the making of I Doavailable now on iTunes—and her upcoming role on CBS’ political drama Madam Secretary, premiering on October 4.

Jill Hennessy’s album cover for I Do

What’s the inspiration behind your second album? 

A lot of the songs on the album are influenced by friends of mine who passed away over a period of five years. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of people that I really cared about, who gave me so much. That’s the way I had to deal with the loss, just to write about it. There’s one song called “Aimee” and that was about her losing her husband, who was a very good friend. There’s another song about a little girl who was in my son’s kindergarten class and was battling leukemia. It’s heavy stuff that I didn’t know how to deal with, and writing these songs helped me to cope a little bit.

Which track is your favorite?

“Something’s Comin’” has got a real groove to it and I just enjoy listening to it. If anything makes me sit down and tap my foot and want to sing along, then I love it. I realize, wow, this person hooked me. They got me. It’s nice when your own song does that to you. 

Where do you write your songs?

“Something’s Comin’” I wrote at two in the morning. I had a traditional blues line going through my head, so I got up, pulled out this yellow legal pad and sat at the dining room table. I’ve written on the subway, I’ve written on trains, anywhere that has access to a lot of coffee and water. Oh, and Stella D’oro cookies. They usually come in somewhere.

What comes first—the music or the lyrics?

Usually it’s the storyline, an emotional trigger that hits me with a sentence. I’ll either wake up in the middle of the night with a sentence going through my head which leads me to the full storyline, or I’ll realize I have some sort of feeling that’s lingering in my conscience and subconscious.

If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?

Man, there are so many awesome people I would kill to work with! If I could play rhythm guitar for U2 and sing backup, do you know how happy I would be? But, it all comes down to Bruce Springsteen, I have to say. I’d also love to work with Alicia Keys. I’d be happy to bring her coffee in the morning.

How do you balance your love for acting and your love for music?

It’s been super easy. We haven’t had any scheduling conflicts. Whenever I’ve had an acting gig and a music gig at the same time, one is usually willing to accommodate the other. It’s a really symbiotic relationship. 

What are you most excited about for your role as Jane Fellows in Madam Secretary?

My character is the superior to Tim Daly’s character on the show, who plays Henry McCord, Téa Leoni’s husband. They basically have two different points of view; he’s an ethics professor at a war college and my character believes in a by any means necessary kind of philosophy. I’m here to protect the country, I’ve lost a lot of people in this field and I’m willing to accept some collateral damage to save millions of people, whereas he comes from a more philosophical and empathetic point of view. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in future episodes.