Arts, performance major Sean Hennigan left Hollywood industry to get teaching credentials, give back to acting community
When a simple Google search is done on Sean Hennigan, an arts and performance junior, the result page reveals acting credits in movies that have starred big names such as Kate Winslet, Kevin Spacey, Tommy Lee Jones and more.
“My first paid acting job was (in) a sort of musical pageant that I think they still do in West Texas called “‘Texas!’” and I was hired to do that right out of high school,” Hennigan said. “But I had actually decided what I wanted to do long before I did that, long before I had graduated from high school.”
Hennigan’s parents had both been actors when they were in college. Listening to their stories inspired him to try it when he was in junior high school.
After graduating high school, Hennigan enrolled in the Bachelor of Science and Arts program at The University of Texas at Austin, but left after being hired at the Alley Theatre in Houston in their apprenticeship program.
“They called it the Young Company Apprenticeship program. I got hired there and then I came back here to Dallas and got a job fairly quickly at Theatre Three,” Hennigan said. “Apprenticeship programs have kind of died out. They don’t exist anymore for the most part, but I got lucky. When I was 20 years old, I was working with professional actors that had worked all around the country, if not the world, on a daily basis (and) doing shows with them. (I was) doing small parts, but (I was) getting to watch them and learn from them.”
Hennigan also went on to spend three years in Los Angeles until an urgent family circumstance brought him back to Texas.
“My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, so we moved back so that she could be around family,” Hennigan said. “Luckily, she is a survivor, so she got well, but we decided not to go back. Pretty much everything I did while I was in LA was television based.”
Hennigan is a part of the Dallas-operated Kim Dawson Agency, known for working with Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato and previously representing stars like Chace Crawford and Angie Harmon. Most of the acting credits he gained for doing movies had been cast while he lived in Texas.
His agent would send Hennigan to local auditions. If the auditions were not local, he would do taped auditions. If the prospective movie crew were interested in his performance, they would fly him out to where they were shooting for another audition. Many of Hennigan’s audition voyages led him to work with big names in the Hollywood industry.
“The most recent really fun one was working with Russell Crowe in ‘3:10 to Yuma.’ I had a minor part in that, but I got to spend a couple of weeks on the set and he’s a great guy to work with. I also worked with Christian Bale in that movie,” Hennigan said. “I (also) got to work with Kevin Spacey in ‘The Life of David Gale.’ Those are just some highlights. I’ve never really worked with anyone who was not fun to work with, so I have been lucky in that regard.”
Hennigan also worked with Tommy Lee Jones in “Lonesome Dove.” In 2005, Hennigan was cast in “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” a movie in which Jones was an actor and the director.
“Whenever you’re around somebody who has the kind of experience like Tommy does, if you’re paying attention and listening, I’m not sure how you can walk away from the experience without gaining some sort of positive knowledge,” Hennigan said. “One of the things I remember about Tommy was how economical he was in giving the directions. He just had to say a few words here and there and you knew exactly what he wanted, which was really great. I think that stems from him doing it for as long and as well as he has for so many years.”
After being in the professional world of acting for most of his life, Hennigan said he has the desire to give back to the community of aspiring actors. He is now going to back to school to pursue a new passion — teaching.
“It’s interesting going back, seeing what has changed and what is being taught now,” Hennigan said. “Coming back to school was sort of out of necessity. The life experience that you have behind you doesn’t really give you the credentials to be a teacher. I’m at that point in my career where I feel like I have a lot to give back to younger actors and other artists and I wanted to do that.”
Recently, Hennigan worked with his brother and arts and performance adjunct faculty member Brad Hennigan on putting together “SubUrbia,” a play by Eric Bogosian, at UTD. The brothers have worked together at various times and in various capacities over a span of 25 years.
“Sean and I have worked together as acting coach and director in the past and we find it to be a solid approach,” Brad Hennigan said. “Sean is one of the few people, frankly, that I know — and I know a lot of actors — that has made his living as an actor his entire adult life.”
Speech language pathology and audiology freshman Lauren Massey, who was one of the actresses in “SubUrbia,” benefited first-hand from the brothers’ artistic collaboration.
“Brad is a wonderful director and Sean (has) helped each of us actors in the play dig deeper into our characters,” Massey said. “Both of them have taught me the importance of doing rather than thinking and that there are no wrong choices. I’ve learned so much about portraying real life on the stage from having the privilege to work with both of them.”
Hennigan said he hopes to help transform the Dallas community into a place that embraces the art of acting and theater just as much as the big cities that are known to entice aspiring actors.
“It’s very difficult to make a living as an actor here. If you can’t make a living as an actor in a particular place, and if you’re studying to do that, then (it) probably comes to mind that you need to go to the places where you can make a living, in this case New York, LA and Chicago. And there is some truth to that,” he said. “But this is my home. I grew up here. The potential is already there for Dallas. It would be nice if I could be a part of creating that professional study landscape.”