Raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, actress Jill Bennett got her start in theater and then moved to television, with roles on Days of our Lives and Beverly Hills 90210. In the next year or two, she can be seen in the upcoming movies Expiration Date and The Pleasure Drivers (where she plays a lesbian hitwoman), and in an upcoming here! Networks movie called In Her Line of Fire.
In a recent interview, Bennett spoke with us about her experiences as an out lesbian actress, why she’s always cast in bad girl roles, and what changes she’d like to see in queer films.
AfterEllen.com: When did you start acting?
Jill Bennett: Not until I was in high school. I always sort of had a flare for performing but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I started doing theater, and then I latched on to it and thought “this is what I should be doing, this is what I love to do.” I was actually a state speech champion, which got me a college scholarship, and then I studied theater in college and then came to L.A. right after.
AE: So when you came out in college, did you come out to your parents?
JB: Yes, I came out to my parents. My parents are divorced, and my dad basically said he knew when I was a teenager that I was gay. I had two boyfriends, but it was very, you know, very like “whatever,” and my brothers older friends always ask me out and I never wanted to go, and my dad also said he noticed the way I was with my girlfriends, so he always kind of wondered. My mom had a little bit of a problem with it at first, and I think her biggest concern was the I wasn’t going to have children or that I would never have a stable life. But I basically forced her to accept it, and eventually she did. She’s a wonderful woman, and now my entire family knows and they are wonderful–my grandfather, everybody is very supportive.
AE: So how did you get from Indiana to L.A.?
JB: I moved to Los Angeles right after college, in early ’97. I was very fortunate and landed a manager very quickly, but I didn’t get my first job until ’98. I played a nurse on Days of Our Lives, and after a while I was up for a contract role, and my manager at the time said “If you are getting to that point this quickly, then you obviously have potential and you don’t want to get hooked into a soap opera.” I didn’t want to do a soap opera anyway.
So I did Days of Our Lives and then I had a little bit of a problem for a couple of years getting paying work, and did theater around town just to keep busy, and to keep the muscles working. Doing the Vagina Monologues was a personal quest of mine. It’s is an amazingly important show to make–the message is unbelievable, and Eve Ensler is making a documentary about all the things that she’s done with the money she’s gotten from the the show. She’s an inspiration, changing the world through arts, and that’s the ideal kind of project that you want to get to eventually.
So when I saw the show, I told my manager “I have to do this!” and we started researching where the show is being done, found a producer in Chicago, and basically hunted him down non-stop until I got it. We convinced him to hire me–sent him tapes, flew out there to audition, I mean I was relentless in getting the show because this was something I have to do.
Then I had a recurring role in the last season of Beverly Hills 90210.