Sherilyn Fenn: A sort of homecoming

Sherilyn Fenn signs autographs at the Motor City Comic Con 2012 in the Suburban Collection Showcase, 46100 Grand River Ave., Novi, 12:30 to 7 p.m. Friday, May 18, 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, May 19, and 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, May 20

Sherilyn Fenn is distracted and her voice trails off. Are the questions too obvious? Nope. Then she apologizes. "My son's 4, and it's his first visit to the dentist. I hate shots and going to the dentist. He's also high-functioning autistic, so my husband's sending me updates."

It's a moment of unexpected earthiness, of reality, from a Michigan native and Playboy cover girl, whose acting legacy was largely created innate sexual tension, old-school, Hollywood-defining beauty and on great, off-center characters (many of her movies are absolute cult favorites, including 1985's Just One of the Guys, 1986's The Wraith and 1988's Two Moon Junction).

The actress — who made her name in the 1990s on Twin Peaks — grew up in St. Clair Shores and Grosse Pointe. Suzi Quatro is Fenn's aunt and her dad even co-managed Alice Cooper. "My friends and I rode our bikes, hung out and went swimming just like all kids do," she says. "We did crazy things too, like I remember re-enacting The Towering Inferno [Irwin Allen's seminal 1974 disaster flick] and me and my friends making up our own language. I have a lot of good memories."

At 17, Fenn moved with her mom to Los Angeles, which was a bit of a reality check. "The girls there were really ahead of me," she says. "They knew things I didn't know, things a 17-year-old probably shouldn't know." She enrolled in the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute.

"I think my mom had met somebody and they connected her with an agent. I was going to classes and going on auditions. Somehow I kept getting roles. I never felt like an actress. I'd show up on set, they'd dress me and do my hair and makeup. I felt more like a Barbie doll than an actress." 

Two things put Fenn's Hollywood career on an unusual trajectory. First, she landed a major role in David Lynch's killer TV series Twin Peaks. Fenn says, "He commented that I resembled his daughter. The character of Audrey wasn't in the original script. He saw me and wrote her for me."

Second, she met vet Hollywood acting coach Roy London. Fenn says he helped develop characters, such as Audrey. Hence Fenn's ensuing Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.

London helped Fenn when she snagged the lead in Boxing Helena (1993). The film's early production was fraught with controversy, and it wasn't so easy. "The part of Helena scared off a lot of actresses. It scared the hell out of me. I thought, how in the hell am I going to do this? I understood what happens to her but not how she got there. That's when Roy told me, 'You know all that fucked up stuff that happened to you growing up? Here's where you use it.'"

The "fucked up stuff" follows Fenn, and is often detailed in her blog — to which she has made (irregular) posts since 2009 — and gives insight into her life, past and present. 

Speaking of fucked up, I ask her about Lindsay Lohan — who's portraying Liz Taylor for film — just as Fenn did in 1995. 

"Oh ... really ... that's for sure? Oh, that's not good. Isn't she too young? If it's Liz and Dick, that means Taylor was in her 30s and 40s. She's too young. And what she's done to her face? Here in L.A. all the women have the same face. It's true. I wish her luck though."

The beautiful, 47-year-old Fenn — who has enjoyed recent TV stints on Rude Awakenings, Gilmore Girls, Boston Public and Psych — is bent on growing old gracefully, no nip-and-tuck, Botox freakout here. Maybe not what'd you expect from a one-time femme fatale, the dream of every American male in the country. But, then again, true beauty lives in reality. 

Paul D. Knoll writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to

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