The sultry, versatile, petite (5′ 4″) beauty Sherilyn Fenn was born Sheryl Ann Fenn in Detroit, Michigan, into a family of musicians. The youngest of three children, her mother, Arlene Quatro, played keyboard in rock bands, her aunt is rock-star Suzi Quatro, and her grandfather, Art Quatro, was a jazz musician. Her father, Leo Fenn, was the manager of such bands as The Pleasure Seekers (the all-girl band formed by the Quatro sisters), Alice Cooper, and The Billion Dollar Babies. Sherilyn’s ancestry includes Irish, Italian, Hungarian, German, and Bohemian Czech.
Sherilyn traveled a lot with her divorced mother and two older brothers before the family settled in Los Angeles when she was seventeen. Fenn, who says herself she’s demure didn’t want to start with a new school again and soon enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute.
Fenn began her career with a number of B-movies including The Wild Life (1984) (alongside Chris Penn), skater film Thrashin’ (1986) (opposite Josh Brolin) and teen-fantasy movie The Wraith (1986) (opposite Charlie Sheen). She had a memorable part in the cult teen-comedy Just One of the Guys (1985) in which she tries to seduce a teenage girl disguised as a boy, played by Joyce Hyser. Fenn landed her first starring role, as an engaged heiress to an old Southern family experiencing her sexual awakening in Zalman King’s erotic drama film Two Moon Junction (1988), after which she said she wanted to hide for a year. Fenn won her most outstanding role and made an indelible impression on the public when she was cast by David Lynch and Mark Frost as the tantalizing Audrey Horne, the high-school femme fatale from the critically acclaimed TV series Twin Peaks (1990). 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 ’50s (with her saddle shoes, plaid skirts and tight sweaters). Sherilyn made a memorable impression as the cherry stem-twisting siren. This was her breakout role; even now she says of her Twin Peaks (1990) experience: “It still makes me feel kind of proud and special to be part of something like that”. In the show’s second season, when the idea of pairing Audrey and Cooper was abandoned, Audrey was paired with other characters like Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) and John Justice Wheeler (Billy Zane). Sherilyn hit cult status when Lynch filmed her dancing on Angelo Badalamenti’s music and with another memorable scene in which her character knotted a cherry stem with her tongue.
Shortly after shooting Twin Peaks’ pilot episode, David Lynch gave her a small but impressive part in Wild at Heart (1990), as a girl injured in a car wreck, obsessed by the contents of her purse, opposite Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. According to Fenn, the turning point in her career was when she met veteran acting coach Roy London in 1990. She credits him with instilling confidence and newfound enthusiasm.
After two nominations (Emmy and Golden Globe) and covers for Rolling Stone and Playboy magazines, Fenn was propelled to stardom and became a major sex symbol. She was chosen as one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World”, was named one of the “10 Most Beautiful Women in the World” by Us magazine, and one of the “100 Sexiest Women in the World” by FHM magazine. Fenn’s classic looks – with her lily-white skin, vertiginous boomerang eyebrows, beauty mark next to her left eye and topaz eyes – were highlighted by renowned photographers like George Hurrell Sr., Steven Meisel, and Bettina Rheims, and led her to be compared to the ones like Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner. Fenn has had an eclectic career with a significant body of work following Twin Peaks (1990). She chose to focus on widening her range of roles and was determined to avoid typecasting. She turned down the Audrey Horne spin-off 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 (1992), as she was then shooting Of Mice and Men (1992). She proved her mettle as an actress with varied roles in neo-noir black comedy Desire and Hell at Sunset Motel (1991) (as a sultry femme fatale, opposite Whip Hubley and David Hewlett), huis-clos Diary of a Hitman (1991) (the directorial debut of her acting coach Roy London, in which she plays a fragile mother who confronts hitman Forest Whitaker), John Mackenzie’s fictionalized biopic Ruby (1992), (as stripper Sheryl Ann DuJean, a Marilyn Monroe look-alike fictional character, who is a composite of several real-life women from Jack Ruby and president John Kennedy’s entourage; opposite ‘Danny Aiello’ and Arliss Howard), romantic comedy Three of Hearts (1993) (as Kelly Lynch and William Baldwin’s love interest), Carl Reiner’s 1940s detective parody Fatal Instinct (1993) (as Armand Assante’s lovesick secretary and Sean Young and Kate Nelligan’s rival) and Showtime’s biblical Slave of Dreams (1995), directed by Robert M. Young (as Potiphar’s seductive wife Zulaikha, opposite Adrian Pasdar and Edward James Olmos, and produced by Dino De Laurentiis).
A highlight of Fenn’s film career is Gary Sinise’s film adaptation of Of Mice and Men (1992), in which she brought nuance to the role of a seductive and lonely country wife, desperately in need to talk to somebody, opposite Sinise and John Malkovich. In 1993, Fenn teamed up with David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer Lynch and starred in her directorial debut Boxing Helena (1993) as a haughty seductress forced to live in a box after her limbs were amputated by love-obsessed surgeon Julian Sands in an effort to possess her (a role Kim Basinger backed out of). Both Lynch and Fenn were proud of their work in it but the film – which was overshadowed by the lawsuits against Kim Basinger after she dropped out – ultimately was a critical and commercial failure. Another outstanding performance was in NBC’s miniseries Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story (1995). During the shooting, Fenn fought to keep integrity in the script. Her priority was to respectfully and accurately portray Taylor, and she supported the original screenwriter’s effort to concentrate on Taylor the person, not the legend. The same year she starred in an episode of Tales from the Crypt (1989) directed by Robert Zemeckis, alongside Isabella Rossellini and John Lithgow, as the lover of Humphrey Bogart, who appeared in the episode via CGI special effects. She went on to star in independent films that have been well received on the festival circuit like Jon Harmon Feldman’s Lovelife (1997) (as a low self-esteemed waitress, along with Bruce Davison, Jon Tenney, Carla Gugino and Saffron Burrows), romantic comedy Just Write (1997) (as the dream actress of Hollywood tour bus driver Jeremy Piven, who mistakes him for a famous screenwriter) and Adrian Pasdar’s neo-noir directorial debut Cement (2000), a contemporary re-telling of “Othello”, in which she played a tempting but imprudent femme fatale, alongside Chris Penn, Jeffrey Wright and Henry Czerny.
Tired of Hollywood, Fenn contemplated starting a European career when she starred opposite Ray Winstone in the British psychological drama and huis-clos Darkness Falls (1999) (as a wealthy, neglected wife, sequestered with her husband by a man determined to understand the events that led to his wife ending up in a coma). She eventually decided to return to the United-States and gained newfound enthusiasm with the lead role in Showtime’s dark comedy Rude Awakening (1998) as Billie Frank, an alcoholic ex-soap actress who struggles with her self-destructive habits. Based upon creator/executive producer Claudia Lonow’s experience, the series ran from 1998 to 2001 and co-starred Lynn Redgrave, Jonathan Penner and Mario Van Peebles. Following Rude Awakening (1998), Fenn’s film and television credits have included Showtime’s family comedy Off Season (2001), directed by Bruce Davison (along with Hume Cronyn, Rory Culkin, Adam Arkin and Davison; as a singer who takes care of her orphaned nephew), Matthew Ryan Hoge’s The United States of Leland (2003) (as a woman who represents happiness and joie de vivre to Ryan Gosling), Showtime’s Cavedweller (2004) (2004, along with Kyra Sedgwick and directed by Lisa Cholodenko), Geretta Geretta’s Whitepaddy (2006) (opposite Lisa Bonet and Hill Harper, as a woman who struggles with her dysfunctional family after she reluctantly returned home and tries to fit in with her new neighborhood that has become predominantly black), Emily Skopov’s Novel Romance (2006) (as a pregnancy shop owner, opposite Traci Lords and Paul Johansson), psychological thriller Presumed Dead (2006) (as a female detective working on a missing person case, who has to outwit crime novelist Duncan Regehr in order to get to the truth), and The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (2007) (as a flirtatious version of Lulu Hogg).
Fenn has appeared along with Rob Estes and Milo Ventimiglia in a 2003 episode of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Gilmore Girls (2000), which was the pilot for a California-set spin-off, eventually dropped by the network. Sherman-Palladino brought her back in the series with a different part as Scott Patterson’s ex-girlfriend and protective mother to his daughter (2006-2007). Fenn had previously had recurring parts on Dawson’s Creek (1998), (2002, as Joshua Jackson’s seductive boss) and Boston Public (2000) (2003-2004, as a porn star turned tutor). Other notable guest appearances have included 21 Jump Street (1987) (opposite her then-fiancé Johnny Depp), Friends (1994) (1997, as Matthew Perry’s wooden-legged girlfriend), The Outer Limits (1995) (2001, as a duplicated scientist), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999) (2002, as a manipulative actress), and The 4400 (2004) (2005, as Jean DeLynn Baker, a 4400 who has the ability to grow deadly toxin-emitting spores on her hands).
Fenn’s interest in directing and children led her to step behind the camera to direct in 2006 a documentary film about the child enrichment program CosmiKids and Judy Julin, the program’s founder. She subsequently joined its executive team as executive director of the film and television division.
On set, Sherilyn is noted for having a quirky sense of humor and a joie de vivre. Off-screen, Sherilyn is proud of the friendship she has maintained with her ex-hubby Toulouse Holliday, a musician and film technician. Sherilyn lives with her son, Myles, and two cats: Ophelia and Redmond. Sherilyn practices meditative kundalini yoga, and every room in her house has feng shui elements– crystals in one corner, water in another. Sherilyn enjoys biking, swimming and cooking, and of course being a mom: “After I had my son, I found life much funnier and brighter”.
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