Jessica Keenan Wynn is leading her family’s legacy as the first woman to make her mark in show business and Hollywood. Wynn was born and raised in Los Angeles, now living in New York. She is most known for her part in Heathers, an off-Broadway show, and Beautiful on Broadway. She is now starring in Universal’s MAMMA MIA 2: HERE WE GO AGAIN, playing Tanya (one of the three Dynamos), which was released internationally this past Friday, July 20th. Wynn discusses her extraordinary family lineage and her ambitions for the future.
You come from a long line of acclaimed actors from your great-great grandfather, Frank Keenan, the silent film actor, your great-grandfather, Ed Wynn, your grandfather, Keenan Wynn, to your uncle, Tracy Keenan Wynn. What is it like being part of a show business dynasty?
It’s a combination of admiration for their many talents, accomplishments, and dread. Those are massive footsteps to follow – – I mean Ed Wynn actually wore clown shoes! There is definitely a sense of belonging with the addition of Mamma Mia to my professional library. Plus, I’m the first female in my family to not only carry on the name but make her own footprint in Hollywood. That’s pretty damn cool.
What have you learned from your family of actors?
I got to know my grandparents through their films. It was the very thing that tethered me to them. I developed relationships with various character and fell in love with the art of old movies. I suppose their careers allowed me to not only know them posthumously, but to discover what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to do that!
Are you ever starstruck by your family’s legendary history?
Absolutely. I haven’t even made a dent in the vault of their film and TV careers. But I have watched Alice in Wonderland and For Me and My Gal more times than I can count 🙂
Did your family influence your career choice? Do you think you would pursue acting if it was not for your lineage?
Watching them on screen gave me the itch to follow their lead. They were so dynamic, multi-dimensional, hilarious, heartbreaking, and just the most well-rounded actors. It was a profound challenge to take on, following their careers. I’m a big risk taker though 🙂
What do you love most about your job?
I love the feeling you get when you have the audience in the palm of your hand. You know that the right timing of a joke will make them seize with laughter or a weighted silence will make their hearts ache with empathy. This is why I love the theatre. You feel every moment and each night it’s different. It’s the best opportunity for an actor to truly listen and play to the moment with full honesty and awareness.
You have starred in the hit musical Heathers. Can you tell us what your favorite part of working on this musical is?
The fans! My goodness that show developed quite the cult following after we closed and the soundtrack made its rounds on iTunes. These lovely “corn-nuts,” as they dubbed themselves, have been the most supportive of my career, and it all stemmed from Heathers. That show gave me my NY debut and launched each of us into the limelight in the best possible way. I’ll forever be grateful to our little off Broadway show.
You are currently in the Broadway musical Beautiful playing the role of Cynthia Weil. What is it like being a part of such an iconic production?
Beautiful was one of the best professional experiences of my life. I went back into that show 3 times! And I have to spew a cliché and say, the third time really is the charm! I fell in love with Cynthia Weil and she informed me so much as an actress. I learned to really listen and respond with sincerity. When you’re doing a long running show, the houses get smaller and quieter, making it difficult to shake off the dull applause/laughter and to not downplay your performance based on the lack of reactions from the house. It really a craft of its own doing a show for 3 1/2 years. I learned so much and I met Carole King in the process. Bucket list checked!
Were you aware of Carole King’s story previous to your work in Beautiful?
I wasn’t! I had no idea she and Gerry Goffin had written those early songs like “One Fine Day,” “Take Good Care or My Baby,” and “Up on the Roof”! I am a massive fan of the ‘50s and ‘60s so I was floored that I didn’t know their influence as well behind the scenes. Carole’s story is the epitome of female empowerment and strength. She had been through so much by the time she was 28, which ultimately lead to one of the greatest albums and careers of all time. Just goes to show that everything’s meant to happen the way it happens.
You are also starring in MAMMA MIA 2: HERE WE GO AGAIN, playing Tonya. How did the role come about?
Well, I had gone in twice for the audition thinking that I wasn’t going to get it, even though I knew I was perfect for a young Baranski. I suppose we really de-hype ourselves when we think this could be a career defining role and a part that fits perfectly into the wheel house. When I met the director and the rest of the creatives at the final audition, I really hoped I could play in their sandbox. Everyone was so joyous, friendly, and lovely. Ol Parker is the key in that. He is the kindest soul I’ve ever met. Don’t get me started on his genius…
This is your first big movie production, how do you feel not being on a stage in front of a live audience but a production set? Do you prefer one over the other?
I have no preference. I was lucky to go from one to the next, so I really don’t prefer one to the other, just as long as I can do both. The theatre is where I accumulated all the tools in my toolbox and the movie allowed me to pick and choose from the plenty. The high is equal and just as fulfilling, but one has to wait for opening weekend at the box office to hear the laughs. It’s a good lesson in not relying on instant gratification for self-worth 🙂
How would you describe the movie for those who are unfamiliar?
It’s exactly what you need right now in 2018. The movie propels you to a time and place where you can forget your cares and woes and watch Lily James radiate perfection, the Dads dance in the most complimentary spandex, Meryl make you cry, Christine and Julie shoot brilliant one-liners like nothing you’ve seen before, the young Dynabros steal your heart and eyes with their gorgeous physiques, the young dynamos dance and sing their hearts out in full force, and CHER. Cher brings the house down with her career defining performance of Fernando, which is on repeat on my playlist. It’s the most exquisite time and I really think everyone need a good little laugh and cry overlooking the luau outside blue waters of Kalokairi.
What role does your character Tanya play?
Tanya is one of the three dynamos, a fierce girl band compromising Donna and Rosie. These girls have a bond and loyal sisterhood. They will drop anything to lift the other up and sing her into brighter days. Tanya tends to be the man eater of the group. She enjoys nice things, good wine, and pretty men. I don’t think that’s asking for much?
What was your favorite part about playing Tanya?
I loved finding the relationship with Rosie. The duo is essentially its own character in the film. Finding where they resonate best was the greatest joy. Alexa is so brilliantly funny, making it a hilarious contest to see who would one up the other. We definitely had the crew in stitches during certain scenes.
What are you most excited for with the release of the movie?
I’m most excited for people to embrace the escapism this movie has created. No matter what you anticipated it to be or not to be, just suspend your expectations and enjoy the ride, because it’s truly joyous and visually stunning. The perfect summer holiday.
Is there anything that happened behind the scenes during the filming of the movie that fans might not know about?
I snuck onto set to see Cher sing “Fernando.” I had to be there for a spray tan, because I’m transparent, and I used that as an opportunity to watch Cher perform take after take. I wept. Her voice is silky, ageless, and profound. I also spotted Meryl Streep watching her friend from the sidelines. So many of us where there to watch this iconic woman. It was one of the most memorable days on set. I still get chills thinking about it.
You’ve been part of many amazing projects, and many actors would dream to be in your position one day. What piece of advice would you give to all those aspiring actors?
The piece of advice I tend to rely most is to embrace the things that make you different, the things that make you you, because that will be the very thing that sets you apart and books you the job. There is no other you out there so sell it. Embrace it. Love it.
What is something you wish you would have told your younger self?
Men are going to be a waste of time so don’t waste your time with them. Focus on your career.
What is your favorite role you have played thus far?
Tanya. I wish I could have luxuriated in her platform boots for longer. She’s so brilliant, bold, loyal, unabashedly charming, and hilarious. Luckily, I have the film that can transport me right back into them.
Do you have a dream role?
The Baker’s Wife in Into The Woods. Truly, any Sondheim show. I have yet to embark on that yellow brick road of glory.
What do you want to be remembered for?
The friendships I’ve made. I love meeting people and making new friends. I just want to be remembered for being a good person and a true friend.
Who is your role model?
They change. Right now, I idolize and admire every single person that was a part of Mamma Mia Here We Go Again on and off screen. I look up to qualities in people and right now my rolodex is bursting with admiration and names (mostly English).
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
I’d probably try to be a travel blogger/influencer, so I could travel the world and write about it. Gosh, isn’t that the dream?!
You were born in Los Angeles, how do you like New York compared to California?
I love NY. I love LA. I love how New York can make you feel like you’ve accomplished so much in a day just by going to the grocery store. The energy of that city is unlike anything I’ve encountered. Plus, spring and fall are seasons every human should experience in NY. It’s magical.
What are three words you would choose to describe yourself?
Ambitious, hungry, and romantic.
Besides acting and singing, do you have another hobby? Any secret talents?
I can do a pretty decent Britney Spears impression. My Cher is coming in at a close second. These are necessary for karaoke!
Lastly, give a shoutout to a female actress or performer you admire!
Jessica Chastain: you are grace and glory and such gorgeous spirit. I bow down to your ginger beauty and insane talent.
STORY MEGHANA PATNANA
PHOTOS IRA L. BLACK
HAIR NATE ROSENKRANZ
MAKEUP JOSEE LEDUC
STYLING ASHLEY PRUITT