Natasha Henstridge could have been a hairdresser. The Newfoundland native comes from a family of hairdressers, and admits it could have been a good career choice. That, or maybe a psychologist. Or a jewelry designer.
That is, if she hadn’t become a Hollywood star.
As a teenager, Henstridge chose acting, and has made quite a career for herself in L.A.
A native of South Brook (but born in Springdale, she explains, since “South Brook doesn’t have a hospital”), the 39-year-old moved with her family to Fort McMurray, Alta., as a small child. When she was 14, she entered a modelling contest and won, and went to Paris a year later to pursue a career as a model. After a couple years in Europe, Henstridge found herself in New York, where she started taking acting classes and doing commercials.
Henstridge booked her first feature film, playing a sexy but lethal alien in “Species,” at the age of 19, and it remains one of her most popular projects to date. She has starred in movies like “The Whole Nine Yards,” opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme in “Maximum Risk,” and on TV in “CSI: Miami.”
Fame, she says, came on a little too crazily, a little too fast.
“I was a bit unprepared,” she said. “Suddenly I was the new girl in town and I was a little unready for that kind of attention, I think, but I feel that sometimes you do need to take risks in life and I think I came out of the womb ready to take them. I’m glad I did that when I was young, because I think when you get older it gets a little bit harder.
Tonight, she’ll debut her first working project back in her native land, playing police investigator Valerie O’Brien in the two-hour season finale of CBC-TV’s “Republic of Doyle.”
“I literally got the job two days before I flew there,” Henstridge says of her role on the show. “I was in New York working on something else, and on my way home to L.A., my agent called and said, ‘Yeah, they want you on this show.’ My agents weren’t aware of the show. They said, ‘Let us send you the stuff and you can let us know what you think.’ I said, ‘I don’t need to see it, I’m in. Book the tickets.’”
Henstridge had seen the show before, she explained, and wasn’t even worried what role she was being asked to play.
“Besides that, I had had about 200 people tell me how much I needed to be on that show, and saying, ‘You’re from Newfoundland, why aren’t you on that show?’”
“Republic of Doyle” has seen a host of high-profile guest stars over the past four years, and seems to have developed a mandate to bring home local actors who’ve made a name for themselves on the mainland, as well as hiring lesser-known names. Markland-born Shannon Tweed-Simmons has appeared on the show twice, as have Bob Joy and Shawn Doyle. Hollywood director Brad Peyton, from Gander, has directed a couple of episodes.
Henstridge — who owns a home in Triton and visits the province at least once a year — filmed her cameo over two weeks at the end of November, marking the first time she has ever mixed family visits with her career.
“For me, it was such an unusual combination of things,” she said. “(Visits) are usually always one-dimensional, with family, hanging out, fishing, drinking tea and catching up, and for me to actually combine what I do as a profession with family was so cool. Also, to get to know St. John’s was amazing. I didn’t know it well and hadn’t spent a lot of time there before.”
Apart from acting (Henstridge has completed a number of film projects which have yet to be released, including detective drama “Badge of Honor” with Martin Sheen and Mena Suvari, and “The Bronx Bull,” based on the life of boxing champ Jake LaMotta, with Paul Sorvino, William Forsyth and Penelope Ann Miller), Henstridge is a single mom of two boys, aged 12 and 15.
She knows plenty of people who give up their passions and dreams once they have children, but she’s not one of them, having found a way to balance the two.
“I believe you have to feel fulfilled in who you are and what you’re doing in order to really be able to be a great parent,” she explained. “I think you can still be a good parent and be there for (your kids) and still make them a priority.”
Both Henstridge’s sons have shown an interest in acting, but aren’t quite ready to commit to the work involved in making it a career, she said. She has no problems with them getting into the business, but wants them to be prepared to start from the bottom and work their way up.
“I can’t get them up on stage, I can’t get them in plays. They want to be on a Disney show and be famous. I won’t schlep them around to auditions and so all that kind of stuff because they don’t want to put the work in. But I’d support my kids if they were hugely passionate about anything, if they loved it and it made them happy and they were passionate about it and they wanted to work really hard for it, even if it was something that I couldn’t get my head around.”
“Republic of Doyle” writers have left Henstridge’s character’s arc open, she admitted, allowing a reappearance in the future, and it’s something the show’s producers have already discussed with her. Tweed-Simmons’ character, a villain named Frances with her real-life daughter, Sophie, as a sidekick, has also been involved in an open-ended storyline, and Henstridge likes the idea of an episode featuring both of them.
“That,” she said, “would be awesome.”