Canadian actress Jill has come a long way since her busking days. After winning her big break as the first female assistant district attorney on cult series Law & Order the stunning brunette went on to bag the lead role in medical-crime drama Crossing Jordan, fitting in films, marriage and motherhood en route.
Jillian Noel Hennessy was born in Edmonton, Alberta, on November 25, 1968, to meat salesman father John Hennessy, who was often away travelling, and mother Maxine, who left the family in 1982. The actress, who has a twin sister called Jacqueline and a younger brother named John, was part-raised by her paternal grandmother in Kitchener, Ontario, where she was encouraged to act by an inspirational drama teacher at the Grand River Collegiate Institute.
Jill also modelled while at high school and on leaving moved to Toronto, where she studied with the famed Second City improvisation comedy troupe. To help pay her way, the talented singer took to busking after teaching herself to play the guitar.
Her film debut came in 1988 alongside her sister with whom she had performed in a double act named 'Jack and Jill' as twin call girls in Dead Ringers
. Various small TV roles followed as a hooker, a vampire woman and lifeguard before she won a part in the Broadway production of Buddy The Buddy Holly Story
. In 1993 she made the shortlist for the plum part of Dana Scully in The X Files
but lost out to Gillian Anderson
Disappointment was short-lived, however, as in the same year she landed the role of brainy, straight-laced assistant DA Claire Kincaid on Law & Order
, which went on to become a cult show.
After three seasons Jill made a dramatic exit from the series in 1996, when her character was killed off in a car crash. She pursued diverse silver screen roles in films such as 1997's Most Wanted
and A Smile Like Yours
, as well as 1999's Chutney Popcorn
, before writing, producing and co-directing an independent film called The Acting Class
, a 2000 documentary-style look at the dark side of the teacher/student relationship.
In the same year she also made a return to the small screen, appearing as Alec Baldwin's private wartime secretary in acclaimed mini-series Nuremberg
. She won a Golden Satellite award for her performance and followed that success up with a starring role as American icon Jackie Kennedy in another hit mini-series, Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women Of Camelot
By this stage she had married her Italian boyfriend Paolo Mastropietro who shared her love of riding motorbikes at a low-key wedding in Italy on October 1, 2000, during a break in filming the Steven Seagal movie Exit Wounds
. A year earlier Jill, who loves to cook, and former bartender Paolo had opened their own eatery in Northvale, New Jersey, called Hennessy Tavern.
The couple enjoyed a second marriage ceremony in January 2001 at New York City Hall where Mayor Rudolph Giuliani officiated. Jill, who speaks Italian, French, Spanish and German, gave birth to their first son Marco in September 2003 and his brother, Gianni, followed in November 2007.
Between 2001 and 2007 Jill played the lead role of sassy, headstrong coroner Dr Jordan Cavanaugh in the hugely successful drama Crossing Jordan
. The part dramatically increased her profile and in 2007 she won the role of Tim Allen's wife in the movie Wild Hogs
, as well as earned a star on Canada's Walk Of Fame. After leaving the hit series after the birth of her second son, Jill took time out to be a mom and also return to her first love music.
The multi-talented star, who sang on the soundtrack album for Crossing Jordan
, hit the recording studio to work on her debut disc writing all the music and lyrics herself. She says she takes inspiration from Tracy Chapman, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and describes her music as "an alternative folk kind of feel, with little shades of country".