Previously Known For: I Know What You Did Last Summer and Party of Five
|Currently Known For: Ghost Whisperer, The Client List and Criminal Minds|
“When I came to Los Angeles, it was the first time that I ever felt like I belonged somewhere. Not because it was whacky, but because people here understood what it felt like to perform, and there were other kids my age who wanted to do it. I didn’t get looked at as, ‘God, you freak.’” No stranger to topping lists like the “Sexiest Women in the World” and the “Hottest Women in Hollywood,” Jennifer Love Hewitt embraces her role as both the charming girl-next-door and a sultry sex symbol. That’s exactly why it’s hard to imagine the now 38-year-old actress as a youngster from Texas who launched her career on the Disney Channel nearly three decades ago! So, how did she make her way from the Lone Star State to Tinsel Town? We thought you’d never ask!
Decades before snagging her first starring role as Sarah Reeves Merrin on Party of Five, Jennifer Love Hewitt made her grand entrance into the world on February 21, 1979 in the small town of Waco, Texas. With her mother sharing her love of music with her daughter, Hewitt was three years old when she made her debut at a livestock show where her performance of “The Greatest Love of All” stopped fair-goers in their tracks. “I used to perform at livestock shows because that was a very Texas thing to do… and at state fairs,” Hewitt recalled. “I didn’t really know it was the entertainment industry that I wanted to be a part of, I just knew that I loved entertaining and making people happy.”
Starting ballet and tap-dancing lessons at five years old, Hewitt joined the Texas Show Team four years later and traveled to the Soviet Union as an ambassador before taking the “Texas Our Little Miss” crown at 10 years old. During the competition, she was spotted by a talent scout who encouraged Hewitt’s mother to take her to Hollywood, which is exactly what led the pair to pack their bags and head west as they left Hewitt’s 18-year-old brother, Todd, behind to finish his senior year of high school in Waco. “I remember standing in the driveway watching the U-Haul pull out, the car all loaded down,” Todd recalled. “Never once did I ever think they would fail and have to come home.”
Although the plan was for Hewitt and her mother to only be gone a month, they never returned to Texas since Hewitt won parts in over two dozen television commercials before she signed on with the Disney Channel to star on Kids Incorporated. Spending three years on the show from 1989 to 1991, Hewitt branched out with minor roles in series like Shaky Ground and McKenna while she struggled to balance her growing stardom with the harsh reality she faced in middle and junior high school. “I had a rough time,” she admitted. “I didn’t like the teacher saying what I was doing would ruin my education, because I had social skills that those kids weren’t going to have for another six or seven years from getting to do what I do. I was dedicated to school and I didn’t feel that I needed the ridicule. The kids weren't much better. They kind of think you’re a freak because you’re like, ‘actress girl.’”
Ultimately surviving junior high school and enrolling at Lincoln High School where she was friends with an aspiring talent scout named Jonathan Neville, Hewitt’s friendship with Neville came full circle in the 1990s when he recommended her for a part on the new Fox series, Party of Five. Auditioning for and winning the role of Sarah Reeves Merrin, Hewitt was a standout on the show and co-produced the short-lived spinoff, Time of Your Life, in 1999. By then, she’d already built her reputation on the silver screen with credits in Munchie, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and the cult classic horror flick, I Know What You Did Last Summer. She even reprised her role in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer before proving she wasn’t just a scream queen with her starring role in the romantic comedy, Can’t Hardly Wait.
“It feels good,” Hewitt said of her growing reputation as a sex icon and the gorgeous girl next door. “The best way I can explain it is, it’s like the Fourth of July—when you watch the fireworks and you don’t understand how anything could be so big and bright, but they still enchant you, even though it seems like, ‘Wow, you could never touch that.’ That’s what my life feels like now. I sort of don’t understand at all why it’s happening, so I’m just following it along. But it’s great. I’m having a good time.”
Hewitt’s sex appeal took on a life of its own when she starred as Audrey Hepburn in The Audrey Hepburn Story and made her way back to primetime where she charmed audiences with her performance in Ghost Whisperer from 2005 to 2010. Shortly after wrapping up the series, she starred in the television film, The Client List, and brought the film to television two years later with the hopes of empowering women with her performance as Riley Parks. “I’m playing a Texas woman in economic struggles. She’s somebody who, emotionally, has to carry all of these secrets and all of this loneliness, and all of the stuff that she struggles with in the series,” Hewitt said. “She’s making these decisions and she’s making them consciously, and she’s growing sexually, emotionally, physically and mentally, in this job. She’s connecting, in a real human way, with the human condition and human spirit and the hearts of the people on her table. It’s super-powerful.”
Although Lifetime canceled The Client List in 2013, Hewitt was incredibly proud of the show especially after meeting and falling in love with her on-screen husband, Brian Hallisay. Announcing their engagement and that they were expecting their first child in June 2013, they married months later and welcomed their daughter, Autumn, into the world in November. Hewitt gave birth to a son named Atticus in June 2015 with the happy family of four now settled down in the Pacific Palisades of Los Angeles. And, for the 38-year-old Hewitt, motherhood has certainly changed her as she’s grateful for the opportunities she’s had in Hollywood but is even more thankful for her mother’s influence and support. “I have gotten her strength and her sense of humor and I’ve gotten her tender heart,” she says. Now, her biggest role is passing that compassion and love to her children as she continues to build on her own Hollywood dreams.