Pulling At The Heartstrings
Jessica Collins has a lot to be thankful for, from a new Netflix series to a very happy home life
After giving birth to her first daughter, Jemma, in 2016, Jessica Collins decided to take a break from acting. “I wanted to be with her,” explains the actress. “So I made the decision not to work.” She didn’t make it lightly, though. “I was really nervous,” Collins confesses. “First of all, I’ve been working since I was 17 in show business and I have never taken a break. Maybe I’ve taken a week for vacation, but I’ve never taken time off. It was a very unfamiliar feeling for me. I’ve spent my life either working or looking for work.”
She slowly made her return, appearing in both an episode of 9-1-1 and then GREY’S ANATOMY in 2018. “It was weird going back,” she shares. “I was really nervous that I forgot everything. I couldn’t believe when I first got on set. It really is like riding a bike at this point. I think a show like YOUNG AND RESTLESS, I don’t know how many episodes I did, but it was hundreds, for sure. I think after doing something like that, that just whips you into a whole different kind of actor. It hasn’t left, and that was nice to know. It was really wonderful to go back to work. I dipped my toe in in the beginning and I started slow ’cause I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to just completely desert my kid either and go right back to work. But it’s been a nice pace for me to do.”
Collins is currently appearing in one of the installments of DOLLY PARTON’S HEARTSTRINGS, streaming now on Netflix. After auditoning for the series in 2018, she learned she had been cast on Halloween. “I was dressed as Mary Poppins in my driveway and I got the call from my manager: ‘Pack your bags. You’re going to Atlanta.’ I went to my husband, who was dressed as Bert, and said, ‘I’m leaving in a few weeks.’ I couldn’t believe it. I had actually read for another part in it and then read for this one, as well. And then I was on a plane to Atlanta for a month. It was a big deal for our family and for me, and an amazing experience. It’s a year later and I’m still pinching myself and wondering if it really happened.”
DOLLY PARTON’S HEARTSTRINGS is an eight-episode anthology series inspired by Parton’s music. Collins appears as Monica in the episode titled “Cracker Jack”. “Each episode is named after and inspired by a Dolly Parton song,” the actress explains. “Some you’ve heard of, some you may not have heard of. She’s written over 3,000 songs, so it’s not like she doesn’t have material. So Dolly picked the songs herself, the eight that she wanted to tell stories to. Each story varies in tone from love stories to family drama, there’s a Western…. Ours is about best friends reconnecting and it’s about appreciating the people in your life who show up for you. There are definitely some big twists that I can’t reveal, but some of the characters are heavily burdened with secrets. I think our episode tries to show it’s so much better to confide and share with the people who love you rather than to face things alone and to stay in pain. I hope people will watch the episode and immediately want to call their best friend after.”
Her co-stars in the episode are Sarah Shahi, Tammy Lynn Michaels and Rochelle Aytes. “I got to see a screening in Dollywood and I am so blown away by these ladies and the wonderful performances,” she raves. “I am in such amazing company. I am so proud to be a part of this. One of the things that sets our episode apart and something I think you rarely see on TV or film these days, or maybe ever, is that out of a cast of 13 actors, 10 of them are women. It’s directed by a woman and it’s written by a woman and I am so beyond proud of that. It’s a girl-power show.”
Meeting Dolly Parton was also pretty amazing, Collins relays. “She came to our table read and I can’t say enough nice things about her,” she gushes. “She is everything you would hope she’d be and so much more. She is so lovely. She’s so gracious and grateful. My husband jokes with me when it comes to photographs. He always says, ‘You always look so composed and together in front of the camera except when you’re taking a picture with Dolly.’ I’ve become like this 9-year-old, super-excited girl. My smile gets all crooked and weird. I lose my mind. I don’t fangirl over many things but Dolly, I get so excited to be around her. And also she’s so real. There was a light around her, for sure. She’s just an amazing human being.”
HEARTSTRINGS isn’t Collins’s only current project. She also returned to IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA in the role of Jackie Denardo, which she played from 2011-13. “That was great. I love doing that show so much. I can’t believe they keep calling me back, is the truth. There are a lot of Jackie Denardo fans. I see them on social media. They’re always popping up saying hello. She’s so silly. I love playing her. And the whole gang, they’re so great and they’re so gracious. It is one of those shows that is just so fun to be a guest star in because they really include you and they make you feel so important and such a part of the show. It’s funny because I shot that nine months after I did HEARTSTRINGS and they aired two days apart. I hope people aren’t too sick of me promoting television shows that I’m in! It’s a big week for me.”
When she’s not acting, Collins is playing her favorite role: mom to Jemma. “I have been having the time of my life, really,” she raves. “It is so much fun. She is such a funny, fun kid. Everybody says it’s the terrible twos and that’s such a lie because Jemma was an amazing 2-year-old. I have to say, I patted myself quite hard on the back. It’s 3, 3 is the age you have to look out for. Nobody talks about that, but that’s where all this independence comes from. When she was a baby, I would tell her dad, ‘I want to raise a strong, independent woman.’ And now he looks at me and he goes, ‘Well, you got your wish! There’s your strong, independent woman.’ And she really is. She’s got such a mind of her own. And I think because she has older siblings — she has a 14- and 15-year-old brother and sister — she sees herself as an equal to them, so that’s pretty funny when she bosses them around. But it’s been wonderful. It’s so fun. It’s an experience like no other and it’s been the greatest joy of my life.” As has her marriage to husband Michael Cooney. “Marriage is amazing. I highly recommend it when it’s the right person. We have a lot of fun. We have a lot of laughs. He is a very hands-on parent with me so that helps a lot. I know how lucky I am in that. I know not everybody has that. To have a partner in my life is an incredible gift. He is really good at it. I’m a lucky lady.”
As for whether Collins would be open to a soap return, she says, “I’m always open to something. There have definitely been some possible things that have come up that for whatever reason it wasn’t going to work out. I’ve come close a few times and it just didn’t work out. I never say never to anything. I have always been an actor that is open to all kinds of work and experiences. I haven’t gone back to something like that as a mom.”
She has extremely fond memories of her time on both LOVING and Y&R. “It’s funny because they’re not just roles for me; it parallels with my life,” she reflects. “With LOVING, I took away friends from that. Rebecca Gayheart [ex-Hannah] and I are still great friends. And then, certainly, Y&R changed my life. If I hadn’t done that job, I wouldn’t be married to my husband, I wouldn’t have Jemma. I would have taken a completely different path. I think of all the jobs I’ve done, Y&R is probably the one closest to my heart because it made such an impact as an actress. And I love Avery Bailey Clark. That was such a fun character. She’s the longest character I’ve ever played. I played her for four years straight with no break. There are many times with my friends I’ll just say, ‘Thank you, Avery Bailey Clark,’ because so much of my happiness is because of that job and that time in my life and meeting the people that I did. Of all the parts, that is the one that warms my heart, for sure.”
Just The Facts
Birthday: April 1
Hails From: Schenectady, NY
He’s Mine: Collins married Michael Cooney on May 4, 2016.
And Baby Makes Three: The couple welcomed Jemma Kate Collins Cooney on January 23, 2016.
Mommy And Me: “She definitely has picked up some of my interests and some of her dad’s, as well. She does love to cook, and God help me, she seems to like performing and acting, too. Only in the house. She can’t do it anywhere else.”
Otherwise Known As: Avery Bailey Clark, Y&R, 2011-15; Dinah Lee Mayberry, LOVING, 1991-93
Keep In Touch: “Any time I cook, Christian [J. LeBlanc, Michael, Y&R] will come over. Greg [Rikaart, Kevin] and Melissa Ordway [Abby] and I all have kids that are the same age. Some of our kids go to the same schools. We all have 3-year-olds, so we’re all going to each other’s birthday parties. I get to see them at least three or four times a year, just in the birthday party circuit, so that’s nice. And they have such great kids. No surprise, ’cause they’re great people.”
Golden Girl: Collins won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in 2016.
Chef Tell: Collins graduated with highest honors from the famous cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu.
Collins has Y&R co-stars Justin Hartley (ex-Adam) and Melissa Claire Egan (Chelsea) to thank for meeting the man she would marry. “I was having a cup of tea at work with Missy in the hallway and she had asked if I was seeing anyone,” she begins. “And I said, ‘No, I’m single.’ And as we were talking about this, Justin walked by and she said, ‘Justin, don’t you know any nice single men for Jessica?’ And he stopped in his tracks and said, ‘What? You’re single? Really?’ He said, ‘Yes, I do. I know the guy. My friend Michael, Michael Cooney. He’s perfect for you.’ And we just kind of laughed like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ He said, ‘You should meet him. I’ll make this happen.’ I kind of forgot about it and about a week later he called me and he said, ‘Hey. Were you serious about meeting my friend? I think it would be great.’ And I said, ‘I guess.’ It was right around Thanksgiving and we double-dated with Justin and Chrishell [Hartley, ex-Jordan, DAYS], who were dating at the time. I kind of knew at that dinner that I had met my next boyfriend. By about the fourth date I knew I was going to be with this guy for the rest of my life. So Justin is good at this stuff. He knew what he was talking about. He’s such a great matchmaker. I think it’s a little overwhelming for Justin whenever I see him. I’m like, ‘You know my daughter, you’re kind of responsible for her being on this planet.’ ”