Headline: Hip Hip Zulay!
Zulay Henao was born in Medellin, Colombia on May 29, 1979, and moved to the United States with her family at 4 years-old with her parents. Living in New Jersey, she knew from an early age that she wanted to be an actress. However, Zulay didn’t follow the conventional route to fame. In fact, she took a pit stop and joined the United States Army after graduating from high school.
While stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, she found time to study at Methodist College. After completing her commitment to the military, Zulay decided to finally pursue her dream of performing.
She enrolled at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, where she would study for several years. It was during this tenure that her break came when she landed the female lead in Feel the Noise starring opposite music sensation Omarion.
It was then that Hollywood insiders began to take notice of her irresistible beauty and talent. She was hand selected by writer-director Tom Skull to star in his horror feature Grizzly Park produced by Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’s Belle Avery. Next would be the role that would really put Zulay on Hollywood’s radar – a starring role as Channing Tatum’s love interest in Fighting.
She would subsequently go on to star in John Singleton’s Takers alongside the star-studded cast of Paul Walker, Idris Elba, Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen, Chris Brown, Matt Dillon, Zoe Saldana and Jay Hernandez. She also appeared in S. Darko, Boy Wonder and Hostel: Part 3.
No stranger to the small screen, Zulay’s TV credits include guest-starring roles on such series as Grey’s Anatomy, Army Wives, Law and Order: SVU and The Unusuals, as well as the made for TV movie Racing for Time. Next year, she will appear in Tyler Perry’s Single Mom’s Club alongside Amy Smart, Nia Long, Terry Crews and Eddie Cibrian.
Here, she talks about playing Marianna on Love Thy Neighbor, a new TV sitcom written and directed by Tyler Perry and airing on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network. The show premieres on May 29 at 9 PM ET/PT. [Check local listings]
Kam Williams: Hi Zulay, thanks for the interview.
Zulay Henao: Hi Kam! Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and reach your readers.
KW: What interested you in Love Thy Neighbor?
ZH: This role was very important to me because I had the opportunity to portray an educated, professional, sexy, and powerful Latina on mainstream television.
KW: Tell me a little about the sitcom?
ZH: Love Thy Neighbor, to me, is a sitcom about life and friends with a comedic spin, with a cast of characters that we can all relate to!
KW: How would you describe your character, Marianna?
ZH: Tyler wrote me into the show and I feel blessed! She is strong-willed yet kind, sensitive, and emotional. I like to think that she is the voice of reason within the group.
KW: What’s it like having your first starring role on a television series?
ZH: First and foremost, I feel so excited to be working with Tyler Perry and Oprah! I am in complete alignment with their brand and the change they want to create in the world through the media and arts. Being on this television show is a huge platform for me, a unique opportunity to reach my demographic in a way that motivates and empowers. I feel truly blessed.
KW: Does each episode have a moral, or is it just being played for laughs?
ZH: Yes, I believe that is the common thread we’ve all come to love about Tyler Perry and Oprah’s brand. There is always something to learn or reflect on. I truly love this aspect of my work on the show!
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
ZH: I can’t think of any right now, I run into very interesting people in my life and interviews like these. You guys got it covered!
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
ZH: I love a good laugh. My brother, sister, and I just spent the weekend together, which is rare because we all live in different states, laughing at childhood memories!
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
ZH: Latin food is my guiltiest pleasure and my demise. My trainer hates when I go home to visit my mom and her cooking. [Laughs]
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
ZH: I am currently reading “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson. It’s phenomenal! I highly recommend it.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
ZH: I just sang my heart out to “Ahora Quien” by Marc Anthony.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
ZH: I love to mix things up and create new dishes in the kitchen. I love cooking shrimp scampi and having a glass of Pinot Grigio while listening to music.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
ZH: The power of God, love, and human potential.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
ZH: Oscar de la Renta.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
ZH: Wow! I truly love this. When I look in the mirror I see my parents’ sacrifices being honored. I see the love from which I was created and the power of the human spirit.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
ZH: I would wish for one last experience and conversation with my grandfather.
KW: The Jamie Foxx question: What would you do, if you only had 24 hours to live? Would you do the bad stuff, you never got a chance to do, or would you do good stuff to make sure you make it into heaven?
ZH: If I had 24 hours to live I wouldn’t waste it on doing the “bad” stuff. I would savor every moment, every memory, and every loved one.
KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
ZH: I think this has changed over time. At this moment, I would be a horse. They are intelligent, powerful, beautiful, and graceful.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
ZH: My earliest memory is of me crying at the airport in Medellin, Colombia as I said goodbye to my father when we were headed for America. I was 4.
KW: The Anthony Mackie question: Is there something that you promised to do if you became famous, that you still haven’t done yet?
ZH: Yes, I’d like to buy my mother her dream home. Hopefully it will happen soon.
KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
ZH: Heartbreak is essential. We grow, evolve, and learn about the most beautiful thing ever: Love! My first heartbreak taught me that love is supposed to ADD beauty and happiness to my already love-filled life!
KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person you pretend to be on the red carpet?
ZH: There’s this whole sexy thing that happens to women when we walk the red carpet, and it’s all okay! At home, I am so many other things! I am just a girl dreaming. I am emotional and goofy.
KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
ZH: I’d like to be able to see into people’s hearts.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
ZH: Self-awareness and kindness. Being a generous giver!
KW: The Michael Ealy question: If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be?
ZH: I would love to meet Martin Luther King. His fearless attitude, leadership, and self-awareness changed our world.
KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you’d like to star in?
ZH: Yes!! I would love to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind!
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
ZH: Always be who YOU are, be self-aware, and love yourself tremendously!
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What is your favorite charity?
ZH: I like the influence and responsibility the Red Cross has become known for.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
ZH: I would like to be remembered as someone who gave it all and went for it all, As a woman of strong conviction, character, dignity, and talent who always put God first.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Zulay, and best of luck with the new show.
ZH: Thank you so very much, Kam. God bless you!
To see Zulay talking about her role on Love Thy Neighbor, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oqAl-ZoYms