Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Actor Uses UVA Program to Launch Writing Career

Sean Hemeon grew up in an artistic family. One of seven siblings, originally from Fairfax County, Va., his mother and eldest brother are both artists by trade. Hemeon first discovered his own propensity — particularly for performing arts — when he was in the sixth grade and ran for school president.

“I changed the lyrics from the Aladdin song, ‘Friend Like Me,’ singing ‘You ain’t never had a Pres like me,’” he recalled. “I was a terrible president. I didn’t do anything, but I remember the feeling of 500 students rolling on the floor and 30 teachers falling out of their chairs, laughing, and the acting bug bit me.”

From there, Hemeon discovered drama club, but due to his 6’4”, 200-pound frame and family history of older brothers who were naturally gifted athletes, he was expected to play sports, including football and lacrosse.

“I made deals with my coaches and the play director,” he laughed. “I would do half the play, then run down to the lacrosse field and play the game. Once, we did ‘Romeo and Juliet’ set alongside ‘Braveheart.’ I did the opening fight scene and was killed in the first 10 minutes so that I could run off stage and down to the stadium. I still had the blue war paint on my face. The opposing team saw this guy, twice their size, with the ‘Braveheart’ paint coming out of nowhere with a lacrosse stick.”

He earned a scholarship through Virginia Commonwealth University’s theater program for his talent. His life path took a new direction, however. “To be frank, I didn’t finish school because of drugs and alcohol,” he said.

Now, 18 years sober, Hemeon will finish his Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree through UVA this August. He will submit his Capstone II paper, part of which will detail his addiction recovery. In writing about his recovery, he sees this as a full-circle moment.

“I just love that the reason I originally stopped going to school is now part of why I am finishing school. The last few years, in the BIS program, I’ve been training as a writer in order to get to this point.”

Just as the pandemic hit, Hemeon began BIS, a bachelor’s degree completion program offered online through UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and designed for working adults who already have some college credits. By this time, he had lived and worked in Los Angeles for 15 years.

“I found people to be open-minded in California, which in 2005, when I moved here, went very far. That was helpful in my recovery, especially being newly sober. It was cool to be sober here. I needed that drive. I needed that push. Being around creative people and being around that energy daily pulls you along.”

The move paid off professionally, as well. Hemeon is an accomplished actor with several acting credits on his resume, including “True Blood,” “Criminal Minds,” “As the World Turns” and a lead role in “Husbands," a CW show that was one of the first sitcoms to feature two men as a newlywed couple. He also spent time as an art gallery director, leading to gallery shows featuring his own contemporary Abstract Expressionist paintings and being commissioned to paint works for others.

Sean Hemeon with his paintings
Sean Hemeon with some of his contemporary Expressionist paintings (contributed photo)

“As the pandemic was hitting, Hollywood was shutting down. I was doing some work helping produce events, but the world was shutting down. No more weddings, no more event premieres. I was doing that along with acting and painting.”

Hemeon says he cannot remember why, but at that time, a friend asked him how many college credits he had. He looked it up and saw that he had 60. So, with his newfound free time due to the pandemic, he began searching online for creative writing programs.

“I’ve journaled my entire life. I’ve written plays and been training as a screenwriter for five years, completing numerous screenplays and TV pilots, and wanted to, finally, write prose with the goal of publishing a memoir. Lo and behold, UVA and the BIS program pop up. And you know, being from Virginia, UVA has a certain prestige in my mind. And the BIS program was something I could do online. I just said, ‘I’m going to apply, and if I get in, it means I was meant to do it.’”

The journey became even clearer for Hemeon while a student in writing classes led by Professor Charlotte Matthews and Professor Robert “Ran” Henry.

“I started the program and learned that they were exploring the option for students to do creative writing as a Capstone project. That’s when I really committed because I thought, ‘I’m going to use this as a launchpad for myself as a published writer.’”

Works written in Matthews’ class were accepted into literary journals and, recently, won Hemeon a writer’s fellowship.

“What I like about the BIS program and what made it sustainable was that some teachers would allow me to conform the assignment to fit my needs. As an example, instead of prose, Professor Henry let me turn in a screenplay.”

This was perfect for Hemeon, who ultimately wants to write for TV. As his time as a UVA student comes to a close, he reflects on his experience.

“It was professors like Matthews that kept me going. I originally thought, ‘Okay, I’ll apply. I’ll see what happens.’ I didn’t expect these relationships, nor the ones with my writer classmates, to be such a bonus.”


Hemeon’s forthcoming memoir titled “I Don’t Want This to Be Sad” is about a guarded gay teen, feeling rejected by his Mormon faith and mother, who plummets into the world of drug dealing following a catastrophic, secret love affair in high school with his jock best friend. He is currently looking for literary representation. Hemeon can be reached at, insta: @sean_hemeon, @seanhemeon_art.