Hawthorne was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. She received her Bachelor of Arts in musical theatre from Birmingham–Southern College in Alabama. After graduating, she began working on stage, making her professional theatre debut at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. In mid-1990s, Hawthorne moved to New York City where she began appearing on Off-Broadway productions.
Hawthorne made her first screen appearance in an episode of NBC drama series, I'll Fly Away. While living in Atlanta, she also appeared in three episodes of In the Heat of the Night. From 1995 to 1996, she played Belinda Keefer in the ABC daytime soap opera, All My Children. Amelia Marshall later replaced her in this role. In 1997, Hawthorne replaced Michelle Hurd in the role of Dana Kramer on the NBC soap opera, Another World. From 1997 to 1998, she starred in Cy Coleman's Broadway musical The Life. She later guest starred on Cosby, The Outer Limits, Stargate SG-1, The Twilight Zone, Andromeda, and The L Word. From 2000 to 2005, Hawthorne had regular supporting role on the Canadian police drama series Da Vinci's Inquest as Det. Rose Williams. In same time, she had the recurring roles on Dark Angel and Jeremiah. In 2006, she was regular cast member in the short-lived HBO comedy series, Lucky Louie starring Louis C.K.. The following year, she co-starred in the Canadian drama, Whistler. In 2014, she had the recurring role on the short-lived Fox legal drama, Rake. Hawthorne also has appeared on CSI: Miami, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Private Practice, Rizzoli & Isles, Southland, Castle, and NCIS: Los Angeles. In 2015, Hawthorne was cast as one of leads in the Oprah Winfrey Network drama series, Greenleaf. She plays the role of Kerissa Greenleaf, Lamman Rucker's character's ambitious and controlling wife.