National Post (Latest Edition)
HEIGL IS DONE APOLOGIZING
ONCE BRANDED A ‘DIFFICULT’ WOMAN, STAR HAS FINALLY FOUND PEACE OF MIND
The Secret changed Katherine Heigl’s life. “I had always kind of pooh-poohed it,” she said. “And then I read the script about six or seven years ago, and there was something about it that resonated with me. This idea that we sort of bring about what we think most about.”
Tucked inside a small room at her sprawling Utah ranch for this video interview, Heigl radiates warmth. She’s the first to bring up some of the less savoury headlines that have plagued her career and doesn’t shy away from answering questions.
“I may have said a couple of things you didn’t like, but then that escalated to ‘she’s ungrateful,’ then that escalated to ‘she’s difficult,’ and that escalated to ‘she’s unprofessional,’” she said. “What is your definition of difficult? Somebody with an opinion that you don’t like? Now, I’m 42, and that s--- pisses me off.”
Based on the book by Kristin Hannah, her new Netflix venture, Firefly Lane follows talk show host Tully (Heigl) and her best friend, Kate (Sarah Chalke) through the decades, charting all the trials and tribulations that longevity brings.
The way Heigl discusses the relationship between Tully and Kate — a bond that includes fights, periods of not speaking to each other and betrayal — could also describe Heigl’s tumultuous relationship with Hollywood itself.
Yes, she branded her 2007 Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up “a little sexist” and lamented that it painted women as uptight “shrews.” Yes, one year after winning an Emmy for her role as Izzie Stevens on Grey’s Anatomy, Heigl asked to have her name withdrawn from 2008 awards consideration because she “did not feel that
I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination.” And yes, she complained about working a 17-hour day on Grey’s in 2009, when her own schedule was possibly to blame.
“At the time, I was just quickly told to shut the f-up. The more I said I was sorry, the more they wanted it. The more terrified and scared I was of doing something wrong, the more I came across like I had really done something horribly wrong.”
“She has very strong convictions and strong opinions on certain things, and she doesn’t back down from letting you know if she feels like she’s been wronged in any way,” said James Marsden, her 27 Dresses costar and friend. “I’ve always seen that as just strength of character. I can see how that can get construed as being difficult or ungrateful or whatever. But if you know Katie, it’s simply because she has the courage to stand behind something she believes.”
If Heigl’s transgressions happened now, it’s hard to imagine the public reaction playing out in the same way. “If she said (some of it) today, she’d be a hero,” her husband of 13 years, the singer Josh Kelley, said separately.
She thinks if she had kept making hits, the tabloid drama wouldn’t have made a career impact.
“You can be the most awful, difficult, horrible person on the planet, but if you’re making them money, they’re going to keep hiring you,” she said. “I knew that whatever they felt I had done that was so awful, they would overlook it if I made them money — but then my films started to make not quite as much money.”
During the “shunning,” as Heigl referred to that onslaught of backlash, the anxiety she had struggled with since her teenage years began to spiral. She had married Kelley in December 2007 and they adopted their daughter Naleigh from South Korea in 2009, increasingly spending time at the ranch they built together near Park City, Utah. Kelley remembers being “very worried” despite Heigl’s thick skin and outwardly confident persona.
“I can’t imagine what all of that pressure did to her over the years, dealing with celebrity, dealing with people saying things about her that are not true,” he said. “It would be hard for anybody to process that, especially when it’s unjust and a lot of it’s negative.”
In 2015, the year before she became pregnant with their son, Joshua Jr., Heigl’s anxiety spiked again, but it wasn’t until another flareup a year after his birth that she began regularly seeing a therapist, got diagnosed and put on medication.
But Heigl’s countryside serenity was shattered following the death of George Floyd in May. Heigl shared a series of lengthy Instagram posts expressing her “sorrow” and “rage” at the police officers involved and wondering how she would be able to “explain the unexplainable” to her other daughter Adalaide, who is Black.
“There is not a ton of diversity in Utah, and that was not something we even thought of because we were living in our white bubble and just kind of thinking ‘love is love,’” Heigl said. “It was a very big eye opener ...”
In 2007, Heigl and her mother and manager, Nancy, formed their own production company called Abishag with the prescient knowledge that by the time Heigl turned “40 or 45 it will be a different career,” as Nancy told Vanity Fair in 2008. “There will be many young women coming up, and as an actress, you really don’t have that much control.”
Heigl’s slated to star in and executive-produce a limited series about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for U.S. president in 1872, and she also serves as an executive producer on Firefly Lane.
“I spent a lot of years just being the actor hired,” Heigl said. “I feel now I have enough experience and enough wisdom to have a voice, to collaborate about character, about story, about cast ...”
“I think she has found the person that she truly is, and she’s found her way to be that person with the world,” Kelley said. “She just seems more at ease with family, career, and life itself, and I’m really super proud of her for that.”