After the abysmal Killers, Katherine Heigl is in need of a hit. Right now though, she’d settle for a real cigarette. Paul Byrne caught up with the blonde beauty in New York.
Katherine Heigl is puffing on a pink cigarette. With jewels on it. And a light on the end where the hot ash should be.“It’s an electronic cigarette,” she sighs.
“I know, it’s ridiculous. It’s helping me not to smoke real cigarettes. I feel pretty stupid, but at least it keeps me from buying a pack of cigarettes and smoking, smoking. That’s the one thing I would say to my kid. My mother said, ‘You’re setting a terrible example’, and I said, ‘I know!’.”
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Mind you, Katherine Heigl needs a cigarette today. Even one that’s pink, bejewelled and battery-operated. Her latest movie, Life As We Know It, is about to be unleashed, and she needs it to be a hit. Because her last one, Killers, wasn’t. And it kinda sucked.
Of course, Heigl’s previous movie, The Ugly Truth, kinda sucked too, but that one made money. As did the previous year’s 27 Dresses. All big Hollywood offerings that put Katherine Heigl’s big, smiling face on the poster, her big-screen 2007 breakthrough Knocked Upsuddenly making the pretty supporting player (in such delights as The Ringer and Under Siege 2: Dark Territory) a worldwide box-office draw. Which, you know, comes with responsibilities. Alongside all the lovely moolah, adoration and free stuff.
Not so much Knocked Up as Knocked Sideways, Life As We Know It sees Heigl playing a reluctant mum alongside Josh Duhamel’s reluctant dad after their best friends die in a car crash, having secretly left the warring duo as their only child’s legal guardians. Like watchingThe Break-Up in reverse, the unloving couple move into the family home, and proceed to bang heads over baby duties until, yep, they fall in love.
We’re at New York’s Regency Hotel, and, outside, it’s sunny as hell, with a crisp autumn breeze. Inside, it’s balmy. And smokey. Well, vapory. Thanks to that little electronic cigarette.
PAUL BYRNE: Having the death of a happy young couple as the springboard for a romantic comedy is pretty brave. Or incredibly stupid. I’m not sure.
KATHERINE HEIGL: Yeah, I had the same doubts too when I first read it, but I think it works. There are so many meet-cute moments where you pretty much know how it all falls together; here, it was something of a leftfield approach. Which, you know, is an approach that worked pretty well in Knocked Up…
Your director, Greg Berlanti, recommended looking at old those screwball romantic comedies where the gloves would come off. I’m guessing the love/hate thing was pretty easy to handle, given that you guys are both married, you to the country rocker Josh Kelley, and Josh to Black Eyed Pea Fergie…
Absolutely. We went Method on this one – let off a lot of steam. Greg, our director, just left the door open for us to let rip at one another. That was fun. I’m sure it helped our home lives while we were shooting too. All that frustration would be worked out of our systems by the time we got home.
It probably wasn’t too much of a stretch for you, to deal with the shellshock of a sudden life-change – that came with Knocked Up – or the bringing up baby part. You adopted a South Korean back, Nancy Leigh, on September 9th last year, named after your business partner mum and the adopted Korean sister you grew up with.
Yeah, marriage is a shock to the system too. Even if you plan it – plan a marriage, plan a family – you’re never quite prepared for how the reality versus what’s in your mind, what you imagine it. And in a lot of ways, it’s better, and in a lot of ways it’s worse. That’s the same with career.
My career took a sudden sharp turn, and it changed, very quickly, and it changed the whole course of my life. I mean, nothing is the same. Nothing. It’s crazy. And that was literally only five years ago. Six years ago, I was still auditioning, I was struggling, I was trying to get jobs, taking whatever parts to get the jobs. That was only five years ago, and my life has changed so much. It’s so weird.
Plus, you’re so rich now.
I know! Yow!
It was Grey’s Anatomy that got the ball rolling, of course, but your character left abruptly in January…
It was a bad ending, yeah. A lot was left unresolved, and I worry about Izzie. Did she go work for another hospital, or did she end up back in a trailer park, teaching Phys-Ed? I do worry about her. And for sure, I think Grey’s helped me get Knocked Up, because we were able to convince the studio that I had some recog… recogni… Oh, my God.
Thank you. I was going to say ‘recognisability’. It’s a new word! Write it down. I’ve had way too much coffee; I apologise. Yeah, but it helps. They didn’t want to put a fairly unknown actress in the lead in a big movie. That’s really risky for them, and they didn’t want to do that, so, I think Grey’s Anatomy helped to convince them, for sure. It was amazing to have a director who was willing to support me in that way, and take a risk on me that way, and the two together, absolutely, it just changed the course.
This is the director, Judd Apatow, who had to issue a statement though after you deemed Knocked Up “a little sexist” and “hard for me to love” in Vanity Fair…
That was blown out of all proportion. I think the Judd Apatow and everyone else involved in the movie knows I loved making that movie, and I’m so, so grateful for what it’s done for me. It’s incredible though, you can’t express your opinion, or be open about a little doubt, without the whole thing just becoming a media fireworks. It’s made me very wary about what I say.
Shame. You’re also plainly wary of the nature of Hollywood itself, calling your company Abishag Productions, a name you got from the Robert Frost poem, Provide, Provide, which deals with the fading of beauty, and the fickleness of Hollywood. Now that it’s your face on the poster, sleepless nights, or are you just enjoying the ride?
Sure, yeah. It’s a balance. You’re never not going to have a sleepless night or two, because you do put pressure on yourself to obviously maintain a certain level of success. And it’s so amazingly, crazy-hard to get there, and it’s fortuitous and gracious when you get there. But then you think, oh God, how do I hold on to this?
With every frickin’ movie that I have coming out, they say, ‘This is the one that’s going to prove whether or not she’s got the…’. Oh, Jesus, please don’t do that. Because you’re going to have some that don’t do well. That’s life, I can’t control that.
Time’s nearly up. With a name like Katherine, there’s got to be some diddley-aye in the blood…
Yeah, I’m a quarter Irish, on my dad’s side. My dad’s mother’s side. I’d love to do one of those DNA things, trace it right back. Do you know what’s tragic? I worked in Wales for, like two months, and I didn’t take the ferry over. Like an asshole. But I was seventeen. I didn’t know any better. An idiot.
Words – Paul Byrne
Life As We Know It is now showing in Irish cinemas