Katherine Heigl has been here before. Just a couple of years ago, the Emmy-winning actress was out and about heavily promoting her then-about-to-debut TV show, State of Affairs. In it, she had the star role as a powerful advisor to the US president. Given that it was also a show she was producing, she had high hopes for it.
State of Affairs lasted one season before being unceremoniously yanked by the network. Heigl was devastated. She wanted to move to Utah. She wasn’t sure she’d ever go back to TV.
Two years later, Heigl – halfway through her third pregnancy – is sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel, talking about her soon-to-debut TV show, Doubt. It’s her third series go-around after her career- defining turn as Dr Izzie Stevens on Grey’s Anatomy, a show she left in 2010 after criticising its writers for not giving her character enough challenging material. She was vilified in the press and ridiculed in Hollywood, despite having become a bona fide romantic comedy star with big-screen hits like Knocked Up and 27 Dresses.
These days, however, Heigl is all about fresh beginnings. She’s here to talk about Doubt, a legal thriller in which she plays a high-powered (what else?) lawyer who falls for the guy she’s trying to get off a murder charge. She is charismatic and funny, looking summery in a scoop-necked owing white dress delicate diamond jewellery, her hair an elegant up-swirled bob.
“All this,” she says, laughing and motioning to herself, “honestly took two hours. I don’t wake up even close to this. I look forward to embracing what I’m really like at home, in my leggings.”
And with that, Heigl chats honestly about her return to the small screen, mourning the end of a beloved TV show, and the importance of disconnecting from social media.
What’s it like now playing a lawyer?
I’ve not really watched any legal dramas and I forgot about the whole courtroom thing, that you have to perform for a jury. I found that fascinating, that as an actor I get to actually act in front of a jury, to be demure or passionate and get them on my side. I’ll bet the best lawyers are the ones comfortable grandstanding, because that’s a big part of it.
It’s not a gritty, heavy show though. Was that one reason you wanted to do it?
It has a lightness and joyfulness to it. Everyone [in the cast] has fascinating story lines and great characters and that’s more interesting for fans – they can get invested in this character here or there and are not force-fed one storyline or one actor. There’s always a bit of levity and banter between us. I wish people would write me witty banter, just for my personal life.
Was it hard to come back to TV after State of Affairs?
This came my way and I wasn’t looking for anything at that moment. I was grieving for State of Affairs. It was sad. I was so committed to that and loved it so much and it was such an extraordinary experience. I wasn’t gunning to do something else right away. But I got the call and read it and it was such an interesting character I’d be a fool to say no.
You must have learned a lot from that experience though.
What I learned is that I love producing. I loved that experience and revelled in it. It was my opportunity to be a real producer and not just a vanity title. I learned a lot. But I did not nail it. I would love to do it again. I have a couple of ideas I’d love to pitch just for the opportunity to produce again.
It must take a certain amount of resilience to be in this industry.
You’ve got to be resilient if you want to succeed. You can’t give up and say, “I’ve had enough failure and I’m tired of publicly failing and I’m going to retire to Utah,” because that was the plan. But I just keep wanting to do this. I like it, and I feel like it’s my thing. Life is about trying and failing and trying again and one day it all comes beautifully together and you ride that wave for as long as you can and then you fail all over again. That’s the nature of the industry. If you can take the pain out of it, it’s amazing. It makes room for other talent and other interesting stories to be told and other performers to rise up, and then your wave rises again.
Was it a conscious decision to not live in Los Angeles anymore?
Utah is my home base now. It’s where I raise my family and spend 90 percent of my time. I’ve spent the past two years just being a mom. But then I was ready to go back to work, and that’s part of who I am too. I always said I’d be a working mom. I was naive enough to think I could totally do both. You can, but you’re compromising both to do both. When I’m done filming here in early December, I’ll go back to Utah, give birth, and I get to be in that world again. It helps me keep everything in perspective.
How have you handled the negative things said about you?
I started acting when the Internet was just starting, and fan sites were happening. I was 17 and had done a little movie and suddenly my body was changing. I was putting on weight and I didn’t know how to diet. I was doing the Cindy Crawford exercise videos, but didn’t know I had to stop eating so much. Somebody online called me “thunder thighs”. I was horrified. I felt like the world had turned into high school and they were bullying me and there was nothing I could do about it. Five years ago [with the Grey’s Anatomy debacle], I realised this is enough. I couldn’t influence how everyone felt about me but still, I was thinking, they hate me, and they are right. Is there something wrong with me? Then I realised, if I was that big of an asshole, there’s no way [singer] Josh Kelley would have married me. Everyone loves him. He’s the most charming guy, and he would never love that person, because if I’d turned into that person, he would have left me.
Do you think it’s harder for someone starting out in the industry now, with all the trolls and twitter wars?
For anyone in entertainment, it’s hard to resist. You want to engage in the fight, but the more breath you give it, the bigger it gets. Look at what happened to me. I kept talking about it, explaining it, defending it, and it just made it bigger. It’s hard to disengage from the phone and not read the comments because they alert you! They notify you! Every time somebody says your name! Turn it off, turn it off. It does not define you. Use it to your advantage, and as a tool for self-promotion, and to give your fans your version of you. There’s always going to be some asshole who has something ugly to say. It’s high school on a bigger scale. My niece is 14 and that phone – my God, it’s a nightmare. We’re just trying to teach her that she doesn’t have to put so much of herself out there and rely on what strangers think of her. That’s what our youth is growing up with – having relationships with anonymous, faceless people. As the mother of young girls, and the aunt of a young girl, I’m trying desperately to teach them how little that matters. It’s all so pointless.