It's no secret Katherine Heigl had a hard time in the press the last time we saw her on TV. She didn't submit her name for the 2008 Emmys because she didn't feel her material on Grey's Anatomy "warranted" it. In 2007, she agreed with an interviewer that Judd Apatow's Knocked Up was "a little sexist." (And then immediately clarified those remarks…which you may or may not remember.)
What happened to the then 29-year-old actress after "Shonda-gate" and "Apatow-gate" was one of the most jarring public lynchings Hollywood has ever seen. The mob was fast and furious. The verdict was swift. And when all was said and done, the whole thing was essentially over...two comments.
After leaving Grey's in 2008, Heigl had been lying low at her ranch in Utah, focusing on family and raising her two daughters, Naleigh and Adalaide, with husband Josh Kelley. Then came the opportunity to do a passion project, a series which she not only stars in but helped to create: NBC's State of Affairs, a new political drama premiering one week from today. Two years in the making, it's Heigl's first leap back into the TV spotlight, playing a CIA operative and head briefer to the president (Alfre Woodard).
In what one of her co-stars called a "public apology tour," Heigl has been carefully doing press again since the show's pickup in May, answering questions about being "difficult" and "rude" by explaining that she never intended to hurt anyone's feelings, and admitting that she's "made mistakes."
Here, in what we believe to be Heigl's most raw and unfiltered interview in years, she finally stands up for herself once again—and strong-minded women everywhere. And we'd just like to say:
This is the Katherine Heigl we fell in love with.
The first time I met you was right when you started Grey's Anatomy, and I remember being totally floored by how real you were. You didn't have a filter. You were funny and honest. It's pretty rare in this town that we get to chat with people who don't get fed every single line to say. So now, a decade later, given everything you went through, I'm wondering, how has that changed? Do you feel like you need to be a lot more careful about what you say? Can you still speak your mind?
Back when all that happened, I was a little naïve. I didn't know. At the time, social media and all of that wasn't what it is now. I didn't realize the impact that this comment or that comment would have or that it would catch like wildfire. But it did. It spread and it turned into something a lot uglier than I ever intended. Obviously I'm more aware of that now. If I'm going to voice my opinion and I'm going to speak my mind, I better be very clear about what my intentions are when I say it. It should never be flippant or carelessly tossed out there. I'm still going to have opinions and some of them people are going to agree with, and some they won't. But that's life and that's every single person on this planet.
I spent time trying to be more of a publicity packaged thing, and I just couldn't. I couldn't sleep at night. It kept me up. It felt so dishonest to me and it felt like such a cop out, like me saying that I am inherently wrong about how I feel about things or I am inherently wrong if I have something to say. I don't like that for my daughters. I don't like that for my girlfriends. I don't like that for any woman in this world to be made to feel like that. You voice, your opinion and you are made to feel like if someone disagrees with you, that now you're a bad person?
Above all else, you have to be able to respect yourself.
Yes. At the end of the day, call me any name you want but I'm going to continue to stand up for myself and I'm going to continue to be heard and voice what I feel and not be bullied into being a doormat, just so you'll call me a sweetheart. I don't want to teach my kids that. And I know certainly some remarkable women like Alfre and my mother and the women that I work with at the network and studio who exude the most gracious confidence in a non-aggressive, non-egotistical way. That's what I need to learn. I need to learn to be like that and not just vomit my ideas out there.
Once you learn that, I still think it's important to be true to yourself. I don't want my kids to feel like they don't have a voice or that having a voice makes them a bitch. I've gone through that phase, too, where I just sit in the corner quietly and look pretty and smile a lot. It's not terribly satisfying. It's living in a weird place of fear of what others think about you. But what matters most is what I think about me. I hold myself to the standard that I think is important. Do I have integrity? Am I compassionate? Am I charitable? Am I forgiving? Am I respectful and decent? That's far more important to me than saying what everyone wants me to say.
Do you think your comments would have been received differently if you were a man? There's no male equivalent for the word "diva." Do you feel that women have less freedom to stand up for themselves and what is right, without coming across as abrasive?
Why isn't there the male equivalent for even bitch? It's so derogatory. I can get into a whole conversation about this. My husband and I talk about this and he's like, ‘Well, let's come up with a word!' But look, I don't want to be a victim, either. I don't want to sit around and complain about the way things are, I want to power through it. My mother never subscribed to the idea that a woman had to be this or a woman was only capable of this in a professional way. Even if that stigma was placed on her in the '50s and the '60s and the '70s, she just ignored it and kept moving forward and kept being who she was capable of being and doing. It's not always possible if the people in charge say no because the people in charge do say no. But that's my approach at this point, to not let it make me a victim of society or sexism. It's up to me to bully my way through it.
This show has been in the works for a while now, and it's finally almost here. How are you feeling?
Nerrrrrrrvous. And I said to my husband, I don't know, a week ago, 'Look I'm on edge and I apologize. I'm stressed out and I'm nervous and until this thing is over, and just airs already we're gonna have to just live with this version of me and I will try not to freak out. But if I get really quiet, you'll know why. I'm having a panic attack!' [laughs] I mean, we've been at this for three years…When they picked up the pilot and started filming the season I was like, ‘I can't believe we made it.' Now I want to get through the airing, keep my fingers crossed and keep sending out my prayers that the fans and the audience feels as strongly about it as I do and we can get to season two. I really like this job. I really really like it. I'm having a great time, it's a great group of people in the cast and the producers and the writers, and we have incredible support from NBC and we really couldn't do it without them and all their marketing and advertising and how much they've invested in the show. It's such a great job, and I'm incredibly thankful for it. I'd like to keep it.
Alfre is so good as the president on your show. Are you hoping for a female president in 2016? Are you very political?
I'm not [very political]. I'm so terrible, here I am doing this show…But honestly, I stay away from voicing too many opinions about that, because I feel like I don't have the education to support any kind of public opinion about this. It would make me feel silly if I said anything about it because I don't pay enough attention. But I do vote! Before I vote that's when I'm all in, and I find out whose platforms are what and what are their policies and what do I feel most strongly about.
If Alfre were running, I would vote for her. What has it been like portraying that dynamic?
I really love it. I love the relationship between these two women. It's wrought with emotion and vulnerability and loss and love and grief and on top of that you add their particular jobs and there are the restraints that are put on them because of this job and you can add mistrust and disloyalty into the mix. It's fascinating.
I personally still miss Izzie and George on Grey's, and it gives me some solace to know that you and T.R. Knight still friends in real life...They're still together in another universe.
Oh yes! T.R. is like family at this point. We've been best friends for 11-something years. We clicked immediately on the pilot and I can't even remember life without him now. He's my daughters' godfather and is like a brother to me. He lives now on the East Coast which breaks my heart, because I don't get to see him. We used to literally hang out every single night and now I'm lucky if I can squirrel him away from New York to just spend one weekend with me. But we talk all the time. He's such an incredibly decent, big-hearted, incredibly talented, unbelievably loyal friend. I'm lucky to have him.
I was there at the Big Brothers Big Sisters gala where you raised your hand and offered to be a mentor to that high school student up on stage. I heard you followed through?
Yes. The whole event was so inspiring and so moving, with the Littles getting up with their Bigs and the Bigs talking about how the kids inspired them and how they changed their lives. She got up there and gave that incredible speech and I was like, ‘Oh girl, I'm so in!' I'm so anxious and excited to get started. I think she's going to breathe life onto the set and show all of us hardened, old actors who have been around the block, like, ‘Remember what it was like when you were that age and the world was opening up to you and was shiny and new with all these possibilities?' Let's help make that her reality.
State of Affairs premieres Monday, Nov. 17 on NBC.