Seth Rogen Is ''Sympathetic'' if Katherine Heigl Didn't Like Knocked Up: The Birth of a Controversy Blown Out of Proportion

Almost 9 years ago, Heigl questioned her role in the Judd Apatow-directed comedy, and no one has let her forget it

By Natalie Finn Aug 08, 2016 8:42 PMTags
Katherine Heigl, Seth RogenJason Merritt/Jesse Grant/Getty Images

The baby Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen's characters had in Knocked Up would be 9 years old by now.

Meaning, it's been almost nine years since Heigl expressing her concern over the treatment of her character in the Judd Apatow-directed blockbuster turned into a big, huge thing. A big, huge thing that was blown way out of proportion. (But how could that happen?! That never happens!)

And yet the dynamic between Heigl and Rogen to this day still fascinates, presumably because Rogen has become one of the most successful actor-writer-filmmakers around and Heigl, despite having starred in several more seasons of Grey's Anatomy and almost a dozen movies since, is widely believed to have plateaued, career-wise, around that time. Was she being punished for being "difficult"?! is what people have always wondered.

"As I was watching it [recently, for the first time in years], I thought, f--k, we are so funny together, me and Katherine. And as we were making the movie, honestly I would make a dozen movies with her," Rogen said today—today!—on The Howard Stern Show when asked about the whole to-do. 

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Though let's take a moment to acknowledge that it was on The Howard Stern Show in 2009 that Rogen and Apatow were asked about Heigl's original comments—which she made toward the end of 2007. And that Rogen was asked about the issue today because Howard Stern quizzed Heigl about it when she was on his show just this past April.

So a lot of time passed here and there between "new" developments in the nearly decade-old controversy, but it certainly has stuck to Heigl in a way that it probably never would've stuck to Rogen if he had criticized Knocked Up in any way. No wonder Heigl was probably happy to finally get to tell her side of the story at length on Stern, shorter interviews not having given her the opportunity to really clear the air.

But let's back up and see how we got here.

In the January 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, Heigl—the magazine's cover girl who was fresh from winning an Emmy for Grey's Anatomy—said that Knocked Up "was a little sexist," basically agreeing, when asked, about those who took issue with the film's underlying man-children-are-hilarious-and-women-are-nags concept.

"It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight," Heigl continued, "and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I'm playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you're portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie."

But the film, which came out June 1, 2007, was ragingly successful and ended up being the second-highest-grossing rated-R film of the year. So Heigl didn't say any of that while she was out promoting the movie, and in no way did she affect the film's box office. Perhaps it was just rather shocking to all involved that she took issue with the finished product.

Suzanna Hanover/Universal Studios

Fast-forward to July 2009, and Rogen and Apatow are on The Howard Stern Show. Heigl is still on Grey's Anatomy, but her image has taken a hit (albeit a year beforehand) from her rationale in 2008 for not re-submitting herself for Emmy consideration. ("I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention," is what she said.)

Asked about Heigl's VF interview, Rogen reasoned, referring to how his slacker-stoner character more or less knew in the film that Heigl's character was way out of his league, "[Knocked Up] looks like it really puts women on a pedestal in a beautiful way."

Apatow, being the more diplomatic of the two, said that Heigl "probably was doing six hours of interviews and kissing everyone's ass, and then just got tired and slipped a little bit" when she made those remarks.

"I didn't slip and I was doing f--king interviews all day too...I didn't say s--t!" Rogen insisted. Apatow said that he didn't remember having any fight with Heigl on the set (she never said there was a fight), noting, "Seth always says, it doesn't make any sense [because] she improvised half her s--t." Meaning, Heigl had a lot of input when it came to the character she apparently had a problem with after the fact. And, Apatow added, she "could not have been cooler."

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"[You'd think] at some point I'll get a call saying 'Sorry, I was tired...' and then the call never comes," he said.

And then Rogen, getting in a dig, chimed in, "I gotta say it's not like we're the only people she said some bats--t crazy things about. That's kind of her bag now."

So that's how they dealt with that then.

Branded a diva, Heigl discussed the aftermath of her by then infamous comments about Knocked Up and Grey's Anatomy with the New York Times in 2010.

"I've been told I'm too forthright with opinions," she said while promoting the romantic big-screen dramedy Life As We Know It. "Well do they want a fierce woman or milquetoast? Should I be me, or should I pretend to be something I think people want? Pretending seems pretty ridiculous to me. I didn't think that what I was was so bad that I needed to hide it."

Heidi Gutman/NBC


But the impression that Heigl had inordinately screwed up persisted, despite the pages that have been written since about the kinds of characters portrayed in Knocked Up, the whole bro culture in cinema (both onscreen and behind the scenes) and other real-deal sociological musings that, in case there was any doubt, proved that Heigl wasn't just being... a complainer.

Fast-forward to 2011 when Rogen, newly married and more introspective, was asked if he had forgiven Katherine Heigl.

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"I think that at the time I was offended about it, but since then… I mean, you do so much press that, odds are, you're going to say something f--king stupid every once in a while. Of the million things I say every day, 400 of them are stupid as hell," he told ShortList. "And any one of them might wind up in a newspaper or a magazine at any given time. So at this point I'm much more forgiving of that kind of thing."

That kind of thing. (Says the star who would call The Green Hornet "a perfect storm of bad s--t happening" and say that The Guilt Trip was really just "for airplanes only." Of course, he also co-wrote The Green Hornet and was a producer on both, so fire away, Seth!)

And finally, this past April, Heigl explained on Stern why she never made that call to Judd Apatow or to Seth Rogen. (Though, was it really supposed to have been an "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to say those things, I was just so tired" kind of call? Maybe she could have just blamed that time of the month, too.)

"I liked the movie a lot. I just didn't like me. The character," Heigl recalled. "She was so judgmental and uptight and controlling and all of these things. Judd allows everyone to be really free and improvise and whatever. And afterward, I was like, 'Why is that where I went with this?'"

When she sat down with Vanity Fair, "[The journalist] said, 'You know a lot of women felt it was a little sexist. And I felt obligated to answer." Saying what she did "was dumb," Heigl added. 

As to why she never just reached out to Judd or Seth to make amends, she admitted, "I probably should have. But what I did was, I did it publicly instead and tried to say, 'Look this was not what I meant and this was an incredible experience for me and they were incredibly good to me on this movie so I did not mean to s--t on them at all.'

"I've thought about writing a note. I don't want it to feel insincere on any level."


Otherwise, Heigl said that she actually had a good time working with Rogen.

"I would love to" work with him again, she said. "I don't think he would with me though. I think he's really mad at me." She told Stern that she did see Rogen at a restaurant not long after her Vanity Fair interview came out and she went right up to him. 

"I didn't quite realize it was as serious as it was," she remembered. "I was like, 'Oh, you're really mad.' I didn't realize it was that bad." In hindsight, "I get it. It was an immature, dumbass moment."

Rogen, having audibly matured by leaps and bounds since his 2009 interview on Stern, said today that he didn't recall their run-in at the restaurant being that awkward.

"Honestly, in my memory I do remember that interaction...In my head I thought it wasn't an unpleasant interactions, honestly," the Sausage Party writer and star said. "I think, I honestly think what it was, I thought she hated us. Like you know, we made a movie. I was very proud of it. Critically very well received. Financially, probably still my most successful movie, then we just heard that she didn't like it and that she seemed she didn't have a good experience making it.

"She didn't feel as though the product was reflective how she thought she should be portrayed. And so when that happens, as someone who is an ego-maniac, I just get hurt by that. So I just thought, She must f--king hate me and so what it was is what I saw in her, and was really acting as though everything was fine and it was very pleasant. Honestly I would imagine that my reaction [to seeing her] was more of surprised, like, "Oh, she doesn't seem to hate me!' and I was probably confused by what the f--k was happening."

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

What a difference a few—or eight—years makes.

Rogen said that he would have understood where Heigl was coming from "if it was one of those movies that made a lot of money and the consensus was 'f--k this movie, it was garbage.'...But that was just not the consensus of this movie."

But rather than reiterate that Heigl had made a mistake, Rogen this time at least indicated that he agreed she was within her right to say what she did if that's how she felt, and it sucks if she was judged for it ever after.

"I respect the fact that maybe she realizes that it hurt her career and I don't want that to have happened to her at all," he reflected. "I've said a thousand stupid things and I really like her. A thing like that, especially if she's being honest...The only people who in this situation that it should take away from in this situation is me and Judd. And for other people to not work with her because she didn't like her experience with us..."

He had not talked to her since their maybe-awkward-maybe-not restaurant run-in (or heard from her since Heigl was on Stern herself).

"You know what's funny, I saw Judd after this [Heigl's interview with Stern] and the conversation we had was like, 'Yes, its great. It's wonderful. She's apologizing. Has she called you? No, has she called you? No." That's another thing is when I apologize to people, generally I don't take a public forum. I usually do the exact opposite. I want a few people as humanly possible to know I'm apologizing to someone. I try to make it personal. I'm constantly apologizing to people. Every week I send three apology emails."

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As for Knocked Up, "if she actually didn't like it, the movie, then that I'm very sympathetic to."

To think, if Heigl had emailed Rogen and Apatow right after the interview came out, just to clear the air if not downright apologize. Or if Rogen had somehow been able to put himself in her shoes much sooner instead of saying "bats--t crazy" talk seemed to be her new thing. Or, better yet, if he or Apatow had reached out to Heigl to ask, "Hey, so, what did you mean by that?"

And if Howard Stern hadn't been just so damn fascinated with this feud in the first place... Of course, if he hadn't been, then Heigl wouldn't have gotten the chance to really talk about what happened with some perspective.

Because in hindsight at least, it now seems that what happened with Katherine Heigl was, like The Green Hornet, "a perfect storm of bad s--t happening": She didn't say the worst thing ever, or even necessarily the wrong thing, but still she said a thing at the wrong time—a time when it apparently wasn't quite OK yet for female stars to criticize a big, popular movie or show. And Heigl did both!

And she certainly wasn't the first—nor was she the last—star to have something negative to say about one of her own projects. Since, as Rogen pointed out Monday, the only people who even needed to think twice about what she had said were him and Judd Apatow, perhaps the Knocked Up controversy has been put to bed for good.

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