AWFJ Women On Film – Anne Heche on Cedar Rapids, Comedy and Being A Redhead – Jenny Halper interviews

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When Miguel Arteta’s broadly, sweetly funny Cedar Rapids opens Friday, Anne Heche, who stars as the sole woman in a group of misbehaving insurance agents, might finally get her nationwide due as the gifted comedian she’s technically been for the last fifteen years.

Heche is best known for TV now, but her very different roles include a political aide to

Robert De Niro, a superficial journalist stuck on an island with a smitten Harrison Ford,

a frantic lawyer trying to save Joaquin Phoenix from death, and a young shrink with cold

feet in Nicole Holofcener’s debut Walking and Talking. Offscreen she’s also a writer, director and mother of two.

The actress, who in person is charming and approachable and humble, took time to talk about her impressively varied career, stepping away from directing, and why it was important to go from bottle blond to sink-dyed redhead…at least temporarily.

JENNY HALPER: It’s surprising that only now are people starting to notice that you have a knack for comedy.

ANNE HECHE: After we went to Sundance (with Cedar Rapids), my husband

said, “are people starting to see you as a comedian?” And that’s exactly what I said to him: “Did Barry Levinson not hire me for Wag the Dog?” The difference is I wasn’t doing comedies like Caddyshack. I’ve always done characters who are humorous, or acted in a romantic comedy, but not something that’s considered a broad comedy. The perception’s funny. I consider the person on Hung…I consider Hung a comedy, too, but I don’t know. But now there’s a shift happening. It’s not just that I’m a dramatic actress doing a comedy once in a while. Now I’ve just rounded it out enough that people

can define it as such.

HALPER: Because of the TV?

HECHE: No, I think it was the accumulation. I always hear actors say, “why didn’t that thing make me such and such?” But I think no matter what you’re doing, you’re not just the one thing. You can’t really plan (to be seen a certain way) because as much as you try to do that, you make a plan God laughs. Funnily enough Cedar Rapids should have been the movie I did after Wag the Dog. It was picking up in that vein of intellectual comic human story.

HALPER: What’s most impressive about your career is its longevity and I guess agility– you’ve come full circle in a way a lot of actors don’t. Donnie Brasco is so disparate from, say, Men in Trees.

HECHE: I think it must just be my love of the woman that I play and the way I’m

constantly challenging myself to express the incredible complexity that I see in human beings. It never stops amazing me and I never judge it. I study it as a lover of this life, and because of the journey that I’ve lived and the incredible opportunities I’ve been given I’ve seen so much and hurt so much and felt so much that my being continues to want to tell these stories that people continue to want to put on screen, thank God.

HALPER: Is there a role that you most want to be associated with?

HECHE: I wouldn’t say it’s a specific role. I’ve challenged myself with different roles,

whether its taking a role to heal a curiosity in my life or a particular thing that happened to me and I find that a role allows me to put it behind me, or a passage in my life, a door I need to walk through. When I was on Broadway the first time, realizing as I stepped out onstage I’d come to embrace the fact that I was a person who could lead an experience, that I was able to say “I take responsibility for being a leading lady,” not just putting it aside as “I’m an actor in a part in a particular story” but “I can take an audience on a journey with me.”

HALPER: This was Proof?

HECHE: Yeah, Proof – that was a big experience for me. And probably 20th Century when I played opposite Alec Baldwin is probably the closest..in the most delightful

moments of my life I like to see myself as a screwball comedian. And I’ve never been able to play in that kind of extreme, fun, physical, delightful world as when I did 20th Century with him. I mean, my God, to be able to play a role that Carol Lombard had played is a shining moment for me in my life.

HALPER: Ten years ago you wrote and directed a few of your own films….

HECHE: I want to (again), but when you have children you have to become more

practical if you will. I had to really pay attention to what was going to put food on my table best. And I’ve always kind of listened to what the world says, and what the world says most to me is “please act…that seems to be the most consistent message I get, so I thought that would be the most probably the best route to take once I started having children. You get guided in your life, whether the universe is speaking to you or whether its something as practical as your agent is sending you scripts. I don’t get the calls that say “please come direct” and it doesn’t mean that I won’t, I would love to…I would love to. It’s a dream of mine to direct a feature, I’ve only done shorts and the experiences were beyond wonderful. In fact i was just in Sundance the other day, and I’d gone to Sundance with a movie I’d done called Reaching Normal (in 2001). Paul Rudd saved my ass in that movie and came and acted for me. And I ended up sitting next to one of his best friends, and I said “please, please tell him I will never forget,” and now he’s, you know, Paul Rudd Mr. Comedian. And he did such an incredible thing for me so many year ago. So it will come back into my life, I just don’t know when exactly.

HALPER: In a perfect world, what sort of movie would you want to write and direct?

HECHE: I’d love to say a comedy, but (with Cedar Rapids), Miguel kept saying “don’t lay the rope with your characters,” and I wonder if I’m aware enough to not write

comedy obviously. I wonder if I’ve learned enough or absorbed enough. I take in as much as I can so that one day hopefully I’ll be able to, but I say a comedy and it will probably turn out to be a family drama.

HALPER: Your next film, Rampart, is really different, very dark….

HECHE: Talk about a serious drama. Rampart is a very very dark story about a man

involved in some very very very dark things in the Rampart scandal. Honestly, Oren Moverman is a wonderful filmmaker and Woody Harrelson is an old friend of mine from Wag the Dog, and the fact that they asked me to be a part of that film..I was just thrilled to do it. It wasn’t necessarily about the character, I loved creating the character, but for them, to be a small part of the tale they were telling…sometimes you do movies because you want to embrace the character, and other times you’re blessed to be a part of a wonderful ensemble and support someone as wonderful as Woody.

HALPER: Was the red hair in Cedar Rapids your idea or was it in the script?

HECHE: I read the script and knew I couldn’t be a blond, and I showed up to meet

Miguel in a red wig. I thought he would either laugh me out of the room or embrace me as he did, and he said “she can no longer be a blond, she’s a redhead from now on out.” There are different boundaries of a character and I just didn’t see a midwestern woman who is a business woman and a mom and a wife taking the time out to touch up her roots, you know? You start to grow characters from all different sources, but that just didn’t seem right. And her name is Joan Ostrowski-Fox. You’re different when you’re a blond and you’re different when you’re someone who pours some red dye in a sink in a Motel Six. I wanted to be the latter.

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Jenny Halper

Jenny Halper is the film editor of Spare Change News, a Cambridge bi-monthly dedicated to empowering the homeless. She's written for the Boston Phoenix, Boston Now, NewEnglandFilm.com, amNewYork, Beliefnet, Cinema Confidential, Park Slope Reader, and Knit Simple Magazine, among others, and has served as a film critic/entertainment reporter for Track Entertainment and ClickFlicks.net. Her fiction has appeared in journals including Smokelong Quarterly and New England Fiction Meeting House, and has been a finalist for prizes from Glimmer Train and the Sonora Review. A graduate of Northwestern University, she is currently earning an MFA at Emerson College.