B orn Katherine Marie Heigl, on November 24, 1978, in Washington, DC (some sources say New Canaan, CT); daughter of Paul (an accountant) and Nancy (a personal manager) Heigl; married Josh Kelley (a musician), December 23, 2007.
A ctress on television, including: Roswell, The WB, 1999-2001, UPN, 2001-2002; Wuthering Heights (movie), 2003; Critical Assembly (movie), 2003; Evil Never Dies (movie), 2003; Love Comes Softly (movie), 2003; Vegas Dick (movie), 2003; Love’s Enduring Promise (movie), 2004; Romy and Michele: In the Beginning (movie), 2005; Grey’s Anatomy, 2005—. Film appearances include: That Night, 1992; King of the Hill, 1993; My Father the Hero, 1994; Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, 1995; Prince Valiant, 1997; Stand-Ins, 1997; Bride of Chucky, 1998; 100 Girls, 2000; Valentine, 2001; The Ringer, 2005; Side Effects, 2005; Zyzzyx Rd., 2006; Caf-feine, 2006; Knocked Up, 2007; 27 Dresses, 2008.
Awards: Emmy Award for outstanding supporting actress in a drama series, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for Grey’s Anatomy, 2007.
K atharine Heigl first gained notice in ABC’s top-rated medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy, but within two years of that show’s 2005 debut she was being hailed as the next Julia Roberts for her comedic film roles. She played the heroine in two romantic comedies—the surprise summer hit of 2007, Knocked Up, and 27 Dresses, released the following January. She was anything but a newcomer, however, having appeared in a slew of television movies and little-seen horror flicks over the past decade. “I always imagined what it might be like to have this success,” she told Houston Chronicle journalist Sandy Cohen, but admitted fame had its drawbacks. “You feel watched all the time, and it feels like you can’t be yourself, like you can’t go to the grocery store unless you’re wearing a cute outfit and look perfect.”
Heigl was born Katherine Marie Heigl on November 24, 1978, in Washington, D.C., but grew up in New Canaan, Connecticut, as the youngest of four. In September of 1986, when she was seven, her 15year-old brother was thrown from the back of a pickup truck and died seven days later from his injuries. “The worst part was watching the devastation of my family,” she recalled in an interview with Vanity Fair’s Leslie Bennetts. “They weren’t the same people anymore.” Some family friends of her parents belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—more commonly referred to as the Mormon church—and were especially empa-thetic during this difficult period, and this led to a decision by Heigl’s parents, Paul and Nancy, to join the church. Heigl also converted, but gave up practicing the faith after she moved to California. “I give my parents unbelievable credit for pulling it together, and I give the Mormon church a lot of credit for helping them to do that,” Heigl told Bennetts.
Heigl began modeling just as she was about to enter her teens, and appeared in television commercials for Cheerios and Sears. She made her film de-but in That Night, a 1992 teen romance that starred Eliza Dushku and Juliette Lewis. A year later, she appeared in the little-seen 1993 Steven Soderbergh movie King of the Hill, set in a rundown hotel during the Great Depression. Her first starring role came in an ill-advised project that featured French film legend Gérard Depardieu as her on-screen father. Heigl played a spoiled American teenager who has not seen her French father in years. To make up for lost time, he takes her on a lavish trip to the Bahamas, where they are mistaken for a couple, and this plot device drives the remainder of My Father the Hero. Critics savaged it, with Lisa Schwarzbaum writing in Entertainment Weekly that “every ostensibly funny moment leaves an after-taste of creepy discomfort.”
Heigl’s next role was opposite action-adventure star Steven Seagal in 1995’s Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. She graduated from New Canaan High School in 1996, and moved to Los Angeles with her mother, who, by then, was divorced from Heigl’s father. In 1997, she appeared in the comic-book adaptation Prince Valiant and also in Stand-Ins, a tale of four young women trying to break into Hollywood in the 1940s. She played Jade in Bride of Chucky in 1998 and won her first regular television role on the successful teen drama Roswell, which debuted on The WB network in 1999. Her character, Isabel Evans, was one of four aliens sent to live among humans in the New Mexico community of the series title.
Roswell lasted three seasons, and then Heigl’s career seemed to stall in the television-movie genre. She was in an MTV adaptation of the Emily Brontë classic Wuthering Heights in 2003, as well as a four more small-screen movies—Critical Assembly, Evil Never Dies, Love Comes Softly, and Vegas Dick. Her career perked up in 2004 when she was offered one of the lead roles in a new ABC drama set in a Seattle hospital. Grey’s Anatomy was named for its narrator, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), who is one of several new interns at Grace Hospital. Heigl was cast as Isobel “Izzie” Stevens, a former lingerie model who struggles to be taken seriously by her peers and supervisors after racy photos of her previous career surface.
Grey’s Anatomy debuted in late March of 2005 and was given a strong spot in the Sunday night lineup, right after Desperate Housewives. It was quickly dubbed “Sex and the City Hospital” for its focus on the doctors’ personal lives, and inevitably compared to the most successful hospital drama in television history. “Nobody’s apt to forget ER because of this,” wrote Variety’s Brian Lowry in his review of the pilot, “but the mix of a youthful cast, crisp dialogue, romance, the Darwinian workplace struggle to survive, and life-or-death situations combine to make the show appealing and watchable in spite of its familiarity.” After roles in so many horror films and little-seen comedies, Heigl was happy to have landed such a part. “I’m really grateful because the character I play is smart and ambitious,” she told Cohen in the Houston Chronicle interview. “And not ambitious in a bad way, getting ahead at the expense of someone else. She’s ambitious in her own self, pushing herself to be her best.”
Grey’s Anatomy quickly became one of the top-rated shows on network television, and finished its second season in May of 2006 in the No. 5 spot. In the fall of 2006, it moved to a Thursday-night slot, which did little to diminish its fan base. That same season, however, reports surfaced of squabbling on the set between Isaiah Washington, who played one of the older supervising doctors, and T. R. Knight, whose character, Dr. George O’Malley, harbored an unrequited crush on Heigl’s Izzie during the first season. The tension led to an incident that involved Washington, Knight, and Patrick Dempsey, who was the show’s heartthrob character, Dr. Derek Shepherd, but almost always referred to as “Dr. McDreamy.” Once the media heard of the scuffle, Washington apologized for uttering a derogatory epithet at Knight, who a few days later stated publicly for the first time that he was gay.
The controversy appeared to have quieted down, but in January of 2007, Heigl and her Grey’s Anatomy castmates appeared at a press conference immediately following the Golden Globes, the annual Hollywood Foreign Press Association awards show. They were visibly excited to have won for best dramatic television series, and the series’ creator, Shonda Rhimes, answered questions about the female cast members’ gowns and jewelry before being asked about the October incident. At that point, Washington stepped up to the microphone and “de nied that he ever used the slur to describe Mr. Knight, at the same time repeating the word,” reported New York Times writer Edward Wyatt. “Fellow cast members who were with Mr. Washington appeared shaken, quickly going from jubilant to solemn.” Following the press conference, Heigl was interviewed by a television reporter and said that Washington “needs to just not speak in public,” the New York Post quoted her as saying.
Behind the scenes, Heigl and Knight had developed a close friendship, and she later recalled that Washington’s use of the slur and Knight’s subsequent admission that he was gay was a stressful time for her. “I was terrified for him,” she told John Griffiths in the Advocate, and cited a list of worries she had about his admission of his sexual orientation, including “that he would be ridiculed, that he would be picked on, that he would [be] ostracized— all the reasons why people don’t come out. But I was so proud of his strength. It’s such a cliché to say this, but he handled it courageously.”
There were hints that same season that Heigl was involved in her own behind-the-scenes battle with network executives and Grey’s Anatomy producers over the terms of her contract, which was up for renewal. The negotiations were stalled for several months, with Heigl reportedly unhappy that the proposed raise was not on par with what Pompeo and Dempsey were earning. She was still appearing in films when her schedule permitted, in 2006 taking roles in Zyzzyx Rd., a Las Vegas-set thriller, and Caffeine, a little-seen ensemble piece set in a London coffee house.
In May of 2007, Heigl’s film career was suddenly jolted forward thanks to her starring role in Knocked Up, the new comedy from writer-director Judd Apa-tow (The 40Year-Old Virgin). She was cast as Alison Scott, whose job as a TV entertainment reporter is threatened when a drunken evening with a guy she meets at a bar results in an unexpected pregnancy. For the rest of the film, she guides Ben Stone, the immature slob/father-to-be played by Seth Rogen, to a more responsible lifestyle. Their woes are offset by the dysfunctional marriage of Debbie (Leslie Mann), who is Alison’s older sister, and her hapless mate Pete (Paul Rudd). Heigl earned terrific reviews for her work, with Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers proclaiming her “an exciting new star with real acting chops and a no-bull quality that ups her potential.” Writing for Salon.com, Stephanie Zacharek found Knocked Up to be “a romantic comedy that’s un-afraid to face human suffering dead on. And yet, in the end, it’s all the more joyous for that.” Zacharek noted that while “Rogen is an unlikely romantic-comedy lead . Heigl is wonderful here: She gives Alison just the right mix of youthful vulnerability and fierce, mom-to-be determination.” The year 2007 proved to be a busy one for Heigl: In addition to filming episodes for the fourth season of Grey’s Anatomy, she won her first Emmy Award for her role on the series, and completed work on her first genuine lead role in a romantic comedy, 27 Dresses. She also married her fiancé, musician Josh Kelley, whom she had met in 2005 when she was cast in his video for his song “Only You.” The wedding took place in Park City, Utah, just before Christmas and less than a month before the pre-miere date for 27 Dresses.
In 27 Dresses, Heigl plays Jane, a perennial bridesmaid and loser at love. She harbors a secret crush on her boss, played by Ed Burns, that goes unnoticed. Jane’s sister meets him and the attraction is instant. Jane dreads her next bridesmaid’s role at their impending nuptials, compounded by the unwanted attention a journalist (James Marsden) is giving her. Again, Heigl won praise for her comic timing, with the New York Times film critic A. O. Scott panning the film itself but noting that “Heigl certainly works hard to convince the audience of the existence of a universe in which she could be the dowdier, shyer member of a pair of sisters.” It was a sentiment echoed by another reviewer, Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, who wrote that Heigl has “some of the nervous, high-strung sensu-ality of the young Kathleen Turner—and she makes Jane a live presence, even if it’s a bit much to ask us to believe that a woman this attractive could be this nerdishly self-sacrificing a sop.”
Heigl’s snappish comment about her Grey’s Anatomy castmate Washington—whose contract was not renewed for the fourth season—was not the last remark she would make that showcased her independent streak. In January of 2008, she appeared on that month’s Vanity Fair, and in the interview she faulted the characterization as Alison in Knocked Up. Heigl considered it “a little sexist,” she told Ben-netts, the author of the cover story. “It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”
Advocate, June 19, 2007, p. 38.
Cosmopolitan, December 2006, p. 36.
Entertainment Weekly, February 18, 1994, p. 95; January 18, 2008, p. 62.
Houston Chronicle, November 23, 2006, p. 6.
New York Post, January 18, 2007, p. 123.
New York Times, March 25, 2005; January 22, 2007; January 18, 2008.
Rolling Stone, May 30, 2007.
USA Today, May 21, 2007, p. 1D.
Variety, March 24, 2005, p. 6; January 7, 2008, p. 35.
“Katherine Heigl talks about marriage, ratings ploys, and why she thinks Knocked Up is sexist,”
Vanity Fair,http://www.vanityfair.com/services/presscenter/pressrelease/katherine_heigl200801 (January 22, 2008).
“Knocked Up,” Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/review/2007/06/01/knocked_up/index.html?CP=IMD&DN=110 (January 22, 2008).