Hollywood actress and Greys Anatomy star Katherine Heigl is back with a new film, a new baby and a brand new attitude
Seductive, sexy and – whisper it quietly – sensible, Katherine Heigl isn’t the first A-lister to have taken time away from the big screen to recharge her batteries, but she’s arguably one of the more deserving.
Having appeared in more than 30 film roles since bursting onto the scene at the start of the 1990s, her acrimonious departure from Grey’s Anatomy marked a subtle slowing-down of screen time, certainly as far as her selection of blockbuster scripts goes.
Attention, instead, has been directed towards family life. The 38 year old has cultivated an adorable brood with husband Josh Kelley, 37; the youngest of whom – Joshua Jnr – arrived just days before last Christmas.
“We’re going all over again with the diapers and sleepless nights,” she says with a jokey sigh. “Actually, Joshua is good. He sleeps pretty well. And I’ve got my little army of helpers – that’s why you have older kids!”
Those ‘helpers’ comprise daughters Naleigh, eight, and Adaline, four. Both are adopted – Adaline from Louisiana and Naleigh from South Korea, where Heigl’s own sister, Meg, was adopted from. Motherhood suits the actress, who is warm and open when I speak to her about family.
In fact, her life outside of Tinseltown is so down to earth, you begin to wonder if it’s Hollywood that doesn’t suit Heigl, rather than the other way around. In the past she has been labelled ‘difficult’, but there’s very little indication of that as we chat.
The family lives on an idyllic ranch in Utah, eschewing the madness of Los Angeles for a life of rambling fields and animals. But despite her surroundings, the Killers actress does admit to feeling pressure, particularly with the rise of social media, to portray ‘the good life’.
“Before, we were bombarded to a certain extent, but there was an accessible off-switch. Now, it’s pinging on your phone multiple times a day,” she says.
“And I’m guilty of it, too. I use filters; I want that pose to accentuate my best side. And then I just want to put up a cute picture with my kids, even if there’s an extra chin in there!
“Life is not perfect. Parenthood is far from perfect, but we all try to emulate that. When I was younger, I strove for perfection a lot; I had this attitude that I can physically do it all, so I should do it all. But that isn’t feasible.”
But with three children, a career and a ranch to run, how does she balance it all? “I don’t, I really don’t, and that’s OK!” she says. “I think women can beat themselves up over this, but there has to come a point where you say, ‘Enough. I can only do so much at one time’.
“When you’re working, it’s time away from the family. When I’m with my family, that’s a choice to keep me away from my job. That’s how it is and I can’t do it all. Fortunately, I have an amazing husband. He’s the best, best dad.”
The one-time rom-com queen this year made a triumphant return to cinema in Unforgettable alongside Rosario Dawson. Playing a deranged ex-wife intent on ruining her estranged husband’s new relationship, Heigl comes across as terrifying – in one scene she even disturbed herself when she had to be deliberately cruel to her character’s daughter, Lily (played by 10-year-old Isabella Rice).
“That was the hardest aspect by far,” she admits. “I’ve never had to be horrible to a child before and she is so professional, she knows it’s all part of the job. But that scene, where I’m cutting her hair and she’s sobbing, it’s not fake – no tear stick or drops in her eyes, she is actually crying so hard.
After the first take, I walked straight out of the room and cried my eyes out. It took a while to get it together after that. It felt so wrong and went completely against the nature of who I am.”
Heigl rarely disappoints in front of the camera. Her punchy spirit is certainly a draw, but most of all she has proven herself to be a talented actress. Over time, she will likely go from strength to strength, understanding that it’s life’s experiences – whether difficult or wondrous – that propel you to be your best.
“I’m pretty sure I could never have played a mum until I became one myself, and fortunately it worked like that. You can’t really pull on something so powerful and encompassing without having gone through it yourself,” says Heigl fervently, before adding with a wistful sigh, “And it is powerful – motherhood is the most powerful experience you will ever go through.”
Interview by Karen Anne Overton