Katherine Heigl? Difficult? The association of her name with that adjective is hardly surprising given the history of stories that have chronicled her relations, occasionally tempestuous, with showrunners and their shows, from "Grey's Anatomy" to whatever movie ("Knocked Up"), added fuel to the fire. But that was then, this is now, and Sunday, Heigl arrived at TCA to sell her new series -- "State of Affairs" -- but also to establish that point, while dispelling any impression that her rep was justified or even relevant.
"State of Affairs" is pretty much NBC's biggest new drama and a shot at redemption for the star. But what's intriguing here is what won't always be seen on screen -- specifically her mother, Nancy, who's reputed to be one of the toughest stage moms in Hollywood and who will in fact share an executive producer credit on this series. Nancy Heigl has been a fierce protector of her daughter and her career -- all certainly admirable traits -- but an executive producer? The first instance in all of TV history when the lead actor of a series will have a parent as backstop on the production staff? Not sure, but it is extremely unusual.
I asked NBC Entertainment chief Jennifer Salke about this earlier. Said she: "They worked together in the past. And they are, in their personal life, also incredibly intertwined. So I would call her mom-ager, her best friend, her confidante, her . . . helping raise their children. I mean, she’s a partner in her life. So I didn’t find it surprising, and I think they have a very natural shorthand and so far, so good."
I later asked Nancy: "Katie and I obviously have a partnership where we work in the business together. So they came to us with this maybe two and a half years ago. We loved the concept. We loved the people ... I am her mother for sure. So, of course, I care about her interests. But I’m just learning about executive producing. We’re really in the process, and I’m learning from those who really know and from NBC and Universal, and it’s been fun. It’s been interesting. I’m the newcomer to it."
It was then left to Eric Deggans of NPR to ask about the elephant in the room, her rep, as in "difficult." The question was artfully phrased -- along the lines that she had this "difficult" persona but that others had come to her defense saying that she was just someone who happens to speak her mind, and Hollywood doesn't like women who speak their mind. Or words to that effect.
Heigl took a deep breath. Exhaled. Took another. Then ... this: "I think I said [in the recent Marie Claire piece] that I felt I had stopped challenging myself ... I love doing romantic comedies. I love them, and I love watching them. But I stopped sort of exercising different muscles of my ability. And then in that moment I felt that I was sort of letting down my audience, that I wasn’t challenging them either. Why this show, why come back to television? Because it’s an extraordinary role, and it’s an extraordinary opportunity and it’s an extraordinary story. And it’s an opportunity for me to flex some different muscles and show a different side of myself as an actor and performer and storyteller that I hope my audience will be excited and love. As far as your other questions go, I can’t really speak to that. I can only say that I certainly don’t see myself as being difficult. I would never intend to be difficult. I don’t think my mother sees herself as being difficult. We always, I mean, it’s most important to everybody to conduct themselves professionally and respectfully and kindly. So if I have ever disappointed somebody, it was never intentional."