Appearing on Howard Stern this week, Heigl referenced her falling out with “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes, her Emmys controversy, her comments on Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” and other so-called “scandals” that led to the downfall of her career.
Let’s back up a bit: In 2008, after winning a Primetime Emmy Award for her work on “Grey’s,” Heigl took herself out of consideration for the awards the following year, saying, “I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination.” That didn’t sit to well with Rhimes, who became quite upset with her. That’s an understandable conflict; it seemed as if Heigl was biting the hand that fed her, and for that, Heigl clarified her stance with Stern. “I wasn’t feeling good about my work that season,” she told Stern. “I didn’t feel good about my performance.” Heigl admitted to being embarrassed at the time and told Rhimes, “That wasn’t cool, and I should not have said that.”
What compounded the issue was not long after, when, in 2009, Heigl appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and called out Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” for its sexist portrayal of women. “It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys,” she told Vanity Fair. “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.”
Heigl once again clarified for Stern, insisting that she “liked the movie a lot. I just didn’t like me [in it],” she said, but noted that the issue was brought up by the Vanity Fair reporter. “I don’t mean to imply on any level that [the Vanity Fair interviewer] trapped me, she didn’t,” said Heigl. “She just…said you know, a lot of women felt that it was a little sexist. So then I felt obligated to answer that. So I tried in my very sort of ungracious way to answer why I felt that it maybe was a little. And I kind of, if you read the whole quote, I’m just saying that can be the nature of broad comedy. They’re exaggerating stereotypes, that’s what makes it funny. But they just took the ‘sexist’ thing out.”
Heigl’s comments resulted in the actress being slammed with a “difficult to work with” label, a label we should add, would never be placed on a man were he to say the exact same things. Christian Bale, Alec Baldwin, Russell Crowe and numerous male actors have done much worse than Heigl, but none of their careers stalled in such a dramatic fashion. That label has followed Heigl throughout her career, which, since the scandal, has included appearances in NyQuil and kitty litter commercials as well as a long slog back to television in dramas like “State of Affairs” and “Doubt.” As she explained to Stern, she also went to therapy to deal with the public scrutiny.
We at Women and Hollywood can’t help but wonder how much different Heigl’s comments about “Knocked Up” would have been received were she to have said them this year instead of over five years ago. With women’s representation in entertainment being such an important issue now, we suspect that Heigl isn’t the only one who thinks that “Knocked Up” is problematic when it comes to its representation of gender.
With so many women calling out the industry these days, Heigl might have been accepted into the same bunch of hero actresses, like Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Chastain or Amy Adams, who have all pointed out discriminatory practices and been applauded for doing so. Rather, Heigl being outspoken rather than “easy going” was met with hostility and may have cost her advancements in her career. Thankfully, as more and more people learn that women’s reputations for being “difficult” stem from simple sexism, we can avoid having another actress like Heigl thrown under the bus.