Acting Alien: An Interview with Katherine Heigl

Thanks to Elizabeth for sending this in! Apparently, this is the last issue of Sci-Fi TV, which is going to be suspending publication with the March 2000 issue.

Sci-Fi TV, March 2000

Acting Alien: An Interview with Katherine Heigl
Sci-Fi TV Magazine

‘She said, ‘The show was great this week!’ ” Heigl recalls. “She would get
into it and discuss things about the show and ask me questions. It was
really weird that my sister, who lives across the country, was watching me
on Roswell. It was strange to realize that I was on TV every week. I had
always done film. And, going into the show, I didn’t think it would feel
that different from doing film. But it is. I’m getting calls from my sister,
my friends. I go out and I’m recognized so much more, and that’s because
Roswell is on every week. Before that, I would be recognized occasionally by
someone who knew me from My Father the Hero or Under Siege 2 or maybe Bride
of Chucky. Now, when I go out to the mall, people will say, ‘Hey, aren’t you
on that show Roswel?’ The whole thing is weird. Because I’m in their living
room every week, people feel like they know me. I love it. It’s so nice to
know people like the show and that I have a job for at least the next nine
months.”

Roswell, for those few who don’t know by now, centers on Isabel Evans
(Heigl), her brother Max (Jason Behr) and their friend Michael (Brendan
Fehr), three aliens growing up in Roswell, New Mexico, as average human
teens. The three live in constant fear of being found out, something that
could easily happen at any moment, particularly given that Max has revealed
both his powers and the truth about himself to Liz (Shiri Appleby), the high
school girl he adores, and that Lizs pals, Maria (Majandra Delfino) and Alex
(Colin Hanks), know the trio’s secret and tend to open their mouths at
inopportune moments.

In a season that saw so anticipated a genre show as Harsh Realm flame out
after three episodes, what is it about Roswell that appeals to audiences?
Heigl thinks she knows. “it’s a little bit more mature and sophisticated
than just any regular teenage show,” she reasons. ‘We’re dealing with the
Fugitive aspect, the alien aspect. Our lives are in danger. Because our
situation is so delicate, anybody involved with us or around us is suddenly
in a dangerous situation, too. There’s that element to it, that suspense,
and there’s also the chase and the constant search for some sort of
knowledge or information, so that we can figure out what the heck we’re
doing here on Earth. That makes it a little more interesting than just
dealing with the day-to-day high school stuff.”

Though many Roswell fans revel in the often heart-wrenching Max-Liz
relationship, there’s something to be said for the edge that Isabel lends to
the proceedings. She speaks her mind and displays what can perhaps best be
described as a smug superiority complex. And, taking into account the fact
that Isabel does indeed possess superior otherworldly powers, it’s hard to
begrudge Isabel her imperiousness. “Initially, I thought, ‘is this just an
insecurity of hers? Maybe that’s why she behaves this way.’ And then,” Heigl
notes. “I thought, ‘No, it’s really not.’ Isabel knows that she’s unique.
She knows that she has something over everybody else, and she’s confident in
that and confident in herself and who she is. This secret–even though it’s
dangerous, even though she’s afraid of it-makes her aware of just how unique
she is. She’s so above it all. It’s great, but in future episodes, you’ll
see that toned down just a bit. It’s also a defense mechanism in some
respects, and they don’t want to overdo it.

“Isabel is one of those great characters that I’ve always wanted to play.
She has such complexity. She’s the girl who wants to be like everyone else.
She wants to fit into the normal high school scene and be popular, have boy
friends and wear cool clothes. At the same time, she has these extraordinary
powers, this big secret. She is special. So, she wants to fit in, but she’s
really different, and she’s fighting between these two sides of herself.
Obviously, the stakes are a little higher, because she could get killed if
her secret gets out.”

Just as Isabel struggles daily to find balance, Roswell’s writers and
producers must strike the right balance on a weekly basis between kitschy
humor and urgent drama, between SF and action. And given the built-in
cheesiness factor of setting a show in Roswell-what with its Crashdown Cafe,
alien trinket stores and 24-7 fascination with visitors from other
galaxies-it’s no easy task. “It was a concern at first,” Heigl admits.
“Initially, the show was going to be called Roswell High, which I felt was
even more cheesy. That put the two together, the fact that it was a high
school show and about this kooky town of Roswell. I’ve never even been to
Roswell, which is absurd, so I don’t know if the town itself is quite as
extreme as we make it in the series.

“At this point, the show’s tone is funny, quirky and endearing. I mean, the
Crashdown Cafe. Everybody’s always saying, ‘I’ll meet you at the
Crashdown.’The kids who live in the town [on the show] are so used to this
stuff. To them it’s just their world, their life. They don’t even think
about it. They’re not saying, ‘Oh, isn’t it ridiculous that we have a UFO
museum center here.’ It’s their way of life. They’ve grown up with these
tales, in the town with the big secret.”

Some actors love ensemble work, since they don’t have to be on set every day
and don’t have to carry the weight of an entire production on their
shoulders. Other actors loathe relinquishing even a moment of screen time
or, to a less egocentric degree, simply don’t feel they get enough to do.
“Initially, I would have to say I agreed with the people who say they don’t
get enough to do,” the actress admits. “I was used to doing a lot in the
films I’ve done. I sometimes was the center of a film. When I started
Roswell, I had to humble myself a bit and realize that the show wouldn’t be
carried by me, that it’s carried by everybody. And now I’m so, so grateful
that it is an ensemble show.

“One, it makes it so much more interesting that they focus on all the
different characters in different episodes. We each get our opportunity for
a storyline. Two, I love this cast and the characters. Brendan and Majandra
are fantastic, and their characters really spice things up. Shiri and Jason
are great. Colin and Nick [Wechsler, as Kyle Valenti] are starting to get
more to do. When you work the kind of hours we do, it’s nice to have an
episode where you’re not in the whole thing and you get three days off
during the week. In the beginning, I was like, ‘Hmm, why aren’t I in these
three days?’ Now, I rejoice. I’m like, ‘I have three days off! Let’s go
somewhere!’ I’m loving the ensemble aspect of it now.”

And with whom among her co-stars has Heigl become closest? “I’m mostly with
Majandra, Brendan and Jason,” she replies. “Majandra has become a really,
really close friend. She’s one of those people you immediately know you’ll
just love. She’s funny and wise beyond her years. Jason and Brendan are
hilarious. Most of my scenes are with Jason and Brendan, so we’re always
hanging out anyway. They keep me laughing the entire day. My cheeks were
really sore from laughing yesterday, because they were making fun of me.
It’s a fun set. I’m really lucky. But talk to me in a year, I could hate
everybody.”

Just as Heigl is getting to know Behr, Appleby and her other co-stars more
and more each day, so too is Isabel getting to know the people around her,
particularly such new figures in her life as Liz, Maria and Alex. And then
there’s Michael to consider. He’s certainly not a fresh face in Isabel’s
life, but there seems to be a huge window of opportunity for a romantic
relationship to be explored. After all, being alien, he’s more like her and
surely understands her better than any human possibly could. “In a sense,
Isabel feels that Liz and Maria could be her friends,” HeigI observes. “At
the same time, they are a threat. They’re taking away her two boys and
invading her world. So, Isabel is fighting her need for companionship and
her fear of having her bubble busted.

“There’s a romantic thread of some kind with Alex, but I think it will
become more of a friendship than anything else. Isabel really leans on him
as a friend, which is great because she needs a friend. But I don’t think
he’s a love interest. I don’t know why they haven’t made Michael a love
interest. I initially thought that’s where they were going with it, and they
haven’t even touched it. I’m sort of grateful, because it is almost too
logical a choice. I like it that they’re making things more complicated.
Michael’s almost like a brother to Isabel now, so it would be weird if they
did anything.

“We’ve definitely not explored any love interest yet for Isabel, and I keep
nagging at the writers for one,” Heigl continues. “I’m feeling lonely, you
know? Everybody else has somebody. I would like to see what Isabel would be
like in that situation. She has always been afraid of intimacy, of letting
someone else in. As it is, the only two people she has ever really let into
her world are Max and Michael. I don’t even know that they know her as well
as they should because they’re men. I would also like to see her have a real
friendship with a woman. It would be interesting to see where that could go.
I would also like to see her find some humor in herself.”

Most of the actors on the show cite the “Route 285” and “River Dog” episodes
as Roswell’s finest hours to date. And Heigl concurs, though she goes on to
mention several other installments. “I would say that ‘Route 285’ and ‘River
Dog’ are my favorites so far, but I liked ‘Heat Wave’ too. It spiced things
up,” she notes. ” ‘285’ was really interesting. Shiri and I had some great
moments, which I really liked getting to do. You saw everybody’s
vulnerability in that one. Jonathan Frakes directed ‘River Dog’ and he did
such a great job with it. ‘Monsters’ had a totally different feeling than
the ones before it. We were introduced to this weird power Isabel has, which
is going into people’s dreams. That has been my most interesting power so
far. That episode also showcased this potential relationship between Maria
and Isabel, and we’ll see where they go with that.

“I also like ‘The Balance.’ It’s very SF. We think Michael is dying, and I
love what happens to everybody in this situation, how everybody reacts. I
freak out, and it’s the one time Isabel really loses it. Up until then, even
in the most extreme situations, Isabel had kept her head about her. In this
instance, there was one scene in particular where I really just lost it. I
loved that. [Co-executive producer-director] David Nutter and I talked about
the scene. He initially thought that the character should remain strong,
cool, calm and collected. I said, ‘But she has been through so much. FBI
agents are chasing them. So many people know their secret. Max was just in a
car accident [the week before]. I think it makes sense for Isabel to lose it
for a minute.’ It’s just one scene. It’s not like she’s on the floor,
catatonic or anything. We’ve also done an episode called ‘Toy House,’ which
is really cool. It’s about me, Max and our mother [Mary Ellen Trainor], and
our secret almost coming out. It’s really touching, and that’s why I love
the show. We go into deep stuff as well as the really fun, supernatural SF
stuff.”

And where’s that episode in which other aliens-be they of the trio’s species
or not of their world-arrive in Roswell? Heigl laughs. “Soon,” she says
coyly. “Soon. It’s coming. I haven’t read a script yet, but every script
I’ve been reading seems to be leading up to it. So, we’re getting there.”

Raised in Connecticut, she has been working professionally since she was
nine years old, first as a child model, then as an actress. TV commercials
paved the way to features, and Heigl counts among her credits That Night, My
Father the Hero, Under Siege 2, Prince Valiant, Bride of Chucky and Bug
Buster. Of the latter two vehicles, Heigl considers Chucky “a cool movie”
and reports that she “doesn’t remember much” about the low-budget Bug
Buster. Acting, she says, is the be-all and end-all for her. ‘There’s
something about the camera, something about playing somebody else, figuring
out who a character is, that I love,” she enthuses. “I love discovering new
people and becoming them. I’ve always loved doing that, and acting is second
nature to me now because I’ve been doing it since I was little. It’s like a
foreign language. When you learn it young, you just know it. It becomes a
part of you. Acting is just a part of me.

“Sometimes I’ll sit on a set and complain because I’m bored and it’s taking
forever to get to a scene. I’ll think to myself, Why am I doing this if it’s
so boring all the time?’ Then, I’ll get in front of the camera to do a scene
and I’ll have two minutes of dialogue. And for those two minutes, I’m
someplace else, I’m someone else, and I totally forget about everything.
That makes up for all the hours of working, all the tedium, and I think,
‘This is why I love acting. This is why I’m here.”‘

And, no doubt, Heigl could be around the Roswell set for years to come. That
would mean lots of sitting around, plenty of tedium and, on the plus side,
hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of opportunities to flesh out Isabel.
Heigl weighed those pros and cons very carefully prior to agreeing to a
potentially long commitment to Roswell. “Before you even go into a room to
audition, you have to sign a seven-year contract. It’s a big deal,”
Katherine Heigl concludes. “I remember sitting there and thinking, ‘This is
what I’ve avoided all of these years, because I was so afraid of getting
stuck on a show and playing a character I would eventually get so bored
with.’ But I just went ahead and auditioned for Roswell. Now I’ve got this
character I continually get to develop and go different places with.
Hopefully, that will continue. I want the character to grow and develop, and
that’s always interesting. You can’t get bored with that.

“As far as five or six years of it, I don’t know. At this moment, I’m
looking forward to our break. I think after some time away from the show,
I’ll miss Isabel, I’ll miss the rest of the cast. If I’ve got something to
do during my hiatuses, like a film or theater, that’ll always keep Roswell
alive and fresh and that will always keep me alive and fresh, too.”

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