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A Staunch Pacifist in Marine's Clothing

Television * Anne Heche plays a Marine on trial for the murder of her ex-lover in Showtime's "One Kill."

August 05, 2000|T.L. STANLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

By her own admission, she's no G.I. Jane. Anne Heche was drowning in the full military garb she donned for the lead role as a Marine captain in the Showtime thriller "One Kill," premiering Sunday night at 8.

"There were times I felt like such a stupid little gooney girl, with that helmet falling down over my eyes and my skinny arms sticking out of the uniform," Heche said. "And I'd listen to my voice yelling orders at these guys, and I'd want to fall over laughing."

But what she lacked in physical stature--she only had three weeks to try to bulk up her tiny frame before shooting began--Heche tried to make up in emotional honesty, she said.

Inspired by true events, the movie centers on Capt. Mary Jane O'Malley, who shoots and kills a late-night intruder in her home. Though the local district attorney rules the killing self-defense, the military puts her on trial for murder. Eric Stoltz plays defense attorney Capt. Walker Randell, the Marine appointed to defend O'Malley.

Much of the story unfolds through flashbacks. Through those snapshots, the man she killed, Major Nelson Gray, portrayed by Oscar-nominated Sam Shepard, emerges as a decorated war hero and a favored member of the ol' boys network. He also was, for a time, her lover.

"It was so difficult to get into the head space of this woman," Heche said. "She's in the toughest branch of the military, stripped of all her individuality, and she refinds her female side in falling in love with this guy. But it was against the rules that she'd always abided by. It's a devastating love story."

The production was no cakewalk, either, said Heche, who had just finished writing and directing a segment of HBO's "If These Walls Could Talk 2" that starred her companion Ellen DeGeneres, and directing a Showtime short. Authenticity was key, and so when Heche had to run an obstacle course for "One Kill," she did it in 40 pounds of gear with an M-16 at her side.

"The metal vest came down past my hipbones," she said. "Nothing was purposely too big for me, it was just like, 'It's what they really wear, so here you go.' "

Executive producer Joel Rice said Heche was his first choice for the part and that he didn't even consider her physical size. (She jumped in with such gusto, he said, that he felt compelled to rein her in on occasion, not wanting her to risk an injury).

"For this character, it's more about her power than her physique," he said. "And Anne's presence is huge."

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Rice, a former social worker who produced the movie through CBS Productions, said he was trying to examine several issues, first among them how women are treated in a traditionally male environment. In "One Kill," sexism is discovered to be just under the surface.

"She had been a well-regarded officer, and people thought of her only in that light," Rice said. "But when she got involved with Sam's character, people looked at her differently. She'd stepped off the pedestal."

The movie's name, significantly, reflects another theme: the impact that killing has on a person.

"That first kill changes you forever," Rice said. "You can never go home again."

The movie is intended to have lots of gray area, for the military, the characters and the situation. Heche, a proud pacifist, said she was most challenged by the scene in which O'Malley kills her attacker and estranged lover. Heche called the scene, shot over two days, traumatic.

"I hated it, and Sam hated it," she said. "People say sex scenes are awkward, but this was the hardest thing I did in this movie. There were blanks in the gun, and I knew it, but it was an ugly scenario."

As part of the training, she also had gone to the shooting range to practice, with real bullets and was "freaked out" to learn she was a natural marksman.

"It was so scary to know I had a weapon in my hand that could kill someone," she said. "It's certainly an adrenaline rush to fire it, but it so scares me that people are really into it. I'll never do it again unless I have to for a movie."

Heche, who appears in the upcoming indie feature "Prozac Nation" with Christina Ricci, said working on cable TV "allows for a lot of variety." Its pace means she can take on projects back-to-back, either in front of or behind the camera. "It's a fabulous freedom [cable has], and it opens up so many opportunities."

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