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There is life after Fresno

Anne Heche's midstate mental meltdown in 2000 was a crash landing by all accounts (including her own). Now she's grounded in a good way, and ready again for close-ups.

October 17, 2004|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

Four years ago, you could have called Anne Heche crazy. Why not? That's what the tabloids took to calling her, and it's what she called herself: "Call Me Crazy" is the title of the 2001 memoir she wrote, she said, to purge herself of her childhood demons and split personality, the one that led her to abandon her car in Fresno, wearing shorts and a bra, the day after breaking up with Ellen DeGeneres. Then she wandered into a stranger's house, where she showered, put on Mickey Mouse slippers, and tried to persuade the children there to board a spaceship to heaven with her.

In the aftermath of her Fresno Moment, Heche's once-promising career seemed to be reduced to a late-night TV punch line. So you'd be forgiven for doing a double-take at the sight of a sane-looking Heche in Armani, holding her husband's hand and looking calm and vibrant at this year's Emmys, nominated for her role in the Lifetime movie "Gracie's Choice." In the weeks ahead she'll be even more visible: she'll be appearing Monday nights on the WB, where she debuted last week as Amanda Hayes on "Everwood," and next Sunday she'll star in the CBS movie "The Dead Will Tell." On the big screen, Heche will appear in "Birth" with Nicole Kidman in November.

Could so much entertainment-industry money really have been gambled on an actress everyone, it seemed, agreed was out to lunch -- who inspired the Los Angeles play "Call Us Crazy: The Anne Heche Monologues"? Margot Kidder had her "Big Flip-Out," wandering the streets of L.A. for five years, and survived; Patty Duke went public with her manic depression in 1982 and thrived. But they had already established big careers. Will Tinseltown be as compassionate with Heche as it was with them or with some of its most famous alcoholics, drug addicts and sexaholics?

"For better or for worse, people always saw that I chose life," the 35-year-old Heche said recently, relaxing with a vanilla latte at a coffeehouse near her penthouse apartment on Beverly Boulevard. "I have always chosen a path that was about finding the love of my life and finding a family. And now my focus can be on my work. It's a benefit that I did all those things because I have them to draw on as an actress. If you're looking for someone with a well to explore emotionally on the screen, I can do it. My challenge now is: Can I create and can I be as creative from a place of love? It's funny, you get really happy in your life and you have nothing to talk about."

Until "Call Me Crazy" was published and she spilled her guts to Barbara Walters, no one knew the back story that explained her strange behavior that day: the sexual abuse she said she suffered as a young girl, which led her to block most of her childhood memories and fill them in with delusions of flying and being the reincarnation of God herself.

Now that time and distance has made all of that a bit hazy, Heche said, she finally can chase the career others always wished for her, but that she placed on the back burner in her desperate quest for love. Her "pre-Fresno" phase lasted 31 years. At 35, and her fourth year of "post-Fresno" serenity, Heche said she is poised to take on Hollywood again, big screen and small.

"It's taken me four years to create my family and feel solid," she said. "I never had a solid family. I didn't want anyone worrying about family love. Even though I've had an incredible, incredible career, and that is my passion, I gave my life to finding the love of my life. I risked everything for that."

Even her marriage, though, began as fodder for the tabloids. After the Fresno incident, Heche spent a week in a psychiatric hospital, then soon began dating cameraman Coleman Laffoon, whom she had hired in 2000 to film a documentary about DeGeneres. She married him a year later. In March 2002, she gave birth to their son, Homer.

"I believe Americans love comeback stories and root for people who have the wherewithal, strength and conviction to make themselves better," said Peter Roth, president of Warner Bros. Television, which produces "Everwood." "That's a corny way of saying it, but I really do believe that Americans root for the underdog. As long as people are honest about their mistakes and show a willingness to improve, people are remarkably forgiving and attracted to that. From our perspective, what has been consistent and constant in her life is her extraordinary talent and appeal."

New face in town

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