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Pretty outspoken

Katherine Heigl gets cast as goddesses of various kinds. But in this put-the-best-face-on-it town, that's not the only thing she's known for.

January 06, 2008|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

"Oh, man, I'm tired," Katherine Heigl said.

She laughed. It was 9 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning and Heigl was wearing a full-length red Oscar De La Renta dress, black shawl over the shoulders. Her hair was blown out, face fully made up. This week very much promised to be busy -- and all about her. She was getting married in a few days to singer Josh Kelley -- a destination wedding on her property in Utah. She was still deflecting comments she made in the January issue of Vanity Fair. And she had her first big starring role in a movie to promote.

For now, Heigl was sitting under a heat lamp outside at the Four Seasons Hotel, smoking and drinking a pot of coffee with Splenda before heading back upstairs to her "holding suite" before a day's worth of promotion for her new movie, the romantic comedy "27 Dresses."

"I'm not a workaholic," she insisted. "I'm not. I'm the laziest person I know."

It was hard to believe this, coming from someone in De La Renta at 9 in the morning. Still, this self-effacing confession is in keeping with Heigl's growing reputation as being unusually frank, her comments coming in somewhere between Dorothy Parker-tough and diva-spoiled.

"Outspoken," people call her, although it could also just be said that she speaks. Jane Fonda in Vietnam was outspoken; Heigl in Hollywood, calling the character she played in "Knocked Up" a shrew, is merely being forthright.

"The press or the media has decided that I'm outspoken, and I guess that's my angle or something?" she asks. "I have been this way for the last five to seven years when I started saying, 'You know, screw it, I'm not going to pussyfoot around issues anymore.' I kind of say what I think. And if I feel passionately about something I will be honest about it, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

Heigl also just might be the next big romantic-comedy heroine, joining the conga line of Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Drew Barrymore -- actresses in whom men see a sex object and women see themselves.

"She's beautiful, but not in a cold way," said Elizabeth Gabler, president of Fox 2000, which is releasing "27 Dresses," a film that will test Heigl's box-office draw. "You feel like you could be working with her in the office."

In her best-known work -- Izzie Stevens on the ABC hit "Grey's Anatomy," Alison Scott in the Judd Apatow comedy "Knocked Up" -- Heigl comes off as a goddess who ends up falling for sweet, lumpish men. There is George (T.R. Knight), the menschy fellow intern on "Grey's," and Seth Rogan's frizzy-haired stoner Ben in "Knocked Up." But with "27 Dresses," which opens Jan. 18, Heigl is the unabashed star, and she is surrounded this time by more image-appropriate suitors.

Her new movie, written by Aline Brosh McKenna of "The Devil Wears Prada" fame, features Heigl as Jane, a people-pleasing bridesmaid so dutiful in her role helping friends pull off their weddings that she has no time to . . . wait for it . . . find true love herself. Here Heigl is choosing between Ed Burns as a dull-eyed yet suave boss who is oblivious to Jane's feelings for him, and James Marsden ("Enchanted") as her romantic foil, a cute-boy cynical reporter who covers weddings for his New York daily newspaper.

Funnily enough, "27 Dresses" is just the kind of hearts-and-flowers, all-about-me romantic comedy that propelled Apatow to offer his bracingly funny male tell-all in "Knocked Up," in which a bemused stoner stumbles into a one-night stand with an otherwise unattainable blond that leads him into a forced march toward coldblooded responsibility.

Heigl, of course, was that one-night stand, and her character helped enable Apatow to say all those things about immature men and the women who bring down the bliss of arrested male bonding. But Heigl still had to make us believe that Alison would see into the best of Ben's nature and ride off into the sunset with him (and their baby).

"I think people need to understand that [life is] not all about finding the most charming, sexy, fabulous guy and then making him yours," Heigl said of the thematic contrast between "Knocked Up," which is about compromise, and "27 Dresses," which is about the fairy tale. "[But] of course [in] '27 Dresses' she does just that." Finally, Heigl gives a wide berth to romance at the movies; she welcomes both the more jaundiced view of "Knocked Up" and the fanciful formula of "27 Dresses." This is someone, after all, who counts "Pretty Woman" among her all-time favorite movies but also can't stop watching "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

Attention-getter

Her views on the male-female dynamics in "27 Dresses" were much tamer than the sentiments she expressed in the January issue of Vanity Fair, in which she said of "Knocked Up": "It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days."

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