Is Katherine Heigl's career at a tipping point?
Has any other actress screwed up cinematic good will so quickly?
Hollywood may continually recycle the same story, characters and franchises, but its stars are just as guilty of repeating their predecessor's mistakes. Call it arrogance or immaturity, but actors continually take their success for granted believing once they hit a certain stratosphere it won't go away. The latest victim of this longstanding industry curse appears to be none other than Katherine Heigl.
Until Heigl was cast in ABC's breakout TV show "Grey's Anatomy," few could have predicted she would ever be labeled a superstar. Her career was a bit more calculated than many have been lead to believe, but after failing to get a big jump after her stint on "Roswell" (a slew of TV movies followed), she got her real big break with "Grey's," the surprise ensemble hit that many thought would shine the spotlight on co-stars Kate Walsh and Sandra Oh. Instead, Heigl and her aggressive publicity and management team jumped on her newfound notoriety to make her one of the show's major "new" stars (and it didn't hurt that show creator Shonda Rhimes provided her character with strong storylines).
Heigl than scored a coup by landing the leading role in Judd Apatow's second directorial effort, "Knocked Up." Starring alongside another relative unknown (at least to movie audiences), Seth Rogen, "Up" became a smash hit and Heigl was credited for making her character's romance with her less than sexy co-star believable. But in what was a foreshadowing of what was to come, Heigl followed the picture's success with a provacative Vanity Fair interview where she said the comedy, "paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys." Ouch. Needless to say, she hasn't returned to the familial Judd Apatow factory since.
Due to Heigl's "Anatomy" commitments, however, her movie career was limited to one film a year. Still, her next two movies, "27 Dresses" and "The Ugly Truth," were profitable box office hits. And with three hits in a row, the industry was taking notice. Sadly, those films were also critical disasters where Heigl displayed none of the charm she'd forged in "Knocked Up." Instead, both rom coms found her playing increasingly annoying, brittle and, most disturbingly, unlikeable characters. And, in fact, it mirrored what was becoming a very public strategy to get her released from her "Grey's" contract so she could have the time to make more films.
The long-running "Grey's" real life drama included Heigl publicly withdrawing her name for Emmy consideration while insulting the writing staff publicly at the same time (and when no announcement was necessary), complaining to David Letterman about a 17-hour work day for the TV series (as if movies are any easier) and continual reports about how difficult the actress was becoming to work with on set (a familiar "hate me, release me" strategy). And, as expected, it finally worked with Heigl's unceremonious departure from the show this season. But, be careful what you wish for Ms. Josh Kelly...
Next week, Heigl's latest romantic comedy/pseudo action flick, "Killers," is hitting theaters. Pre-release polling is not positive with the film expected to open to between only $15-20 million. That's significantly less than her previous three debuts. The Lionsgate picture hasn't been helped by negative buzz for months, stockholder Carl Icahn (who is waging a war to control the company) ripping it on CNBC over a $75 million budget it will be unlikely to recoup (let's not even get into the marketing spend) and, worse, the studio's decision not to screen the film for critics. Even Sony Pictures knew that as bad as "The Ugly Truth" was, to withhold it from reviews would only draw negative attention. Whoopsie.
Heigl's team isn't blind to what's been going on. In a damage control move, she provided an exclusive interview to Entertainment Weekly last month with the headline "I'm Sorry" and pleading for sympathy over her behavior. Whether Team Heigl can turn that perception around remains to be seen because her upcoming releases don't appear to be doing her any favors. In the clips from "Killers" embedded below you can preview what appears to be yet another shrill performance by the 31-year-old actress. Moreover, she'll follow "Killers" with another combative, but familiar role in Greg Berlanti's "Life as We Know It" in October. While early word on "Life" is that it's a solid flick, the trailer certainly doesn't flatter its leading lady (or does is having baby poo on her face suitable punishment for her actions?).
Where that leaves Heigl is at an unexpected career crossroads without the safety of "Grey's" to fall back on (see Patrick Dempsey after "Made of Honor"). Even if "Killers" or "Life" becomes surprise hits, Heigl needs to quickly jump on stronger material that can remind moviegoers, the media and her fans how talented she can be. If not, Heigl may quickly join a long line of former TV stars who wore out their welcome on both the small and big screen.
Are you still on the Heigl bandwagon? Or, is her time already over? Share your thoughts below.
For the latest entertainment commentary and breaking news year round, follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory .