Whether you consider her a champion or a curiosity, Anne Heche has a way of insinuating herself into the public consciousness. Her trip through tabloid notoriety was launched by her well-promoted affair with Ellen DeGeneres; the breakup of that relationship was carefully chronicled by reports of the couple's verbal sparring; and Heche's personal meltdown was marked by the story of her bizarre desert meanderings. Perhaps her ascension to the realm of the six-figure tell-all is a fitting end to a chapter of her life that seems light-years away from the woman she claims now to be. "I'm a clearer person now," she says. "My goal was always to get my life healthy, so I verged on these kind of very strange paths. But now I'd like to be a little more mainstream."
Married and eight months pregnant (she wed Canadian cameraman Coley Laffoon in September 2001), the accomplished actress will soon be seen in two upcoming films, John Q, with Denzel Washington (opening February 15), and Prozac Nation, with Christina Ricci (in theaters in May 2002).
But she is still dealing with the fallout of her controversial book, which chronicles a bizarre family history and a childhood of abuse. "People needed answers, I felt, to a public life that I had led that had a lot of gaps in it, so I wanted to tell the truth," Heche says about her motivation for writing Call Me Crazy (Scribner, 2001) -- she holed up for a year in a farmhouse in Italy to do it. "I needed to learn how to be a public person. And funnily enough, writing my book and exposing as much as did, in my mind earned my privacy. And now I feel like I can reclaim some of what I never knew how to claim. But I needed to learn that. My consciousness was that, well, I need to tell everything because if I'm hiding, I'm lying.
"Now it's on the shelves, people can go read about it, don't, whatever. But I got my life. The gift that I gave myself was my life. So, okay, yes, it was very difficult to get there, but at the same time, it was the only choice that I had. And so that was the best part and that was the worst part."
The glowing actress describes her new life with a tangible sense of joy. "It's the other side. It's my reward for working so hard. It's everything that I aimed to achieve, and so now it's easy and fun and happy and free, 'cause I knew that was the goal. You never know for sure that you're going to achieve your goal. But that was my number one goal in my life: to get to the other side of my pain. And now being on the other side of it is sweet. It's really sweet."
Heche has a lot to look forward to these days: In addition to the birth of her child and her two upcoming films, she is ecstatic about a recent shoot for the April issue of Vogue magazine, for which famed photographer Annie Leibowitz photographed the very pregnant actress with her husband.
"There are things happening in my life right now that are really awesome, where I'm starting to understand that my baby is going to be able to look at these pictures and look at footage of these premieres and say, 'Wow. My mom was doing that at that time.' So I am realizing the legacy more than I ever understood. And that's exciting."
In John Q, Heche plays stern hospital administrator Rebecca Payne, who is faced with the unenviable task of refusing a lifesaving heart transplant to a dying boy who has no insurance. Washington plays the boy's father.
"As an actress you like playing different parts, so it's kind of a fun challenge because not only do you play a role, you play a part in a movie. If I'm unsympathetic, then that allows the audience to be sympathetic to the people whom they're supposed to be sympathetic toward."
Heche admired the script, which was directed by Nick Cassavetes (whose own daughter has a congenital heart disease), for its commentary on the shortcomings of the health-care system in this country. "Certainly when you start doing movies, and they're shooting in Canada, your whole world is opened up, because you learn that health care is taken care of in other countries. We don't have that gift here, so I am really enjoying being a part of this movie and shining a light a little bit on this problem."
Considering her zany persona, Heche's presence in Prozac Nation may inspire a chuckle from some...except that she plays a psychiatrist in the film. Based on the best-selling book by Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation is about a young woman (Ricci) who battles severe depression throughout her childhood and on into college.
"I play a psychiatrist in the '80s, which is very different from a psychiatrist in the '90s," says Heche. "It was kind of frustrating for me because in the '80s psychiatry was very different; there was only one antidepressant. We all know now that there are many, many, many. So it was actually really weird to play a period psychiatrist. But I loved working with Christina Ricci. I adore her. It was another interesting role, small role, kind of like John Q."
But embodying her new role as a heterosexual mom-to-be has Heche hoping for more flowery fare in the future. "Right now I'd like to be romantic comedy girl. Sure, give me a romantic comedy, make me make you giggle. I'm into it," the actress confesses. "I don't want anything complicated anymore. I'm always going to love dramas; I'm always going to love interesting parts, but sweet and simple, bring it on."
Despite the difficult parting with DeGeneres (and the comedienne's public refusal to read Heche's book), the actress's sentiments about her former flame seem to echo her new mantra.
"I don't know what she'd do to me if she saw me in public. I have no idea," says Heche. "Of course, a love relationship happens with two people, and when they break up it happens because of two people; not one person is responsible. I would never say a bad word about Ellen. I am very grateful for my relationship. I hope the best for her. I hope she's happy. I also know that it's more painful to be left, and what consequences that has, I can't say. But, sure, I hope the best for her. I watched her on the Emmys, I thought she did a great job. And I hope for her success and love. I've heard she's going to get married and have a baby. Awesome. I hope the best for her, as I do for everybody. That doesn't mean that our breakup is easy."
Heche's thoughts are clearly elsewhere these days. "I'm also a newlywed, so my husband and I both took time off to say, this is our last nine months without a baby. So, the biggest kick has actually been the joy we've been able to have as a couple taking off a year. But I'd say, when you get to that seventh month and you start to feel the kicks -- that's the biggest kick. It's really outrageous to feel that you have a child inside you and that you are housing a life. That's really magical. It's an awesome time in my life."