Katherine Heigl Was Banished For Being “Difficult” – And Now She’s Telling All With Brutal Honesty

Katherine Heigl was an actress with a reputation for being difficult. And generally that’s something you don’t want to be in Hollywood. You may have noticed, in fact, that after an initial run of success, Heigl seemed to disappear from our screens. She’s trying to make a comeback now, but did she really deserve the “difficult” label in the first place?

Heigl’s new show is the Netflix production Firefly Lane. It features her alongside one-time Scrubs star Sarah Chalke, and it’s all about the power of friendship. Heigl and Chalke appear to get along very well, but in the past rifts have opened up between the Grey’s Anatomy actress and her co-stars.

You may have noticed if you’re a fan of Grey’s Anatomy that there was a time when Heigl’s name wasn’t popular among the cast and crew. And that wasn’t the only group of people she fell out with. Once upon a time she was being primed for big things, and then suddenly she was persona non grata. But how does Heigl feel about that now?

If your movies are successful, it’s believed you can get away with all sorts of behavior in Hollywood. But Heigl had a problem in that her films – in the years after Grey’s Anatomy anyway – just weren’t. And some scored painfully low on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes amongst others. 2012’s One For The Money got a mere two percent, for instance.

And yet despite everything Heigl refused to go away, or to be pushed out. Her mother being a producer didn’t hurt, admittedly. But probably those in the actress’ inner circle wouldn’t have judged her at all for leaving Hollywood altogether. The criticism was constant, and often it seemed rather unfair.

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With the release of Firefly Lane Heigl is in the spotlight again. And the success of the show couldn’t have come at a better time, because Heigl has plenty to say. In interviews about the new hit, she’s discussed her friendships and her fears, but she’s also talked about how it felt to be suddenly the object of disdain in Hollywood.

During a 2021 Forbes magazine interview about Firefly Lane, Heigl mentioned that all her closest friends were ones that she’d made in grade school. Perhaps that’s quite telling. Her other best friend, she told the publication, was actually her mother, “though she drives me nuts.”

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And indeed her mom Nancy has had the “difficult” label slapped on too. She’s been managing her daughter’s career ever since she made it big, and sometimes people have slammed both Heigl women at the same time. They’re too demanding, say critics, and have burned bridges in Hollywood. Especially Katherine, it’s claimed, who is the more visible.

Really it all started with Grey’s Anatomy, the smash hit medical show from Shonda Rhimes. When Heigl was cast as Dr. Izzie Stevens, she became an almost instant star. She did her job so well in 2007, she even won an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress. But then everything started to go horribly wrong.

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That same year Heigl got involved in a dispute over pay. She’d wanted a raise, to be paid as much as the show’s star Ellen Pompeo, reported the New York Times. The show’s producers ABC said they had offered Heigl more money, but she didn’t consider it enough. So media commentators wondered if she was going to up and leave the show.

Heigl didn’t leave the show, but she did begin to branch out into Hollywood movies. And 2007 was a big year for her because she starred in Knocked Up, a success both critically and commercially. In 2008 she did another comedy, 27 Dresses, which also brought in big numbers.

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But then Heigl did something slightly ill-advised. She publicly criticized the writers of Grey’s Anatomy and withdrew herself from contention for the 2008 Emmys. She said in a statement, “I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination.” It didn’t go down well.

Spokespeople for the show’s producers and creators opted not to comment. But the New York Times reported in June 2008, “Two people involved in the production of the show said that the program’s writers and producers were angered by what they considered a slap by Ms. Heigl at the people in the writers’ room.”

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Unfortunately that wasn’t the only controversy Heigl created that year. She also criticized the other thing that had propelled her to stardom, Knocked Up. She told Vanity Fair magazine in an interview, “It was a little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

Heigl went on, “It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a [horrible person]; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? 98 percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.”

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And Heigl’s public criticism of the movie triggered a minor scandal. The actress ended up apologizing to writer Judd Apatow and her co-star Seth Rogen – though Rogen later claimed he never got a personal apology from her. And movie forums exploded with people slamming the star. She was essentially “cancelled.”

From there things only seemed to get worse. Heigl left Grey’s Anatomy, her last episode being in January 2010. She notably didn’t get a proper sendoff episode, and ten years later in 2020 the showrunner Krista Vernoff claimed she was supposed to have one, but Heigl didn’t turn up for shooting. Was it true, though?

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In 2013 the Hollywood Reporter magazine asked in a headline, “Can TV Save Katherine Heigl’s Career?” Neither Heigl nor her manager commented for the article, but the publication was able to get some quotes from people who had worked with them. And they didn’t all have nice things to say.

One source claimed that Heigl was basically a diva who wanted everything tailored to her demands. They said, “She can cost you time every single day of shooting. Wardrobe issues, not getting out of the trailer, questioning the script every single day.” That paled in comparison to what they had to say about Nancy Heigl though.

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The source claimed, “I have never experienced anything like Nancy Heigl… “It’s about the mouth… Whatever you’d say, you were an idiot. The call would be, ‘This is the worst craft service we’ve ever had! There’s nothing to eat! This is the worst wardrobe!’ You knew that every day, you were going to get slammed.”

Another person who spoke to the Hollywood Reporter, producer Denise Di Novi, said that those allegations were “way exaggerated.” But she also said both Katherine and Nancy, “are not shrinking violets. They’re very straightforward and tell you what they think. That doesn’t bother me.” Yet this attitude was apparently costing the actress roles.

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Heigl attempted a comeback in 2014 with the show State of Affairs, which notably her mother was a producer on. She stuck with television after that, playing a lawyer in Doubt and then doing the last two seasons of Suits. But none of these got her back to her Grey’s Anatomy level of fame.

Suits was a high-profile show, yet it’s believed Firefly Lane might finally be the big break for Heigl. If it is, it could get her into the entertainment industry’s good graces again. But perhaps as part of being back in the public eye, properly anyway, she’s now been speaking about her past controversies. Will that hurt – or help her?

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Well, Heigl gave an in-depth interview to the Washington Post newspaper in January 2021. Tellingly it was titled “Katherine Heigl is done apologizing.” And right away she and the interviewer dove into the thing everyone wanted to know: was she really as “difficult” as the media so often portrayed her?

Seemingly addressing her critics, Heigl said, “I may have said a couple of things you didn’t like, but then that escalated to ‘she’s ungrateful,’ then that escalated to ‘she’s difficult,’ and that escalated to ‘she’s unprofessional.’ What is your definition of difficult? Somebody with an opinion that you don’t like?”

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Concerning the somewhat outspoken incidents, Heigl told the Washington Post, “At the time, I was just quickly told to shut the [expletive] up. The more I said I was sorry, the more they wanted it. The more terrified and scared I was of doing something wrong, the more I came across like I had really done something horribly wrong.” Wait, terrified and scared?

Yes, the comments about her had taken a major toll on Heigl. She told the newspaper, “I think my family, my mother, my husband, my friends were scared. And I regret deeply that I scared them like that. But I just couldn’t control it. I had no tools.” She referred to that time as a “shunning.”

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Heigl’s husband Josh Kelley also spoke to the Washington Post. And he made his feelings clear. He said, “I can’t imagine what all of that pressure did to her over the years, dealing with celebrity, dealing with people saying things about her that are not true. It would be hard for anybody to process that, especially when it’s unjust and a lot of it’s negative.”

Kelley wasn’t the only man who came to Heigl’s defense, either. Her 27 Dresses co-star James Marsden told the paper, “She has very strong convictions and strong opinions on certain things, and she doesn’t back down from letting you know if she feels like she’s been wronged in any way.”

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Marsden went on, “I’ve always seen that as just strength of character. I can see how that can get construed as being difficult or ungrateful or whatever. But if you know Katie, it’s simply because she has the courage to stand behind something she believes.” And this is coming from somebody who actually knows her.

But Heigl thinks that her string of poorly reviewed movies didn’t help. She told the Washington Post, “You can be the most awful, difficult, horrible person on the planet, but if you’re making them money, they’re going to keep hiring you. I knew that whatever they felt I had done…they would overlook it if I made them money – but then my films started to make not quite as much money.”

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Such had been the force of the backlash against Heigl, that she’d suffered mentally, too. And giving birth to her son Joshua Jr. only added to her anxiety. She told the newspaper, “I didn’t realize how much anxiety I was living with until I got so bad that I had to really seek help.” So she started medication and therapy.

In April 2016 she told Vanity Fair magazine that when the intense scrutiny hit, “I was really struggling with it and how to not take it all personally and not to feel that there’s something really deeply wrong with me. It was at first very hard. It is definitely anxiety-inducing.”

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In that same interview Heigl explained she’d really been trying to work on her reputation. She said, “I remember doing this little independent movie and just being afraid to say anything about anything. I remember wearing shoes a size too small because I was afraid to tell wardrobe that they weren’t big enough because I didn’t want to be difficult.”

During the Washington Post interview the subject of Heigl’s mother came up. The writer for the piece pointed out something significant there: Nancy had been the one to guide the whole family out of their grief when Heigl’s teenage brother tragically died in a car accident. So perhaps her protectiveness of her daughter isn’t surprising.

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Heigl said of Nancy, “Nobody can protect you better than my mother. She is fierce. She has no fear of anybody in power. I realize a lot of young women did not and do not have that. I wish I could loan her out.” The two of them are clearly close. Heigl made a long, touching Twitter post for Nancy during Mother’s Day 2020.

These days Heigl is trying to have control over the projects she works on. And her next big plan is to produce and star in a show about the first woman to have ever run for the U.S. Presidency. She told the Washington Post, “I spent a lot of years just being the actor hired. I feel now I have enough experience and enough wisdom to have a voice, to collaborate about character, about story, about cast.”

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“I’ve grown into accepting that ambition is not a dirty word, and that it doesn’t make me less of a feminine, loving, nurturing woman to be ambitious and have big dreams and big goals,” Heigl said. “It’s easier to be happy because I have a little more gentleness for myself.” Thankfully, she had escaped her rough period intact.

Later, Heigl was asked about another celebrity – actress Anne Hathaway – who recently requested that people start calling her “Annie.” Asked if she’d like to be called “Katie,” Heigl laughed and said, “Whichever you prefer. Just don’t call me difficult.” Never has a truer word ever been spoken.

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Then in February 2021 the actress appeared on The Drew Barrymore Show. The two ladies, clearly friendly, discussed the name issue some more. Katie was more “cute and smiley,” Barrymore suggested. Heigl said, “I feel like I can present as Katherine when I need to, but most of the time I’m just Katie.” It might be Katie we see more of from now on.

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