EXCLUSIVE: Heigl In Tune for ‘Jackie & Ryan’
Ben Barnes (Ryan) and Katherine Heigl (Jackie) in Entertainment One's upcoming release, JACKIE & RYAN. ©Entertainment One Films US. CR: Gusmano Cesaretti

Ben Barnes (Ryan) and Katherine Heigl (Jackie) in Entertainment One’s upcoming
release, JACKIE & RYAN. ©Entertainment One Films US. CR: Gusmano Cesaretti


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—If Katherine Heigl had her druthers, she now would be working on the second season of the espionage thriller “State of Affairs.” But after just one season, the highly touted series was axed by NBC.

“I’ve got really big awesome ideas for the second season, which is taking (the characters) outside the world of the CIA, with that job still existing, but also showing more of the background of these characters, where they came from and how they got there,” the statuesque blonde said during a recent interview.

Initially, Heigl assured fans of the series via Twitter that she would try to find a new home for the hour-long weekly drama, perhaps on another network, cable outlet or other content platform. However, as time has passed, the 36-year-old is beginning to realize that the chances for the show getting picked up elsewhere are slim.

The Emmy winning actress is no stranger to career setbacks but she also is an optimist who knows that the only way to succeed is to get up and try again.

While box office numbers for her film projects over the years have been hit and miss, (“Knocked Up,” “27 Dresses,” “The Ugly Truth” scored big while “One For the Money,” “Life as We Know It” and “The Big Wedding” flopped), Heigl has continued to be in demand with studios and networks.

Married to singer Josh Kelley since 2007, the couple has two adopted daughters, whom they are raising away from the spotlight on a sprawling ranch in Utah.

In her newest film, a little independent drama called “Jackie & Ryan,” Heigl plays a former pop singer who has returned with her young daughter to her rural roots in Ogden, Utah, to escape the spotlight and her estranged husband in New York.

Struggling to maintain custody of her child, Jackie meets a handsome train-hopping busker (“Chronicles of Narnia” star Ben Barnes), with whom she has an immediate connection. While Ryan’s main repertoire is obscure ‘20s and ‘30s American folk/blues songs, Heigl’s Jackie encourages the troubadour to write original songs from the heart. With Jackie and her friendly small town community as his inspiration, Ryan gradually pens what turns out to be a remarkable folk song.

Both Heigl and Barnes had to learn how to play guitar for their roles. Additionally, Heigl took singing lessons from her husband, who has his own studio at their ranch. Though she was anxious about singing on film, the actress forged ahead and performs a sweet duet with her onscreen daughter (played by Emily Alyn Lind, “The Secret Life of Bees”).

Q: So how did this little indie drama project come to you?

Heigl: Ami (Canaan Mann, the writer-director) and I had met the previous year to talk about a different project that didn’t end up happening. I just knew that I would really love to work with her so we stayed in touch and she just reached out and told me about this project. And I said, “Absolutely! I’d love to do this.” It’s such a beautiful, quiet, sort of nuanced story. I hadn’t read a lot of scripts like it. I loved the character immediately and I just loved the story.

Q: How was Ben cast as your love interest?

Heigl: Ami was looking for the male lead and Ben and I were having lunch, and I said to him, “Ben, you can sing, right? So he met with Ami and it just sort of all worked out. I’m just really proud of (his casting) because I don’t think there could be a better male lead in this particular role than Ben. He killed it.

Q: So you hadn’t played guitar before?

Heigl: No. The guitar was much harder but, thankfully, I didn’t have to play it much in the movie. It wasn’t that she was this great guitarist. She’s a singer who started out on this path and had this big career brewing and it just fell apart. The album didn’t sell and her label dropped her and (her career) went nowhere. And I love her for that, because I think being an entertainer means getting really familiar with public failure over and over again, and being okay with it. If you’re not okay with it then you’ll never succeed because you have to keep going. She isn’t okay with it so she completely backs away from (the limelight) completely. But in order to sing I had to scare up the courage to do that. And thankfully had my husband, who is a singer-songwriter-musician, I could go to him and say, “This is the song that Ami wants me to sing. Can you help me put it in a key that works for me?”

And help me figure out how to do it and make it cool and make it sound like something that’s interesting, because in order to sell the idea that she is actually a professional singer and had a record deal, there had to be something special about it that wasn’t me singing (off-key).

Q: Did he give you tips?

Heigl: Oh yeah. He said, “Just follow me. Mi-mi-mi-mi. Kind of get up there.” He was hugely instrumental and made me feel comfortable (singing). He has a studio on our ranch in Utah. I just went into the studio with him and recorded (my song) with him, and did take after take after take. I’d go, “Let’s start over! I want to start over!” He was patient and kind and I tried to sing it in the studio. Ami had worked with everyone else around but I was just so nervous that my voice would tighten up and you can’t breathe or sing.

Q: Were you able to commute from home to the set for this?

Heigl: Basically. We filmed a lot in Ogden (Utah), which is about an hour and 15 minutes from my house. But if there were late night (filming) or early shoots, I would just stay in Ogden. But I wasn’t gone from my kids and the house for four weeks. I was gone for a couple of days and then home again.

The house in the movie is actually around the corner from where I live. I pass through that area almost every day. I can’t help but remember the big crane shot and pointing out to people, “We filmed here!” It’s weird when your business infiltrates your environment.

Q: Were you able to suggest some locations to Ami?

Heigl: I didn’t. Actually, I’d never been to Ogden before. I guess I’m a bit of a hermit. I don’t tend to leave my house much or my area much. I tried to talk them into (shooting) in Heber, which is closer. I just wanted to be 10 minutes away.

Q: It was a short shooting schedule, right?

Heigl: Yeah, very short. You can’t squander the time. You can’t dick around. You’ve got to be focused and know what you’re doing. You’ve got to come in prepared to get it done quickly.

Q: I saw you and Ben in “Big Wedding.”

Heigl: Thank you … or sorry.

Q: Did it help that you already knew your co-star in this?

Heigl: No, it’s fantastic. I started doing this intention work. I’m sure we’ve all heard of intention work, or does that sound so insanely mystical? I do believe that you put out into the universe what you hope for and what you want and what will bring you joy and peace and happiness. For me, lately, it’s all about I want to have awesome working experiences. I want to work with great, funny, collaborate and interesting people. I want to form friendships. And do work that I’m grateful for, that I’m excited about. You generally never know how it’s going to turn out.

You can go in with the best of intentions. You can say, “I love this character. I love this role. I love this project.” But you never know necessarily how it’s going to turn out. You’re not in control of that, so this one was sort of the trifecta of amazing. I got everything I wanted on the list: awesome people to work with and certainly going into it with a friend going into it. I know we’re going to have a good time. I know we’re going to collaborate and support each other and I know we’re going to bring the best out of each other. And then the beauty of it all turning out even better than you imagined is incredible.

Q: After “State of Affairs” was not renewed, you tweeted that you were looking for a new home for it because you still have stories to tell. Are you still looking for a new home for the show?

Heigl: I don’t know yet. I don’t know. At the time, I was like determined. No, I can’t let her go. I cannot let her go yet. I’m so committed to seeing what happens to Charlie next and to the team and working with Alfre Woodard. I was like, “I can’t let this go!” At this point, what’s it been, a month or two, it may be easing gently into that great night. I’m not sure. I’d love to see it end up somewhere else. But I’ve been told by many many people that it’s a real uphill battle. It’s possible but it’s not easy. So I’m kind of putting my intentions out there.