By Angela Dawson
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Blond, brown-eyed Katherine Heigl may not be the first Hollywood actress fans of Janet Evanovich’s fictional bounty hunter heroine Stephanie Plum imagined playing the character in a big screen adaptation of the popular book series. (18 full-length novels and counting.) But the former “Grey’s Anatomy” star is hoping to win them over with her depiction of the spunky, blue-collar New Jersey girl.
The 33-year-old actress, who dons a curly brown wig in the movie, admits she wasn’t familiar with the popular literary character, described as a cross between Dirty Harry and Nancy Drew, when she first found out about the movie project, but she certainly was intrigued.
As Stephanie, she plays a newly laid off lingerie sales clerk who finds a job as a bounty hunter back in her hometown near Trenton. The unusual gig could turn out to be lucrative if she can collar Morelli, an ex-cop parolee (played by Jason O’Mara), who has jumped bail. He also happens to be the same sexy, irresistible guy who seduced and dumped her back in high school. Nabbing her ex-beau would be satisfying payback, but as Stephanie learns the ins and outs of becoming a recovery agent from Ranger, a hunky colleague (Daniel Sunjata) who’s the best in the business, she also realizes the case against Morelli isn’t airtight. There’s also her meddling family, a potentially homicidal boxer, and a host of witnesses that keep dying off to contend with.
Heigl, looking gorgeous in a form-fitting Diane von Furstenberg turquoise dress, recently discussed playing Stephanie and what she hopes for the potential franchise role.
Front Row Features: Stephanie takes the bounty hunter job because she needs the money. What was the worst job you’ve ever had?
Heigl: I started modeling when I was nine. I did some things for like Sears catalogs. I modeled Cabbage Patch underwear. (Sarcastically) The kids at school really liked that.
Front Row Features: In this movie you work with a tough guy to nab your man. What is a tough guy definition for you?
Heigl: Tough guy definition? I don’t know. I’ve never really met a tough guy. Oh, actors. I don’t know. I guess a tough guy is … I have no idea. Oh, that’s right (my husband singer) Josh (Kelley) is here. I just insulted all three men in the room that I work with or live with. (She laughs.)
Front Row Features: Can you talk about getting the role and being a producer on the movie as well?
Heigl: I was approached about the project when I was doing “The Ugly Truth” with Lakeshore (Entertainment). They wanted to turn the book into a movie and I had, at that point, not read the books. So I started reading them and I became obsessed with them. Then I got really excited about the idea of bringing it to film. I really loved the producer role on this because it was so important to me to keep the film really close to the book because that’s what I fell in love with and that’s what millions of people have fallen in love with in terms of the Stephanie Plum series. So it was great to be in the room and have an opinion—not that I was always necessarily listened to. It was fun.
Front Row Features: Usually guys just endure films that are chick flicks. Why should guys go see this?
Heigl: What’s sort of interesting about the books is that they all have a murder mystery tie-in with the bounty hunting aspect. It’s not all just about romance or comedy. In this movie, the murder mystery storyline’s kind of dark and a little edgy, which gives it a vibe that is not purely chick flick-ish. Tough men will love this movie.
Front Row Features: Why has Stephanie Plum resonated with readers?
Heigl: There’s something about her that’s really endearing. You just like her. She’s a decent person with a big heart and she’s sort of fearless and courageous but perpetually puts herself in situations where she’s just in over her head but doesn’t take herself very seriously. She also doesn’t take other people too seriously. She has this sort of great perspective on life that happens to be really funny and witty and charming, as well. She’s sort of that hapless heroine that you don’t get a lot of elsewhere. Stephanie’s a sort of an everyday girl.
Front Row Features: Is there a possible sequel in the works?
Heigl: I hope so.
Front Row Features: How did you like the weapons scenes when you were learning with Ranger?
Heigl: I’ve been like wielding guns in films since I was 15 but they were fake. For this, they took us to a shooting range to practice because there are certain things that you’re not supposed to do like blink when you shoot. But it’s impossible not to blink. It’s really hard. And it was really intimidating and nerve-wracking the first time they put a loaded gun in my hand. Plus they’d just given us a 20-minute spiel about the dangers of the gun. So you’re sort of freaking out. And then I really enjoyed it because it was super satisfying and cathartic on some level. I started wanting to go to the gun range regularly.
Front Row Features: How did you like playing a brunette?
Heigl: Stephanie’s look is very specific in the book, and once you get attached to that idea you can’t imagine her any other way. It would have been really weird to play Stephanie blonde. On the other hand, most people know me as a blonde so it was disconcerting. So I dyed it brown before we started filming. And then I ended up just wearing a wig because I don’t have curly hair and Stephanie does. Hopefully, people will buy it.
Front Row Features: You had some fun scenes with Debbie Reynolds, who plays your grandmother in the movie. Could you resist the temptation to ask her about “Singin’ in the Rain?”
Heigl: No, and she totally will tell you. You don’t have to ask. But it was really funny because I was sort of complaining one day about the hours, as I normally do. And Gary (Lucchesi), our producer, said, “You ought to hear Debbie’s story about her hours on ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’” So then I asked her about it, and it was so horrifying what she went through to make that movie. I think she said they were working something like 20 hours a day and she would just get a few hours of sleep on the sofa in her dressing room an then go back to work a few hours later. After that, I stopped complaining about my hours.
Front Row Features: Did you get any sort of insight into Stephanie by talking to the author?
Heigl: I didn’t speak to her until after the movie was made and after she saw it. And I really wish that I had gotten to talk to her on the phone beforehand because I think she would have relieved a lot of pressure. She was so supportive and so cool about it and kind of took the angle, “Look, you’re always going to have a few people that don’t think you’re the right fit for the role but I think you are. And I think it’s great. So just be you and do your Stephanie and people will embrace it.”
Front Row Features: Are you doing anything special in the gym to stay in shape?
Heigl: I just turned 33, so I’m like, “I gotta make more of an effort.” Every year I get older, it’s more of an effort. Even just to keep my back from going out, I have to do more weight training and more cardio.
Front Row Features: Do you hate it or do you love it?
Heigl: I hate it but when I’m in Utah I actually love it because I can be outside and be active. When I’m in LA if I’m going to go for a job and get photographed, it’s super embarrassing to me. So then it’s treadmills in a basement somewhere and I hate that.
Front Row Features: I noticed you’re using an electric cigarette today. Is it helping you cut down on smoking?
Heigl: Yeah, it works. Unfortunately, I still smoke it too much. The point was to quit smoking. So I like that I have my healthier version of smoking but it would be nice not to be a nicotine addict.
Front Row Features: How’s your daughter Naleigh doing?
Heigl: She’s great. She’s upstairs in the room. She’s just too cute for words.
Front Row Features: What’s the latest mommy magic moment that you’ve had?
Heigl: Naleigh seems to like me better when I’m prettier; when my hair’s done and my makeup’s on. She was so cuddly with me today, and I was like, “That’s funny. Usually she’s so squirmy and wants to run around.” I guess I look pretty to her.
Front Row Features: Would you consider adopting again?
Heigl: Oh, yeah. I hope we do.