A slushy dysfunctional housewife chokes on a sandwich in her kitchen and wakes up to find that she has been saved by God. Call it providential, but it is exactly the kind of role with which Anne Heche identifies.
Heche, who has received critical kudos for her last few shows including Men in Trees and HBO’s canceled series Hung, said she could not have imagined a better role than the one of Beth in her new comedy Save Me, which is expected to air on NBC early next year.
“This is a show about a woman getting a chance to re-live her life on the positive side not the negative,” said Heche, 43. “I definitely think I have been saved in my life and given the opportunity to get a chance to do things again. There are many moments that have been a shift for me that made me able to relook at what I wanted to do.”
In her latest film, That’s What She Said, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and will be released today, Heche plays another dysfunctional, on-the-edge woman. Except Dee Dee—a 40-something New Yorker with a cynical and hopeless broken heart—has no epiphany. In fact, her day begins with a bad hangover, and goes downhill from there. The film, directed by actress Carrie Preston, is a manic exploration of one really bad day in the life of three girlfriends.
“There are not very many people who have the alchemy of emotional depth and comedic ability. The role required that range and Anne was at the top of the list,” said Preston. “On the page Dee Dee is pretty cynical and can be acerbic and sarcastic and damaged and slightly unlikable. You need to have an actor who can bring that to life and also make the audience go along with her.”
One wonders if the messily neurotic state of these women, the gross-out details of one dildo-wielding nymphomaniacal character and another character leaking vaginal yeast infection remedy on her dress, might not turn audiences off. Bridesmaids this is not, and if people laugh it might well be out of nerves.
But Heche thinks women will find comfort in knowing that their worst day cannot ever be as bad as Dee Dee's, Bebe's (Marcia DeBonis), and Clementine’s (Alia Shawkat).
“Dee Dee is a girl that is falling out of bed hung over and brushing her teeth while smoking at the same time. When I read the script I thought ‘boy, that girl needs help,’” she said, laughing boisterously. “I think I fall in love with girls who need help and that is how I have made a career.”
She falls in love with those characters because she has been in their skin. Heche’s metamorphoses—from a childhood marred by sexual abuse to a teen actress on a daytime soap, to the lover of the country’s most famous lesbian to a distraught wanderer lost in the Fresno desert babbling about being a prophet—were well chronicled in the press and her 2003 tell-all Call Me Crazy: A Memoir.
The book confirmed for many that Heche was indeed crazy. But it seemed to have exorcised many of the demons haunting the lithe and fair actress.
“Nobody is going to write more truthfully about me than I already did. My life informs everything that I do,” she said as she played with her long blonde hair. “It allows me to have a perspective on my life and the joyous place where I have arrived.”
That place seems to be a rewarding personal and professional life. After giving birth to two boys—Homer and Atlas (strangely literary and yet unintended, Heche maintains)—she is still youthfully pretty in a lavender silk and lace dress.
She was devastated by Hung’s cancellation last year. But as she literally cried in her soup at the L.A. restaurant Mozza with her second husband, Canadian actor James Tupper (her Men in Trees co-star), Heche got a call from NBC honcho Bob Greenblatt. The chairman of NBC Entertainment offered Heche and her brand of comedy a home. Save Me is currently filming the 13 episodes ordered by the network.
“I am really excited that this is where I get to play in my comedy now,” she said. “The show is about opening the question of what happens when a miracle happens in our life and we change. But it’s a comedy. I think doubt is a big teacher. It has been a big teacher in my life.”
Doubt has also led to friction with her family. Her mother is a devoutly religious conservative who travels the country speaking about ways to convert gay people into being heterosexual. The two speak but are not particularly close. Heche’s father died of AIDS many years ago and was, Heche says, a closeted gay man who was also a religious conservative.
In a way, her character in Save Me, Beth, reflects the other side of the coin of what her mother preaches. Heche does not identify as religious or spiritual but says her philosophy is one of nonjudgment and accepting that mystery is a part of life.
“If I can come from where I came from and be where I am, anything is possible,” she said. “I don’t know where miracles come from. But you have to be fascinated.”