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Heather Graham******Heather Graham

interview by Douglas Eby

She has acted in some twenty seven films over the last ten years, and Heather Graham has portrayed a wide range of interesting female roles, from Nadine, the drug addict teenage drifter who overdoses in "Drug Store Cowboy" to nun Annie Blackburn in "Twin Peaks" to Cowgirl Heather in "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" and Lorraine in "Swingers". Currently in "Boogie Nights" Graham will be seen next year in "Lost in Space" and "Scream: The Sequel."

Graham says playing those characters is something she is "naturally drawn to." "And that I go after, and hopefully can do more," she adds. "Those kind of unusual roles are one reason I've been more involved in independent productions rather than major studio movies." 

She finds that now is a good time for her career: "I'm getting offered more things than before, but I come out of doing a lot of independent films, and haven't been offered tons of studio movies. Sometimes when you don't have the passion for something, it translates. But it's not like all studio movies are bad. Certain ones that are formulaic are boring, but other ones I really like." 

Graham appreciated the chance to do one of her earliest recognition roles, as Annie in "Twin Peaks": "I just loved the show so much, and it was really exciting to think of being on it. And David Lynch was a nice person, as well as an interesting director. He makes you feel really welcome. A lot of directors are not as friendly to the actors as he is, so it's nice being around someone that friendly." 

In her current film "Boogie Nights" she is Rollergirl, so named because she never takes her skates off. It's a story about an extended "family" that includes Burt Reynolds as director Jack Horner, Julianne Moore as his wife Amber Waves, who's also a featured actress in his films, Mark Wahlberg as actor Eddie, who's renamed himself Dirk Diggler, and Graham, whose character Rollergirl is always on her skates, and finds a home within this supportive group of filmmakers. It just happens the films they make are hardcore. 

With its subject being the 1970s porn scene in Los Angeles, Wahlberg and Graham do have a sex scene together, but she keeps her roller skates on even then. 

Graham has generally avoided nudity in her work, and says "Sometimes I watch movies and [the nudity] seems not necessary, and sort of stuck in there and slightly exploitive. I don't think it's wrong, but I don't particularly respond to it, because I feel like I'm being manipulated into watching something that's supposed to be titillating, but isn't part of the story at all. 

"So when I read a script, I look a little more carefully when there's nudity to see if I'll be comfortable doing it. And then I have to look at the director a little more carefully and think how he's going to be, because I'm going to feel vulnerable in the situation, and will he make me feel safe?" 

Compared to her work on "Lost in Space" Graham found acting in "Boogie Nights" was totally different in terms of subject matter: "It was stuff you could imagine more easily than thinking you're flying through space. So it was really fun working on it." 

But she also enjoyed "Lost in Space", and joining a cast that includes Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc, Mimi Rogers, Lacey Chabert and Jack Johnson. Heather, as Judy Robinson, is for the first time playing a scientist or someone involved with technology, and she liked that aspect of it: "This is the first job I've really done where I got to play science fiction, technology, all that stuff. It was cool playing a doctor, because I'm really fascinated by that." 

As Judy, Graham points out she gets to "create these cryo-sleep tubes that freeze us for ten years." She says cryonics is "very interesting" but probably not a choice for a career: "I'd be more interested in general medicine than in that. And that's an area where no one has figured it out yet. It's cool just thinking of the power of the human mind to create." 

She appreciated the others in the cast: "It was great working with experienced actors like Gary Oldman and William Hurt, and I've admired their work for so long. And I really liked the director; he was a very interesting person and had cool ideas. And it was fun working with little kids, like Jack, who's ten and Lacey, who's fourteen. Kids are people who just go and do it. It's amazing how good some little kids are; you wonder how they got this good." 

The film uses hundreds of visual effects using computer-generated imagery (CGI), nearly twice as many as in "Jurassic Park". Graham had not worked with CGI before, and found it challenging to react to objects that weren't actually visible, but were to be added later: 

"It's very hard, just imagining these things that weren't there, and flying around in a space ship, and not seeing the things you're supposed to be seeing, and you'd have to make them up with your mind. And all the action and everything that adds in later that seems real when you watch it [onscreen] but isn't there when you're doing it. You have to sort of simulate it for yourself." 

She credits the director with providing a lot of help to do that: "There's this character in the movie who sometimes wouldn't be there, and we'd have to pretend to be holding him. The director would have these puppeteers come in and we would do [the action] once with the puppets, so we would see sort of what the animal would look like and wouldn't have to completely think it up, which is cool. 

"Being in London on the set and having all these amazing effects was so different than just shooting in L.A. with a bunch of people who were sort of friends and really liked each other, which is what 'Boogie Nights' was like." 

Playing Judy Robinson was "really fun" she says, "because it's kind of a setup where Matt LeBlanc and I are sort of unattached and stuck in space together. And my reactions to him are completely unpredictable, and I just give him a really hard time and constantly attack him. So it was fun to go against that whole romantic thing where the woman's like 'so in love with him because he's the pilot.' I get to be just like 'Oh, get over yourself.'" 

Another of her 1998 films will be "Scream: The Sequel", a part she took because of her response to the original: "Just watching the first movie, I thought it was very clever, and sort of turned horror movies on their head, and it was just funny. I really liked Drew Barrymore. That was so scary, that sequence." Like a number of other actors who has worked with him, she found famed horror director Wes Craven "very nice, a very easy-going person, and fun to be around." 

Life as an actor can be very demanding physically, emotionally and psychologically, and Graham has been following a spiritual practice that helps her keep strong as an actor and a person: TM or Transcendental Meditation. 

She notes, "I'm not really religious, but feel I have spirituality. I meditate twice a day for twenty minutes. I've been doing it for six years, and I've gotten into the habit of finding the time for it. Sometimes it's hard. But it definitely pays off for me." 

Other things that help her keep growing as an actor, Graham says, include "having good friends. They're always supportive and encouraging." She also appreciates the value of going to therapy: "I have this amazing lady who's my therapist, and I just find her brilliant, and she has been so incredibly helpful." 

Graham admits to being a little unsure about talking about such a personal thing: "At first, I wasn't going to say anything, but then, who cares? Lots of people go. In some ways it helps more than acting class. You realize why you operate in certain ways." 

Through all her very different films Graham manages to keep a quality of grace and sweetness that inspires a sympathetic appreciation for her characters.  

For a recent magazine photo, Graham wore a black T-shirt that said "Ready to Rock" -- obviously, that's true. 

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  [ edited version published in Femme Fatales, June 1998 ]

   related Talent Development Resources pages:

The Inner Actor

more interviews       |    resumé of Douglas Eby

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