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With her return to television, Katherine Heigl is re-visiting the sort of redemption tour that we first saw when she appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly in March of 2010. Four years later, she’s still quite sorry, this time that Shonda Rhimes (and America) has a “crappy impression” of her. She’s hoping “State Of Affairs” and her turn as a woman named Charleston will set things straight.
“The Reason Why People Still Hate Katherine Heigl Isn’t The Reason You Think,” “Katherine Heigl Suing Duane Reade Is Yet Another Reason People Hate Her,” ”Does Everyone Still Hate Katherine Heigl?” the headlines read, both automatically assuming that we have such "hate" for this woman and wondering why that's the case. But her alleged diva behavior on set isn’t enough of an explanation. It’s fine to skip “State Of Affairs” because it’s a lazy broadcast version of “Homeland,” but reports of Katherine Heigl being "ungrateful" aren’t good enough reason to not give Charlie a chance.
Difficult talents are about as common to Hollywood as weird crimes are to Florida. The problem for Heigl isn’t that she is allegedly hard to work with. It’s that she’s allegedly hard to work with … and stopped bringing in big box office numbers. “The Big Wedding,” though an ensemble effort, was a relative flop, making less than $22 million in domestic gross. Her last lead role, 2012's “One For The Money,” made under $27 million. The reported on-set antics of her and her mother Nancy might be a bit easier to stomach if she was still breaking out hits like “27 Dresses” (nearly $77 million in North America) or “The Ugly Truth” ($89 million) or “Knocked-Up” ($149 million). Those three proceeded a series of projects where she seemed to repeat similar characters and plot lines with the ferocity of an industrial era rom-com factory. Hollywood turned on her, and now she’s back on television.
That explains the industry’s issue with her. What’s America’s problem, though? Is the movie-and-television-watching public so concerned about what demands K. Heigl and her mom have for their trailer? It would appear that we, as consumers of celebrity, have a huge issue with perceived personalities of female stars. The hatred for Anne Hathaway stemmed from the feeling that she was the type of person who had been to drama camp and might pronounce it “the-a-ter." Now, as Kevin Fallon wrote over at The Daily Beast, “the court of public opinion [has] convicted [Heigl] of the celebrity crime of 'seeming a little bitchy.'"
There is a ton of sexist malarkey embedded in the fact that strong, successful women are criticized for “seeming a little bitchy.” Male actors, male CEOS, male anythings can get away with being "a little bitchy” except for them it’s just “a little assertive.” The phenomenon is a bit more complex than that when it comes to the ladies of Hollywood, though. A public personality is an obligation for female stars, in a way that it isn’t for male ones. Chevy Chase, James Cameron, Isaiah Washington and Christian Bale are all supposedly “difficult." Where are the think pieces about why people hate them? A man who is hard to work with might be susceptible to falling out of favor with industry executives if he can't bring in big box office numbers anymore. The celebrity-obsessed public seems largely unbothered by that reality, while the possibility of “bitchiness” is all-consuming for their female counterparts.
So what if Katherine Heigl is hard to work with? An element of this is that part of her clash has come up against Shonda Rhimes, the rightful reigning queen of television. Let’s just assume Rhimes is completely in the right for bringing up Heigl’s name during an interview where she also discussed a “no-assholes policy." As consumers and audience members, we should be concerned with quality of performance, not whether the actor is fussing over how many lines she’s given backstage. It’s about much more than that, though. We hold women to a completely different standard in Hollywood. It’s impossible for them to be judged solely on their work, because imagined brattiness means infinitely more than talent. Heck, maybe Katherine Heigl is, as a one character calls her on “State Of Affairs,” “one of the most obnoxious creatures, man or woman, roaming the planet.” But the man or woman portion of that sentiment isn’t irrelevant. It makes a huge difference.
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca