Long before the car accident that led to actress Anne Heche being declared brain dead at the age of 53, her on-screen work was always poised to be overshadowed by interest tabloids for his life.
In 1997, she became best known as the girlfriend of comedian Ellen DeGeneres, appearing with her on red carpets at a time when open gay relationships were still rare in Hollywood. Her name was the subject of countless jokes after a 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters in 2001 in which she revealed that she had concocted for herself a separate world called the “fourth dimension” and a personality named “Celestia “. Never mind the fact that she also told Walters about the horrific sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. She faced mockery that followed her for the rest of her career.
But for moviegoers, Heche was an idiosyncratic presence who never quite seemed to fit into cookie-cutter blockbusters. Instead, she was brilliantly annoying and often very funny, her angular face a disarming mix of intelligence and cunning that made her the perfect choice to play competent women in extreme situations.
In some ways, she has operated in the most mainstream arenas of the entertainment industry. She got her start as a soap opera star on “Another World” and had stints on network dramas like “Ally McBeal” and sitcoms like “Save Me” and “The Michael J. Fox Show.” And yet, there was a subversiveness about Heche that ran through her best performances, as well as an ability to laugh at herself that undermined her reputation in the culture at large.
Early in her career, director Nicole Holofcener identified Heche’s capacity for honesty in 1996’s “Walking and Talking” (available to rent on Prime Video). Heche plays Laura, a therapist-in-training and longtime best friend of Catherine Keener’s Amelia. Laura is, theoretically, the more together of the two. As Amelia flounders, Laura is on a direct path, engaged to her adorable jewelry designer boyfriend (Todd Field).
But as Amelia becomes jealous of the certainty in Laura’s life, doubt creeps into Laura’s psyche. In Heche, you can see Laura bristling with the restraints that come with the comfort of a close friendship and good relationship. As she tries on wedding dresses, Heche’s skin flushes amid the layers of tulle. Laura struggles with the fabric as Amelia touches it lightly, not helping much, as she describes her date with a man they had both made fun of. Laura doesn’t say it, but you can tell she’s completely overwhelmed. She grabs his behind. “I fart,” she said with resignation. In this small gesture, Heche admits that her body betrays her before her mind lets her say it.
The Holofcener script allows for this easy intimacy between women who have known each other for decades, but in Heche’s hands, Laura’s soul-searching becomes something hilariously palpable. When she and Amelia finally pull through, Heche never lets her character’s exasperation turn to bitterness. Instead, she finds all the wonderful nuances of a disagreement with a confidant, with love remaining the dominant emotion.
The following year, Hollywood wondered how to incorporate Heche into its formulas. She appeared in four films in 1997, in roles ranging from the frustrated wife of an undercover cop in “Donnie Brasco,” opposite Johnny Depp, to a presidential aide trying to bury a scandal in “Wag the Dog.” , opposite Robert De Niro. In the teen slasher “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, she is the sister of a murder victim. She’s oddly inserted into the goofy thrills of the disaster movie “Volcano,” in which she plays the seismologist who discovers that Los Angeles is about to be overtaken by lava. And yet, even in the dumbest of blockbusters, churning out a ridiculous exposition of how this geological event unfolds in a major American city, she brings an easy truth to the circumstances that most interpreters would struggle to reach. (“Donnie Brasco” is available on Netflix; “I Know What You Did” is on HBO Max; and “Wag” and “Volcano” are on most major platforms.)
She never stopped working, but Anne Heche’s off quickly began to overshadow Anne Heche. Still, there were artists, like Jonathan Glazer, who recognized what she could bring to a project. He tapped her for a central role in his surreal 2004 film, “Birth” (HBO Max), in which Nicole Kidman plays an Upper East Side bride-to-be visited by a young boy who claims to be her reincarnated dead husband. . During one of the opening scenes, Heche is bafflingly on edge, balking before entering a party and instead going to bury her gift in the woods, then rushing to a store to replace what she was hiding. , eyes flooded with guilt. Her character hovers around the action like a threat, until she concentrates, the true purpose of her existence floating in her intense gaze.
“Birth” is an otherworldly piece, and it’s almost as if Glazer is using Heche to further disrupt the audience, a task she takes on with vigor. More than 10 years later, Onur Tukel tapped into Heche’s rage in “Catfight” (Netflix), a comedy that cast her as a performer who gets into a vicious fight with a college friend (Sandra Oh ) because of resentment and class conflict.
There was a chance that Heche was about to experience another career revival. She had completed a role in the upcoming HBO series “The Idol,” created by musician The Weeknd, Sam Levinson of “Euphoria” and Reza Fahim. For any questions about the opportunities she may not have had — because of homophobia, ridicule, or mental health stigma — in an interview with Los Angeles magazine at the time of release. of “Birth,” she explained, “It’s funny, it’s not necessarily the career I had before, but it’s the life I want.
It would be easy to let the circumstances of her accident cloud the memory of her artistry, but it’s just as easy to imagine her like Laura in “Walking and Talking,” hair full of flowers and heart full of nerves, heading towards her marriage to her best friend.