The Internet has been ablaze this week thanks to Variety releasing an instalment of ‘Actors on Actors’ featuring Katherine Heigl and Ellen Pompeo.
Fans of the long-running medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” will remember that Heigl was one of the original cast members on the show. She played Dr. Izzie Stevens for six seasons before leaving under a cloud of rumours and speculation that went on to damage her career.
For those unfamiliar with the situation, Heigl upset the show’s creator Shonda Rhimes and the producers when she spoke out about the show on a couple of occasions. Despite being the only actor on the show to win an Emmy, Heigl raised eyebrows in 2008 when she withdrew her name for Emmy consideration stating ‘I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination’. This was further exacerbated around the same time when Heigl criticised ‘Knocked Up’, the box office smash that she starred in alongside Seth Rogen, and then in 2009 she called out the long hours she was expected to work on “Grey’s Anatomy” during an appearance on ‘The David Letterman Show.
After much speculation, Heigl was released from her “Grey’s Anatomy” contract in 2010 during season six of the show and she’s never appeared on the show since, despite her character being mentioned many times over the years. The drama surrounding her exit, and her comments about “Knocked Up”, gave her a reputation for being ‘difficult’ and that had a lasting impact on her career when her film career didn’t take off the way people had been expecting.
During the ‘Actors on Actors’ episode, Heigl speaks openly to her former co-star Pompeo, who had previously supported Heigl’s comments about the working hours on the set of the medical drama. The two women discuss the way that women are treated in the industry and Heigl admits, ‘I started getting real mouthy, because I did have a lot to say, and there were certain boundaries and things that I was not OK with being crossed. I didn’t know how to fight that.”
Pompeo points out that ‘nobody likes a super confident woman’ and the two actors reflect on how Twitter has given everybody a platform to say what they want, when they want, to who they want often with little to no consequence. At one moment during the conversation Pompeo tells Heigl that she was ahead of her time when she spoke out about working conditions.
Reflecting back on Heigl’s comments during the 2008-2010 period, it’s easy to see how they contributed a long-lasting backlash but in the current time, Heigl’s comments would barely have caused a raised eyebrow. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and endless stories about toxic workplaces on the likes of ‘The Ellen Show’ and more recently ‘The Kelly Clarkson Show’, Heigl was absolutely right to speak out about her experiences. Perhaps she didn’t handle it in the best of ways but no one can put themselves in her shoes – at the time she was receiving endless attention, awards and big money film offers, and she herself in the ‘Actors on Actors’ episode talks about a sense of false confidence all of those things gave her.
Heigl has worked hard to build her reputation and her career back up since her controversial departure from “Grey’s Anatomy”. She joined ‘Suits’ for its final two seasons in 2018 as Samantha Wheeler, which proved to be a good move for her, and more recently she’s starred in and executive produced the Netflix hit ‘Firefly Lane’. With a lot of water under the bridge, and lessons learned, surely it’s time that Heigl scrubs back in as Izzie Stevens on “Grey’s Anatomy” for the encore she, and the fans, deserve. I’m not saying she needs to be a series regular again, although I’d be happy if that did happen, but Izzie deserves a better ending than she got and none of us were buying that rushed happily-ever-after the character got offscreen when Justin Chambers, who played Alex Karev, left the show during season 16 in 2020.
Whether or not Heigl ever returns to “Grey’s Anatomy” remains to be seen but I think she definitely deserves an apology for the way she was treated by Hollywood. Had a man said the things she said back in the late 00s, no one would have batted an eyelid. Had she made those comments now in 2023, she would be hailed as a pioneer, fighting for the rights of women and her fellow actors. Pompeo is right when she calls Heigl ahead of her time and it’s damn sure time that Heigl had a career renaissance.