Anne Heche says growing up in an abusive family gave her a special appreciation for the issues surrounding her role as a drug-addicted mother who neglects her children in the Lifetime movie Gracie's Choice. "One of the things I've learned," Heche says, "is my story is one of millions...of children who are neglected, abused, and treated badly." In her 2001 autobiography, Call Me Crazy, Heche revealed that she had been molested as a child by her father, a secretly gay strict Baptist who died of AIDS complications in 1983. She says she knows firsthand that children have difficulty talking about the abuses they endure, often because they think nobody will believe them. A movie like this, she says, "adds to the pool of consciousness...the hope that we can change the cycle of abuse." For its part, the Lifetime network will provide hot-line information during Gracie's Choice, which airs January 12 at 8 p.m. Eastern/Pacific, about abuse prevention groups such as Childhelp USA and From Darkness to Light.
Kristen Bell plays the title character, teenager Gracie Thompson, who fights her mother, Rowena Larson (Heche), for the right to adopt her three younger brothers and give them a stable home. Executive producer Robert M. Sertner says a "delicate balance" was needed to portray Rowena, "a woman who you know should not have her children, yet a woman who you understand and relate to--so [you] are in some measure horrified when they actually take the children from her." He says Heche was "brilliant" at pinning down that complexity and thoroughly professional. "In this business, people get thrown into spotlights that aren't necessarily the correct color, and you get preconceived notions about people that aren't always accurate," he comments.
Heche, of course, grabbed the spotlight with her very public relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, her mental breakdown following the split, and her confessions of craziness--which she blamed on her abuse--in her autobiography. But the 34-year-old actress has also earned plaudits for her work. She won a daytime Emmy for twin parts in the soap opera Another World and was honored by the National Board of Review for her role as the White House aide in the political satire Wag the Dog. She's also settled down with a husband, movie cameraman Coleman Laffoon, and their 2-year-old son, Homer.
Does she ever regret any choices she's made or worry she's revealed too much about herself? "My choice was to say it or die, really," she says. "My goal was family. Now I have the most incredible family. I have what I set out to accomplish. Other people have different priorities. I was constantly being told to make different choices because of my career, and it just never computed because my career was never my first choice.... My goals were to find love and find family." She hopes those she's had relationships with--not just the publicized ones like DeGeneres and comedian Steve Martin--have no "bitterness." "I had relationships with incredibly brilliant, wonderful, talented, loving, fabulous people. Nobody I wanted to marry, but God, lucky me, lucky me!" Now that the Ohio-born actress believes she's got the relationship and family stuff right, she's refocusing on her career.
Heche first acted as a 12-year-old when living in New Jersey: "My family needed money. I was baby-sitting for people who owned a dinner theater. They were doing The Music Man. I auditioned and got the part of Amaryllis." She went on to appear in such films as Donnie Brasco opposite Johnny Depp, Six Days Seven Nights with Harrison Ford, the remake of Psycho, and John Q with Denzel Washington. Upcoming she costars with Nicole Kidman in Birth and is part of the ensemble cast of the independent feature Sexual Lives. In February she appears on Broadway in the revival of Twentieth Century, opposite Alec Baldwin. "I'm just happy that anyone thinks I can do a part that Carole Lombard could do," Heche says, referring to the unconventional free-spirited actress who played Hollywood star Lily Garland in the 1934 film version of the screwball comedy. "I wanted to be in more comedies. I wanted to embrace a bigger, bolder, broader, more beautiful self," says Heche, explaining that she's always considered herself "a character actress" but is now "at the point where I want to be a leading lady."