The first thing that stands out about Anne Heche is her laugh. It’s contagious, staccato and nearly constant. Actually, the blonde actress is surprisingly bubbly given that her latest role is that of a hardened FBI attaché in USA’s new event series, “Dig.” But right now, the one-time Chicagoan has plenty to be happy about: The show, which premieres March 5 and tells the story of a murder mystery in modern Jerusalem, has already been picked up for its full 10-episode arc.
“It’s a project that I was so thrilled to be asked to be a part of,” says Heche, 45. “There are, like, five different stories and you have no idea how they connect or why; there’s an artifact that’s stolen, there’s a murder of an American, there’s [someone] being kidnapped and taken to the Holy Land — what does one thing have to do with another thing? It’s a ‘Da Vinci Code’-esque thriller, times 10.”
Heche’s character, Lynn Monahan, is head of the FBI’s Jerusalem outpost; Jason Isaacs plays agent Peter Connelly, Lynn’s former teacher and now subordinate and occasional love interest. The series is the joint creation of seasoned TV pros Tim Kring and Gideon Raff — the producers/creators of “Heroes” and “Homeland,” respectively — so it promises wild twists and lots of action. “I’ve never done an action thriller before — I don’t know if it’s because I don’t look like Angelina Jolie — but I am really thrilled [to play] somebody who can kill a man with my bare hands,” Heche jokes.
The show also boasts steamy love scenes, but Heche isn’t nearly as excited by those. “Oh my God, by far the fight scenes [were more fun to film]. Love scenes are a drag! They’re awkward, they’re uncomfortable — a nightmare,” she laughs. “That being said, Jason [Isaacs] is a complete gentleman. But I like to leave the nudity up to the 23-year-olds. I keep a little more covered up than the girls who are as young as — well, as young as I used to be.”
Though unlike many Hollywood vets, who hide their age like it’s a blemish, Heche is completely comfortable in her own skin. She’s been in the business for nearly 30 years, starting as a teenager on the soap “Another World.” Still, though, “I feel like I’m younger than people think I am,” she says. “I’m not 95! I’m really not! It just seems like I’ve been working that long.”
Through the ’90s and early aughts, Heche was a common fixture on TV and in film, appearing in hit shows like “Ally McBeal” and “Everwood.” But she’s arguably as famous — or perhaps infamous — for her personal struggles, which she has spoken about candidly and vividly documented in her memoir Call Me Crazy.
As a child, Heche recalls being sexually abused by her father, an evangelical Christian and closeted homosexual who later passed away from AIDS, before her mother relocated the family to Chicago in 1984. Through scholarships and what she calls “the grace of others,” the future star attended Lincoln Park’s Francis W. Parker high school. It was there that Heche got her big break: She was spotted in the high school’s rendition of “The Skin of Our Teeth” and landed her first gig on “Another World,” playing twins Vicky Hudson and Marley Love Hudson.
Four years later, while in Nebraska filming 1992’s “O Pioneers!” with Jessica Lange, Heche knew she’d found her calling. “I was literally sitting in a Motel 6 with a cheeseburger, watching the Emmys … and I won! I’m not kidding. I was chomping on a cheeseburger going, ‘This is fattening, how am I going to fit in my corset tomorrow?’ And they announce my name,” she says. “That moment, it dawned on me that maybe I should be an actress.”
From there, it was a steady rise upward: She co-starred with Johnny Depp in “Donnie Brasco” and with Robert De Niro in “Wag the Dog.” Finally, in 1998, she earned top billing when she was cast as a big-screen leading lady in “Six Days, Seven Nights” opposite heartthrob Harrison Ford. But at the same time, she entered a romantic relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, and was publicly shamed as an opportunist. Maybe society wasn’t ready for a bisexual leading lady; after “Six Days, Seven Nights,” the stream of movie offers came to a halt.
Heche continued to make headlines, though not because of her acting talents. When the relationship with DeGeneres ended in 2000, Heche suffered a public breakdown, expressing herself as her alter-ego Celestia, whom, she explained, lived in a fourth dimension and was from another planet. Just a year later though, she was making inroads to recovery. She published Call Me Crazy in 2001 — a much needed cathartic release for the actress; that same year, she told Barbara Walters, “I’m not crazy, but it’s a crazy life. I was raised in a crazy family and it took 31 years to get the crazy out of me.”
“I don’t think anybody’s journey is easy,” Heche says now. “I think some people hide it a little bet better than I did; some people are a little more private — why didn’t I learn that lesson?” she laughs.
Over the last decade, Heche seems to have embraced the benefits of staying out of the spotlight. She appeared sporadically in shows like 2006’s “Men in Trees” and 2009’s “Hung,” and worked behind the scenes: Last fall, she executive produced former Splash cover star Kate Walsh’s sitcom “Bad Judge.” Most importantly, Heche has cultivated a happy home life with her husband, “Men in Trees” co-star James Tupper, and sons Homer, 12, and Atlas, 5. (The proud mom even raves that Homer is playing on his 7th grade tennis team and she’s sure it won’t be long before Atlas can beat her on the court.)
Looking back on all she’s overcome, Heche has established her staying power. She’s proven that change is possible — or as she puts it, “If I looked at people who I knew 20 years ago and expected them to be the same person, I certainly think they’d feel less than honored by what those 20 years have given them.”
Mostly, though, Heche is finally content. “Of course [I’ve thought], ‘Why did I make a left when I should’ve made a right?’ ” she says. “Certainly I’ve made a lot of left-hand turns, but they led me to who I am. I don’t think you can fault anyone for being on a road that’s true, and I’ve always been driven by telling the truth, living in love, acting in kindness and allowing other people to be who they are around me. I’m really happy where I am. … I think that’s the biggest pleasure in one’s life: That they can be in a moment and they can say, ‘Well, I got where I wanted to be.’ ”
Photographer: Giuliano Bekor
Stylist: Tiffani Chynel
Hair: David Stanwell for SoloArtists.com/Davines
Makeup: Simone Almekias-Siegl
Shoot producer: Katerina Bizios