We Can Be Besties: Anne Heche on That’s What She Said

The importance of playing unlikable characters, her memories of Volcano and which role she got by using the wrong accent.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Anne Heche gives the performance of a lifetime in That’s What She Said. When I saw the bad girl comedy in Sundance, I could not believe Anne Heche was so raw, doing provocative dances in public, using the most vile language. She plays DeeDee, a bitter divorcee who’s friends with the naïve idealistic Bebe (Marcia DeBonis). The duo befriends highly emotional nymphomaniac Clementine (Alia Shawkat) for a day of R-rated girl talk and misadventure in New York. The film is directed by Carrie Preston. Heche looked stunning in a fabulous purple dress when we met her last week to chat about the film, and walk down the lava-strewn memory lane. If you want to see a whole new Anne Heche, That’s What She Said opens Friday.

CraveOnline: Do you agree that “that’s what she said” is the funniest joke ever?

Anne Heche: [Laughs] Do I agree with who, you?

I’m saying it’s the funniest.

I think it’s pretty funny. I mean, we cracked ourselves up a lot on the set. It’s a joke that never gets old. I have to say it continues to please.

I admit it’s immature, but we still like saying it.

Right, and that’s why it makes us giggle of course. We aren’t talking sophisticated. I don't think this movie claims to be all that sophisticate either but we do claim to be funny.

You go so big in this role. What inspired you to go that far or made you comfortable doing that?

Well, I really felt like DeeDee had to be almost the worst self she could possibly be in order for this movie to be funny, because really you’re watching her, hopefully, transform. I thought the bigger the walls, the harder the shell, the more unloving and more uncomfortable and more self-hatred she had, not only the bigger mountain I had to climb to get her to become vulnerable at all, but I also thought it would be funnier. I think we like bold characters and I don’t think we get to see them very often and I don’t think we get to see women who don’t pretend to be nice. There’s always this fear when girls are created characters that they have to be somewhat likeable. That’s the buzzword you hear in Hollywood all the time. Are they likeable? Are they relatable? And I wanted to just not be. Not be likeable, not be relatable, see what happened there because I really felt that that was the truth of this character who we made. She’s hung over, she’s brushing her teeth and smoking at the same time. This is not a person who likes themselves, let alone anybody else. What would happen if I really just dug right in and turned up the murkiest water I could find? Could I find humor even there?

Were you inspired to do the coffee shop dance on the day, or was it scripted?

Oh my God, it was scripted that I would stand up and hump the air. The bolder I got with DeeDee, the funnier it got. And the nastier I got, the better reaction I got. I have to say, my husband was really an encourager of that when I was trying to find DeeDee’s voice. The more I removed any light from her the funnier she got. That dance, watching the reaction of everybody in that coffee shop who had no idea what I was doing and certainly hadn’t seen me play anybody like DeeDee, the more absurd I got, the funnier it became. I don't think we get to see girls do that very often and watching Carrie, really every actor is about pleasing their director. I think that’s the relationship we’re supposed to have. They’re really our vision into our truth and into the story that we’re telling. Every time I did a take, Carrie would just be falling over and that was the first day that we shot. I was like, “Okay, great. This is who this girl is. She’s this outrageous.”

Were you actually hoarse while you made this movie or was that a choice for DeeDee?

No, I was. Honestly, I’m telling you, I couldn’t believe it happened and then I was like, “This is really the film gods, right?” Because I was supposed to be so hung over and so f***ed up. All the producers then were like, “Well, yeah, it might be the film gods but it’s got to go. You can’t be talking this way through the whole [movie].” So we shot that first scene which is like a nine page scene and we had four days to do it. I started taking medication the second day so that it would be cleared up, we needed it to be cleared up by the time that I would’ve had my coffee. I don't know, the film gods and a steroid shot made it happen. Honestly, I did bend over to take a steroid shot so that I would start talking normally.

It would have been amazing acting if you could just put that voice on.

It would, it would be. I can get gruff but that one would be hard to pull off.

Speaking of likeability, you had a run where you got to be sort of an action hero in Volcano and a leading lady in Six Days, Seven Nights.

I love you for saying so.

Of course I’ve seen all those movies. Was it frustrating that some of those characters had to then also be likeable too?

No, not frustrating. Appropriate. Every character tells a different story and every character is a participant in a bigger story certainly than the character. I’ve always been fascinated by storytelling and I’ve always seen my characters as being a part of the bigger picture. So it’s really what’s right. If I’m choosing a character, as long as it’s true, she’s got a story to tell. I just think it’s funny that people are so consumed with being likeable rather than being truthful. My thing is what makes sense, not what somebody’s going to think about me after. To my detriment, I think people believe me so much, I mean when I did John Q I got backlash for that for so long. It’s funny because it was such an unlikeable character who was not giving Denzel [his son’s operation], the hospital administrator, it was just so necessary. In my mind, she wasn’t even a bad person. She was just so confined by the rules of this corporation. Ugh, what a straightjacket. So I really wanted that straightjacket around her and I remember Denzel saying, “Meaner. Be meaner.” That’s so funny, I haven’t thought about that day in a really long time. It was hard for me to be so mean because I had such compassion. That’s why I did the movie of course, and because I wanted to work with Denzel, just be in a room with him, why not? But to tell that story, that’s who she needed to be. That’s what I care about.

Was the cigarette and toothbrush action tough to pull off?

Yes because if it didn’t seem like that was true, nobody was going to watch the movie.

Could you actually keep both in your mouth?

Not only can you do it, but I had to figure out how to do it so that I could actually be smoking, not just having it in my mouth. I had to do it so that the actions were happening, because I didn’t want it to just be I have a cigarette. Then what’s the point of doing that? The thing is you’re so addicted, what I thought about DeeDee, she’s so addicted she can’t put it down. That’s a particular kind of person.

So it’s actually being inhaled while she’s brushing?

Yes, and that’s what was the trick of it.

I imagine the real thing would be nasty, but with the herb cigarettes they use on movies was it super nasty?

No, I had to smoke a real cigarette. There was no way. I couldn’t fake it. I was chain smoking the entire time. Made me quit again. I’ve quit in my life smoking. After that movie I definitely quit.

Carrie Preston is starting something she calls That’s What She Said Besties.

Yeah, where your friends show up together. She just wrote me about that.

Can we be That’s What She Said Besties?

Yeah, totally. Why not? I think we are supposed to take a picture. We definitely have to tweet. Yes, definitely we can be besties.

With you, Marcia DeBonis and Alia Shawkat, were you the leader?

I would say Carrie is the leader of course. I have a lot of experience, let’s put it that way. I have a lot of experience and I have a lot of drive in terms of how to manage a day and the workload. Probably with my understanding of that, I helped get the movie done that we needed to get done. It was kind of overwhelming in terms of the amount that we needed to shoot every day. In terms of being a leader, I also might say maybe cheerleader, keeping people on it, getting it done, making sure that everybody knows their lines, helping keep us all together with the same goal. But that’s what I do on any set.

Do you naturally have a naughty sense of humor?

I think I probably used to be naughtier. I don't know what happened to me. Maybe with kids I got a little less nasty because things don’t fall out of your mouth the same when you have children, you know what I mean? You tend to be like, “Oh, I’ve got to save that nastiness for the private rooms” so you tend to just shy away from it a little bit more. I think I’ve become shier. Maybe that’s why I liked this role so much. It certainly catapulted me in a different direction than mommy world. But I probably think dirty thoughts. [Laughs]

So you save it for an R-rated movie.

Yeah, exactly, somebody gives me the excuse.

Whenever there are two of the same movie coming out, like the two Snow Whites this year, everyone mentions the Volcano movies. Is that a nice legacy to have?

That’s so funny. I think that’s so funny. In fact I love it. I love it because I think ours won the race, the volcano race. I think we came out first.

No, actually, Dante’s Peak came out first but Volcano was the preferred volcano movie.

To even say that it’s the preferred volcano movie is so funny. All that ash.

And it was a parable for racism!

Oh my lord. You know what’s funny about that movie coming full circle in my laugh, people telling me that I should do popular movies at that time when I wasn’t even educated enough about the business to even understand what that meant. I just wanted to work with Tommy Lee Jones. I thought that was the coolest thing of all time. Neal Moritz was the producer of that film and now he’s the producer of my new TV show, “Save Me,” so there are things that strangely come around full circle in your life when often when Volcano is mentioned in a room, people laugh. So it’s really fun and appropriate now that I’m doing a comedy.

Were you surprised “Hung” didn’t go for a fourth season?

Shocked. I love Thomas Jane. Obviously Colette [Burson] and Dmitry [Lipkin] are two of my very, very dear friends. Everybody who gets cancelled is heartbroken of course. Nobody wants to have their show cancelled. I just thought it was great. I thought Thomas was great. I thought he really found a stride of a human that really worked with him. I can’t explain that mystery at all.

Did you find “Save Me” right away?

It was quick. God bless it, Bob Greenblatt called and he had gone over to NBC from Showtime and has a history of bringing complicated female characters to television and wanted to do that with me. I’m really glad somebody gave him that green light because I’m so thrilled to be doing this show with him I can’t stand it. I’m so excited.

What kind of different side of you are we going to get to see on “Save Me?”

“Save Me” is probably truest to the comedian that I am or would like to be, where my comedy is born. Although I love DeeDee in That’s What She Said, going through the darkness to find the light and the humor is really fun to do, but where I like my humor to come from is the delight of spirit and joy and hope that I find to be overflowing in life and has saved my life many times because I have a belief in love and hope. This character is born of that humor. It should be a fun, magical, hilarious ride.

Donnie Brasco is a favorite movie also. What are your memories of making that?

Thank you. Well, it was funny, someone asked me what advice I’d gotten on different sets. What’s the one thing? I’m like there’s never one thing but I do remember Johnny Depp saying, “Don’t get tattoos. They’re so hard to cover up and you’re going to add an hour to your day in hair and makeup.” That’s really funny. Just different moments, of course. The funniest thing about Donnie Brasco is that I went to do the audition. Mike Newell was directing of course, amazing director, and I got, and still get, nervous when I have to audition for something, but I hear things in my head. I just hear the character and that’s where she gets born. As I’m reading a script, I usually start imagining what it sounds like. It starts to shake into my voice. So I go to do the audition and whatever, go on tape, and afterwards I see my friend Catherine Keener at a restaurant. We had done a movie together and I go up and say hi to Catherine. Catherine’s like, “How was your audition?” I’m like, “I don't know, I mean, that New Jersey accent I did, I’m not sure.” She goes, “What? New Jersey? She’s from Florida.” I was like, what? However it shook down, Mike called me and I got the part which was hilarious that I got anything over Catherine Keener who I think is marvelous. I said, “I’m so sorry I did the wrong accent.” He said, “You know what? We all loved it. We want you to keep it.” It’s so crazy how jobs work out, but that was kind of the beginning of having that director trust me, and probably thinking how amazing. That job, to be able to work with Pacino and Johnny started me on a course of an amazing, amazing life working with artists. Incredible, incredible.