In the early-2000s, actress Katherine Heigl was at the top of her game.
The now 37-year-old appeared on the big screen, and had a leading role on the TV drama Grey’s Anatomy.
It seemed like the actress was on the path to an A-list career when movie offers suddenly slowed and her career stagnated.
What happened, and what can we learn from some of her missteps? Global News spoke with Shirin Khamisa, a career counsellor and founder of Careers by Design Coaching, for some profession-saving advice.
Much ado about attitude
Though Heigl starred in films before 2007, it wasn’t until her breakout role in that year’s raunchy comedy Knocked Up, alongside Seth Rogen, that she became a known commodity.
After that, she enjoyed relative success until she sat down for a 2008 interview with Vanity Fair and criticized the film, calling it “a little sexist” and ripping apart the character she played.
“It’s a little sexist,” she said. “It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a b****; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight per cent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.”
This rubbed the film’s writer-director Judd Apatow and Rogen the wrong way, according to E! News, who felt Heigl was speaking out inappropriately.
Around the same time, The New York Times reported Heigl’s relationship with Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, was strained because the actress didn’t want her role as Dr. Izzie Stevens to be considered for an Emmy.
“I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention,” she said to the Los Angeles Times.
She also notoriously started to ask for bigger and better paycheques (on TV and the big screen).
Rhimes was furious.
“I don’t put up with bullsh*t or nasty people,” Rhimes said to the Hollywood Reporter, referencing the Heigl debacle. “I don’t have time for it.”
And that’s when, Khamisa says, Heigl became her own worst enemy. Even today, the actress’s career isn’t what it used to be.
“Sometimes work can push our buttons and it’s such a key part of our identity and it’s also, for most of us, a source for our financial needs,” she says. “So when the stakes are high like that, things that may be small things can push our buttons and if we don’t manage our emotions about what’s happening at work then it’s possible to do and say things you might possibly regret later. When people are in a state of anxiety or stress, common sense can go out the window.”
Avoiding the same missteps is as simple as…
Khamisa tells clients in similar positions to Heigl’s to closely analyze the predicament(s) they face.
For example, if someone is unhappy, they may want to consider looking for new work, or they should try to find value in what they’re doing and make the best of the situation.
“Sometimes that value can come from the relationships you form,” she says. “So even if you’re discouraged or disappointed in a job, perhaps there are key people that you may meet there that would be instrumental in your career.”
Khamisa adds: “A lot of the time people will push back and they don’t want to change the situation or make it better because they feel that that stress and turmoil is what’s going to motivate them to change. It’s the opposite really. When you’re in a stressful situation day after day it’s very depleting and it leaves you with very little energy to change. Recognize that if you make peace with the situation, you’ll save valuable time and energy that you can use to move forward to the next thing.”
Staying positive should also be top of mind.
“An important part of being positive is also telling yourself the reality of the situation and not denying what’s really happening,” says Khamisa. “Have a plan of action and work toward something as opposed to constantly pushing against what’s happening in the situation right now.”
Owning up to your mistakes, in a very specific way, is also imperative.
It took some time for Heigl to take full responsibility for her actions.
“Her statements about going back and apologizing, they had – buried within it – a ‘yes, but,'” meaning any time she offered an apology she attached an excuse to it, says Khamisa. There are also folks she still hasn’t said, “I’m sorry,” to (like Rogen, according to The Hollywood Reporter).
The key, then, is to offer a genuine apology that shows you own up to missteps, you’re ready to take responsibility for any wrong-doings, and that you genuinely feel remorse for having hurt someone.
“Her comments were really damaging to her relationships with key people she was working with,” Khamisa says. “The main thing that’s important is for her to admit to her mistakes and take responsibility.”
Lastly, if you’re caught in a situation like Heigl’s, it’s important to realize you won’t be able to stabilize or reignite your career overnight, says Khamisa. You’ll have to work your way back up the ladder.
For someone like Heigl, that may include taking cameo roles on shows before jumping into anything leading lady (though Heigl has had opps for the latter, none have been successful). For others, that may be taking on smaller assignments and providing extra support until colleagues feel a person can be trusted again.