NEW YORK — Anne Heche should be hawking her new Broadway play, “Twentieth Century,” but on a recent afternoon in her dressing room at the American Airlines Theatre, she can’t help but extol the virtues of Nu Bra, the self-adhesive strapless silicone bra she wears underneath her glamorous costumes.
“I could be their spokesperson!” exclaims Heche, who’s already introduced the Nu Bra to the production’s costume designer, William Ivey Long, who plans to put them on his dancers in many a musical. She’s also autographed a pair for the store that sells them to her dresser. (“One part of my name on each boob. Where else am I going to sign it?” she asks.)
“They say that you get 100 wears out of them — I don’t know if they mean evening-out-and-dancing 100 wears, or nice-quiet-dinner 100 wears. I’m sure they don’t mean 100 Broadway performances where you throw yourself all over the stage. I put these boobs through a lot of work,” she explains.
Playing the narcissistic and overdramatic movie star Lily Garland (Carole Lombard played the role in the 1934 Howard Hawks movie), Heche whirls through any number of physical comedy steps. She does pratfalls, has stage fights and gets dragged across the set, which happens to be a moving train compartment. Heche plays opposite Alec Baldwin (her co-star in the 1996 movie “The Juror”), with Baldwin as a Broadway impresario — and Garland’s former lover — who desperately needs a hit play. As with any screwball comedy, hijinks ensue.
Heche starred on Broadway two years ago as the unbalanced mathematician in the drama “Proof” and she was looking for a chance to return to the stage. “I thought that after ‘Proof’ was the success that it was, it would be really fun to come back with a comedy and say, ‘Ha! Now watch what I can do!’”
But as the old saying in the theater world goes, “Dying is easy — it’s comedy that’s hard.” “In drama, as long as you’re doing it truthfully, you’re in,” says Heche, “but in comedy, you need the perspective to be able to make it funny. You have to ask yourself, ‘How do I turn this death into something funny?’ Rather than: ‘How do I just make this death seem real?’”
Heche says she wouldn’t mind if a little glamour from her character rubbed off onto her everyday life. “I was never picked up off the street and turned into a starlet. I wanted to do it my way — I didn’t want to wear the fur coat because it looked pretty. If they told me to keep my hair blond, I dyed it black. But now, I think ‘Gee, this is gorgeous! You want to put diamonds on me? Bring it on!’”
After an interesting couple of years in the public eye — the breakup with Ellen DeGeneres, the memoir “Call Me Crazy,” the interview with Barbara Walters in which she spoke about her other personality, Celestia, who had her own language — Heche feels as if she’s started to figure things out. She says she’s finally ready for a comeback — and the spotlight. “It was always easier for me to be a character actor because my leading lady time was taken up doing what I thought was most important, which was finding love and health in my life,” Heche explains.
The actress married cameraman Coley Laffoon in 2001 and they have a two-year-old son, Homer. “Having the incredible foundation of my family and my love, I can take that time and dedicate it to a job that is bigger than being a character actor,” Heche says.
But now she’d like to focus her attention on becoming a star. “It takes more time, energy, effort and commitment to be a leading lady. And I’m hoping that with my new place in life, I can start making my rise in the glamorous halls of Hollywood happen starting now. No kidding.”
Heche will be back in two movies this fall — she has a role in the Nicole Kidman film “Birth” and the independent film “Sexual Life” — and her flashy star turn in “Twentieth Century” will surely bring more offers to the table. For now, she’s enjoying the thrill of being in a show that makes people laugh out loud, not to mention the amiable company of Baldwin, who, during the course of the interview, came by with two bottles of Cristal. (“These are for you and Coley,” he tells her. “Have a bubble bath.”)
But there’s no champagne before a performance, even if playing Lily Garland involves an over-the-top giddiness. “I try to rock the house a bit with some music before I go onstage,” says Heche, who psychs herself up with the Black Eyed Peas and Nelly Furtado.
“One night I prepped with Ludacris, and Alec came knocking on my door and said, ‘Excuse me, but is this the music we’re going to be listening to before we do this comedy?’” Heche recalls with a wily smile. “I said, ‘Is this a problem?’ And he said, ‘Whatever makes you happy.’”
— Marshall Heyman