It’s been nearly a decade since Heather Graham first began conceptualizing her latest project, “Half Magic,” which finally hits theaters on Friday. But the actress, who also wrote and directed the comedy feature, could never have imagined the cultural changes in motion by the time of her film’s release.
Based on her own struggles as a woman in show business, the largely self-referential narrative follows Honey, a screenwriter (played by Graham), who faces blatant sexism as she works tirelessly to pitch her creative project. For emotional support, Graham’s on-screen persona forms a sisterhood with two pals (played by Angela Kinsey and Stephanie Beatriz) to combat their collective low self-esteem stemming from a steady stream of toxic romantic and professional relationships.
“Finally!” exclaims the 48-year-old, leaning back on the sofa of a Manhattan photo studio. Graham is reacting to the ripple effect brought about by allegations of sexual abuse against Harvey Weinstein — among others — and the recent impact of the “Me Too” movement’s increased engagement.
“I was one of the people harassed by Harvey Weinstein,” recalls Graham of an encounter she had with the disgraced producer in the early Aughts. Not acquiescing to what she says was a promise of film roles in exchange for sex, Graham found herself ostracized from his then-powerful orbit. For years, Graham has attempted to make films about women — including the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which remains New York’s most deadly industrial disaster — but was often told, like her on-screen character, that “nobody cared about women’s stories.”
This discouragement, she says, came from producers of both sexes. Determined to rise above her detractors, the Milwaukee native turned to spiritualism in pushing “Half Magic” through to production, a moment that worked its way into the script. Often gathering a handful of close friends — including musician Moby, who provided part of the film’s soundtrack — Graham’s group would all light candles and vocalize their dreams to each other.
“I must have burned 600 candles to get this film made,” Graham says. “We still get together and make wishes and we also tell each other what we really like about each other. It’s the feeling that your friends have your back and, with your friends, you wish for your dreams to come true. It just makes it feel more powerful.”
But Graham’s tenacity for actualizing the project went beyond any New Age ritual. With a history of playing sexually charged, doe-eyed blondes in roles from “Boogie Nights” to “The Hangover,” the New Yorker hopes “Half Magic” helps further establish hers as a voice in the current swell of social change.
“This was really the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” she says with candor. “I’ve grown a lot. When I was younger, I was much more of a people pleaser. Now, I want to tell a story that inspires people to feel good about themselves, but also I’m making a commentary about the lack of female stories and female directors and saying this should change.”
Conversation with Graham is direct and refreshingly erudite. She notes that if she had not dropped out of UCLA for acting, she would have likely pursued a career in psychology. “I think it would be fun to be a therapist,” she opines. “I like the idea of empowering people and feeling like you’re healing another person. That’s my goal with this movie. A lot of people [right now] are making movies that are dark and disturbing; I want to make movies that are ultimately healing.”
The first-time director stops her train of thought to offer creative input to the experienced photographer capturing her portrait. “Why not?” she says, adjusting the shoulder strap of her Black Halo jumpsuit. “As you get older you think, ‘What do I have to lose by throwing my ideas out there? I’ve learned to just be myself, make something and not be afraid.’”
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