The Untold Truth Of Katherine Heigl

Few actors in Hollywood have experienced a career characterized by equal parts success and controversy more than Katherine Heigl has. On the one hand, she's the winner of an Emmy, a Screen Actors Guild award and two People's Choice awards while her movies have raked in more than $900 million at the worldwide box office; on the other, she's been pilloried in the media over candid comments that, warranted or not, affected her reputation

Media depictions only tell a small part of a far larger story. Heigl, who began acting as a child and segued into adult roles, was once named one of Hollywood's highest paid female actors (per Forbes) — only to become a virtual showbiz pariah who seriously considered packing it in and saying farewell to acting. Yet Heigl has managed to pull off that trickiest of Hollywood maneuvers by engineering a comeback, enjoying renewed success thanks to her starring role in Netflix hit "Firefly Lane."

Given all those contradictions, it shouldn't be surprising that Katherine Heigl's journey is considerably more nuanced and complex than what people may think they know about her. Read on to discover a deeper understanding through the untold truth of Katherine Heigl.

Her strange connection to Tabasco sauce

After bit parts in such films as "Bride of Chucky," and "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory," Katherine Heigl landed one of her biggest TV roles to date, becoming a series regular on The WB's sci-fi drama "Roswell." When the show was on the verge of cancellation after its second season, hardcore "Roswell" fans launched a grassroots effort to save the show by sending bottles of Tabasco sauce to television execs and the series' stars (a nod to how the series' extraterrestrials drank the spicy condiment for both energy and enjoyment).

Heigl addressed her special connection to Tabasco during a 2000 appearance on "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn." "The fans were awesome because they actually sent in thousands of bottles of Tabasco sauce to The WB, which you might not understand because Tabasco sauce was, is something that the aliens put on our food..." According to Heigl, all those bottles of Tabasco helped sway executives. That was borne out when, as Variety reported, "Roswell" was picked up for a third season — by another network, with UPN ordering a full 22 episodes. 

In an interview with W magazine, Heigl said of her "Roswell" years with all those aliens, "It was a fun and unique experience, for sure." However, in a different interview with Kilborn, she hinted that she may not have been as enthralled with the series as its fans. When Kilborn said, "People like the show," Heigl quipped, "Yeah — surprisingly. It does well."

That time Katherine Heigl removed herself from Emmy consideration

A few years after "Roswell" finally was cancelled, Katherine Heigl landed the role that would make her career: model-turned-surgeon Izzie Stevens on "Grey's Anatomy." Not only did "Grey's" make Heigl one of television's most popular actors; the role also earned her an Emmy award in 2007.

The following year, Heigl made an unheard-of move by issuing a statement asking to be withdrawn from Emmy consideration. "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 explained, in part (via The New York Times). Anonymous sources told the outlet that Heigl's statement was viewed as "a slap" in the face to the show's writers, and was seen as a ploy to exit her "Grey's" contract early.

In a 2010 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Heigl admitted that she could have handled the whole situation with more grace than she did. "I ambushed [the writers], and it wasn't very nice or fair," she said. In another interview with EW, years later, she recalled, "I was really embarrassed," admitting she hadn't realized her decision not to submit herself would blow up in the media. "I shouldn't have said anything publicly, but at the time I didn't think anybody would notice," she stated.

The real reason she left Grey's Anatomy

By 2009, it had become clear that Katherine Heigl was eager to part ways with "Grey's Anatomy." During an appearance that year on "The Late Show," she complained to host David Letterman about a 17-hour workday, which she described as "cruel and mean." Comments like that, she later told the The Washington Post, didn't exactly endear her to the show's producers or network execs. "At the time, I was just quickly told to shut the f*** up," Heigl said.

When she finally did exit the show, she was quick to point out that her decision to leave was because she and her husband had started a family. She told Entertainment Weekly, "It changed everything for me. It changed my desire to work full-time." In fact, she explained, she'd been having conversations with "Grey's" creator Shonda Rhimes for some time about lightening her workload on the show. "And she was really respectful and supportive," said Heigl, remembering that she and Rhimes tried to make something work. "But at the end of the day, there wasn't a great way to compromise the work schedule that didn't negatively affect the crew or the cast. It wasn't feeling fair to them or the show to ask them to bend around my needs."

She also refuted reports that she'd refused to show up for work. ABC Studios confirmed Heigl's claims in a statement by saying her exit came about as a "mutual agreement" (via Entertainment Weekly). 

Her Grey's exit kiboshed the writers' well-laid plans

Katherine Heigl's departure from "Grey's Anatomy" may have been good for her family life, but it wasn't great for the show's writers. That was particularly true of the elaborate groundwork they'd been laying in place for their plans surrounding the romance between Izzie and fellow doctor Alex Karev — played by Justin Chambers — during the upcoming season. Speaking with Variety, "Grey's" showrunner Krista Vernoff admitted Heigl's departure threw the writers for a loop. "When word comes down that an actor is leaving the show, and what you've got scripted is a wedding..." she said. "Katie's departure changed the course of the Alex-Izzie love story quite abruptly."

Interestingly, when Chambers finally left the show in 2020, writers wrapped up both his storyline and Izzie's in one not-so-neat bow. As Variety noted, the plot features Alex leaving his wife Jo (Camilla Luddington). Alex pens a letter that drops a major bombshell: he's now living in Kansas with Izzie, having rekindled their romance after discovering she's the mother of his children. Izzie secretly gave birth to the embryos they'd frozen while she was being treated for cancer prior to Heigl's exit from the show.

When asked about Alex leaving Jo for the character she hadn't played in more than a decade, Heigl was somewhat incredulous. "Wasn't he with someone?" she told ET, referring to Luddington's character. "Listen, isn't that an a**hole move?" 

Katherine Heigl starred in the lowest-grossing movie in Hollywood history

Not all of Katherine Heigl's films have been box-office blockbusters. One of these was "Zyzzyx Road," a 2007 movie that transcended mere flop to become the lowest-grossing film of all time. Heigl plays a woman who meets an accountant (Leo Grillo), who winds up killing her jealous boyfriend (Tom Sizemore), who turns out to be not quite as dead as had been assumed. As Entertainment Weekly reported, the film — which reportedly cost $1.2 million to make — earned a measly $30 at the box office. 

As for how a movie could earn just $30, that was because it played for one week only in one Dallas theater, with merely six tickets sold. According to Time, the film had yet to find a distributor; however, in order to qualify for the Screen Actors Guild rate paid to actors for films costing less than $2.5 million, the movie required a theatrical run of a week at minimum. As a result, a small cinema was rented out so the film could be shown and thus fulfill the SAG obligations.

Actor Leo Grillo told EW that Heigl was a dream to work with. "The thing about Katie is the girl's a sport," he recalled. "She ran around in a negligee in the desert, and she hated the desert." Asked via Twitter if she regretted doing "Zzyzzx Road," Heigl responded, "Nope! I got paid and needed to pay the rent!"

She slammed her movie as 'sexist' in a scorched-earth interview

Katherine Heigl made headlines for comments she made about "Grey's Anatomy," but those controversies paled in comparison to what erupted from her 2008 interview with Vanity Fair, promoting her comedy "Knocked Up." In the film, she plays a tightly wound TV journalist whose one night of drunken abandon with a weed-loving loser (Seth Rogen) results in the two becoming reluctant parents.

"It was a little sexist," she said of the flick. "It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys ... I'm playing such a b****; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you're portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie." 

Her remarks wound up creating a rift with Rogen ("I thought she hated us," the actor said during an appearance on "The Howard Stern Show"). When she likewise appeared on Stern's show, Heigl took responsibility for her remarks. "That was dumb," she admitted, but also insisted her words had been taken out of context. "They were incredibly good to me on this movie, so I did not mean to s*** on them at all," she said. Ultimately, the axe appeared to have been buried. "I have no bad feelings towards her at all, honestly," Rogen said during a 2016 appearance on "Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen." 

Katherine Heigl feels that she's misunderstood

Katherine Heigl felt she needed to do everything she could to shift the media's narrative about her. The Orange County Register asked Heigl in 2010 if she had concluded her "apology tour." She answered in the affirmative but was, of course, asked to elaborate. "I was told that I really offended people, and that people thought I was being ungrateful and that I was losing my fan base. The most upsetting part of that was that people thought I was ungrateful," the actor said (via the South Florida Sun Sentinel). She continued, "I needed to clarify my position, which was that I'm just a kid with an opinion; don't take me too seriously." The star claimed that her comments about working conditions on "Grey's Anatomy" were made in a humorous manner and said she was concerned more for hardworking crew members than for herself.

More than a decade later, Heigl found herself vindicated by an unlikely source: her one-time "Grey's Anatomy" co-star Ellen Pompeo. "She was a hundred percent right," Pompeo said of Heigl's complaints about the long days on set, during an episode of her podcast "Tell Me with Ellen Pompeo." "Had she said that today, she'd be a complete hero. But she [was] ahead of her time, made a statement about our crazy hours, and of course, let's slam a woman and call her ungrateful. When the truth is, she's a hundred percent honest and it's absolutely correct what she said."

Why her career suffered

The fallout from Heigl's Vanity Fair interview proved to be extreme, ingraining the idea that Heigl was "difficult" within public consciousness. As she admitted in a candid 2021 interview with the The Washington Post, her career took a severe hit. 

Looking back on those tough years, hindsight had given Heigl a certain degree of perspective. "I may have said a couple of things you didn't like, but then that escalated to 'she's ungrateful,' then that escalated to 'she's difficult,' and that escalated to 'she's unprofessional,'" Heigl said. "What is your definition of difficult? Somebody with an opinion that you don't like? Now, I'm 42, and that s*** pisses me off." 

Heigl admitted that the backlash she experienced took a toll on her mental health and her family. Coupled with therapy sessions, she turned to medication to get her through that rough patch. "You can do a lot of inner soul work," she quipped to The Washington Post, "but I'm a big fan of Zoloft." The actor later shared details of her life in Utah with Forbes, explaining that moving there has also improved her mental health and given her breathing room she didn't have in Los Angeles. "It's not my place anymore," she said about L.A. "I needed to step away from that in order to remember what I want my life to look like and what I want my days to be filled with and what I want my children's lives to look like and feel like for them," Heigl added.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

She founded a rescue dog foundation and launched a line of dog food

One aspect of Katherine Heigl's life that often gets overlooked is her philanthropy, which she's chosen to direct toward dogs. The bio page on Heigl's website noted that she and mom Nancy Heigl co-founded the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, named for her late brother. The foundation's goal is to combat animal cruelty and neglect while finding homes for tough-to-adopt dogs, and has so far funded 25,000 spaying/neutering procedures while saving 8,000 dogs who would have otherwise been euthanized. 

Seeing a need for better dietary options for canines, in 2022 she launched her own line of dog food. A partnership with the foundation, Badlands Ranch was named after her family ranch in Utah. "Badlands Ranch was created to deliver delicious products that nourish dogs inside and out for overall health while placing animal welfare as our top priority," said Heigl in a press release announcing the brand. 

Previously, Heigl and her mom launched a line of pet products called JustOne, with Modern Dog reporting that some of the proceeds from sales of collars, leashes and other dog-related items were earmarked for the foundation's efforts in support of animal welfare. The name of the company was significant, said Heigl, referencing the foundation's goal of finding homes for rescue dogs, one animal at a time. "If thousands of people each help us save just one pet, we can make great strides in eliminating the inhumane treatment of animals," she said.

Katherine Heigl made big money in the movies

While starring in "Grey's Anatomy," Katherine Heigl was also juggling an increasingly lucrative movie career. As the Toronto Star pointed out in its review of "27 Dresses," she was paid $6 million for the 2008 rom-com. Her standard salary remained $6 million for her next film, "The Ugly Truth," reported Entertainment Weekly. The success of those films — which boasted worldwide box-office receipts of over $162 million and $205 million, respectively — led to an even bigger payday for her next films. According to the NZ Herald, her salary was doubled for "Killers" (which raked in about $98 million) and "Life As We Know It" (with a box-office take of over $105 million), earning $12 million for each. 

According to unconfirmed reports from Celebrity Net Worth, then came her biggest paycheck, $15 million for "One for the Money" (which earned a paltry $38 million at the box office). Heigl managed to squirrel away many of those millions she earned during her movie-star heyday; her net worth is estimated at $30 million. 

In 2014, Heigl returned to television in the short-lived NBC drama "State of Affairs." Those massive salaries were well behind her when her indie film "Jenny's Wedding" sought investors on Indiegogo to raise $150,000 to complete the movie. Asked by TMZ whether she was willing to kick in some of her own cash to fund the film, she joked, "I haven't made that much in the last few years, man. I gotta support my family."

She met her husband while shooting his music video

A small acting role proved to be life-changing for Katherine Heigl when she played the love interest of singer-songwriter Josh Kelley in the video for his 2005 single "Only You." "The video is about these two people flirting through their apartment windows ... and we were flirting for real through those windows," Heigl told Cosmopolitan. Their on-set interactions definitely captured Kelley's attention. "At the end of the shoot, I said, 'You're gonna go eat dinner with us, and you can't say no.' So we ate, drank and just started hanging out after that," he told People in 2006, the year they got engaged. 

Kelley and Heigl were married in 2007, with the nuptials taking place at Utah's Deer Valley Resort, just before Christmas. "It was Narnia, a winter wonderland," Heigl gushed to Good Housekeeping. "It was magic." 

The couple went on to start a family, adopting two daughters before welcoming their first biological child, a son. Given that Heigl's sister is adopted, adoption has long been something she wanted to pursue when starting her own family. "Josh and I started talking about it before we were even engaged," Heigl told Scholastic Parents. She added, "We have talked about having biological children as well, but we decided to adopt first. I just wanted to be a mom."

Why she thinks Hollywood perks are 'crazy'

It's no secret that Hollywood stars receive extreme pampering, yet Katherine Heigl has never been one to indulge in that kind of extravagance when it comes to "perk packages" negotiated for actors. "Before I had children, my lawyer would be negotiating the perk package, and I remember saying to him, 'Are you crazy? I don't need a masseuse every week!' Who has time for that?" Heigl explained in an interview with TheWrap

At the time, Heigl was promoting her modestly budgeted independent film "Jackie & Ryan," conceding that the perks available from a studio film were vastly different from those available from an indie. "It's crazy what the studios are willing to give you. It's so indulgent — it's wonderful, but when you're doing an indie it's like, 'Is there a shack to house my two children and husband?'" she said.

Heigl maintains a similar attitude toward the free stuff celebrities routinely receive, admitting to Zap2It (via the Sun Journal) that she was surprised when boxes of freebies appeared at her door. "And you're like, "Why are they sending me this stuff? Are they gonna want it back?"' At first she felt there was no harm in wearing those items in public, and then it dawned on her. "I was turning myself into a commodity. I understand that I am, to a certain degree, but I don't have to overindulge that," she mused.

Katherine Heigl's understanding of racism

As a blonde, white woman of Germanic and Irish heritage, Katherine Heigl hasn't experienced the sting of racism in America. Her sister, who was adopted from Korea, has, which hit home for Heigl. "Because I was raised with adoption, looking beyond skin color was the norm for me, and I just believed that love is love — it doesn't matter what we look like," she told Parents. "But then when I asked my sister, Meg, if she had been treated one way when she was out in public with our parents and a different way when she was out by herself without them, she said, 'Oh yeah, all the time!'"

That came into focus even more when Heigl brought home two non-white daughters, Naleigh and Adalaide, who she adopted from South Korea and Louisiana, respectively. Heigl told People, "Josh and I felt like we had lived in a very light bubble our whole life. ... I even think when the girls came into our lives, I didn't assume everyone felt like I did, but I assumed the majority did — that the majority didn't see race and color."

However, she's since come to realize that for her daughters as they grow older, experiencing racism will sadly become inevitable. When that happens, she said, "I just want them to feel safe enough with us that they can tell us if they are hurt that way so that we, as a family, can come together and reduce that. Because I can't pretend that it might not ever happen."

She regrets making so many rom-coms

While Katherine Heigl will always be remembered from her "Grey's Anatomy" role, she's also known for big-screen romantic comedies, which experienced widely varying degrees of success. Recognizing that not all of her rom-coms hit the mark, Heigl blames herself for not being more selective with her choices. "I had an amazing time. I love romantic comedies. But maybe I hit it a little too hard. I couldn't say no," Heigl told Marie Claire UK. "I stopped challenging myself. It became a bit by rote and, as a creative person, that can wear you down."

She reiterated those sentiments to Access, admitting that while making those rom-coms was a blast, the films also began to dull her edges as an actor. "It's important that you're making creative choices that support your creativity and challenge you as artist, because otherwise your audience gets bored by you!" she said. 

That realization, Heigl revealed, was why she decided to take some time away from moviemaking. This was a period when she actually flirted with the notion of leaving Hollywood altogether. "I had a moment where, I don't know, I was thinking, 'Maybe open a knitting store, get my money out of retirement accounts and live off that..." she told Marie Claire (via The Guardian). "I had my moment where it all seemed so complicated and all I wanted to do was simplify." It seems that the "Wish Upon a Star" actor has found the best of both worlds, acting and living life with her loved ones close by.