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Katherine Heigl's 'Grey' matter

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Katherine Heigl
John Shearer/WireImage

Katherine Heigl’s ‘Grey’ matter

Could there be a worse career move for an actress than telling the truth? The strange case of Katherine Heigl makes me wonder. Heigl, who won an Emmy last fall for Grey’s Anatomy, is not among this year’s nominees. And given the tempest in the infotainment teapot caused by her decision to exclude herself from contention, you’d think she had beaten up Dakota Fanning.

I first learned about Heigl’s choice when I saw the AOL News headline ”’Grey’s’ Beauty Has Ugly Mouth.” (Yes, I clicked on it. Why? Because I’m an idiot. Last week, I also clicked on the headline ”Thousands Prepare for End of World,” because I have a vacation coming up.) Anyway, ”Ugly Mouth” led me to the portal of celeb-news hell known as TMZ, which shouted ”Paging Dr. Ungreytful — Get Off Your Heigl Horse!”

Other than the fact that TMZ’s headline writer needs to enter Pun Rehab immediately, what are we to make of this? ”Watch and cringe,” warned the link to a video in which Heigl explained, laughing a little, ”I didn’t feel like I had any material that was worthy to submit…that I thought was any good,” and added that she didn’t want to take a slot from an actress whose work was more deserving (including, presumably, her own costars).

Obeying TMZ, I did indeed cringe — but not at Heigl. This ”interview” was conducted by some backward-walking cameraman and reporter who were just waiting until she committed a foolhardy gaffe: She exited a building — breaching the celebrity airlock! — and walked to her car. Perhaps it’s my New York upbringing, but I’ve always believed that when a stranger in your path starts interrogating you about your life choices, the proper response is something between ”Get the $&%# out of my way” and ”No, I really don’t want a Dianetics pamphlet.”

NEXT PAGE: ”Really, if she’d said, ‘Actually, I do think my material should get me an Emmy nomination,’ would that sound better?

Nonetheless, most of the ensuing coverage added up to ”Wow — what a bitch!” And thanks to the Web, it spread far and fast. That’s life in the era of new media. But what struck me about this incident is how much ”new” media resembles very, very old media — specifically, how much Internet hysteria over ”ugly” faux controversies evokes Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the venomous crones who ruled Hollywood gossip 50 years ago.

Hopper and Parsons were the true forerunners of Web-on-celeb attacks. They were both salacious and prissy, hungry for every lurid detail they could uncover and icily judgmental once they found something. Little has changed, except the coarseness with which celebrities can now be discussed — and the rules actresses must obey. Among them: Have a ”positive body image,” but also a killer body. Stay within the two-pound weight range that will not reveal you as either anorexic or a pig. Age gracefully, but never get older. Don’t have wrinkles, but don’t use Botox. Be modest, but when you win an award, weep as if a gold statuette is a personalized gift from heaven. If you get pregnant, be prepared to let a dozen news outlets act as your ob-gyn. Express concern about your carbon footprint, but don’t be ”political.” Talk about how living a normal life is important to you, but smile while every aspect of it is scrutinized. Criticize no one. Never speak off the cuff. Smile for the cameras. Don’t cross those women on The View. And above all, maintain a stance of deep gratitude for everything while expressing opinions about nothing.

My God, do we really want our stars to be that boring? Are we that boring? There’s been speculation that Heigl is trying to get out of her contract after the success of 27 Dresses. Being honest — what a shockingly inappropriate tactic! As for rumors that the show now plans to kill her off as payback, wouldn’t more bad writing just prove her point? I like Heigl because there seems to be a person in there, one who occasionally says things that people can’t stand. (And really, if she’d said, ”Actually, I do think my material should get me an Emmy nomination,” would that sound better?) I like the fact that she busted Isaiah Washington for homophobia when everyone behind the scenes at Grey’s Anatomy was busy staring into space. I like the fact that she gently tweaked Judd Apatow for the slight gender imbalance in Knocked Up. I like the fact that her first thought after winning an Emmy wasn’t ”How can I get another one?” And I like the fact that her mouth — which is not even slightly ugly — is connected to her brain.

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