Despite her protestations, the ''From Hell'' actress can't seem to escape her sex kitten image
Heather Graham
Credit: Heather Graham: Evan Agostini/Image Direct

Since her breakthrough turn as a roller skating porn star in ”Boogie Nights,” Heather Graham has earned a reputation as Hollywood’s go-to girl for sexpot roles. In addition to stints as a bed-hopping starlet (”Bowfinger”) and a bed-hopping secret agent (”Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” next year’s ”Goldmember”), she’s now playing an alley-hopping prostitute opposite Johnny Depp in ”From Hell.” ”I remember when I heard about the script for ‘From Hell,’ I thought, Oh god, a prostitute? No, no!” Graham, 31, says. ”But the character was really good, so I didn’t worry about it after that.”

Graham apparently isn’t that worried about typecasting, either. She returns to ”Boogie Nights” territory as yet another porn actress in Universal’s sex romp ”The Guru” (due next year). But playing up her more obvious assets yet again may not be the best way for Graham to grow beyond her popular, albeit limiting, hot-to-trot image, a move the actress has claimed in interviews to be eager to make. ”Because Hollywood keeps wanting her to play the pretty bimbo, I don’t think anyone’s going to offer her the lead in ‘Anna Karenina’ despite her talent,” says casting director Billy Hopkins (”Chocolat”), who fought to get Graham the lead role as a cast-aside wife in last year’s offbeat indie comedy ”Committed.” ”Those roles go straight to Natalie Portman or some other actress who’s considered more serious.”

Though Graham recently opened her own company, called Beech Tree Productions, in an attempt to find compelling parts, Hopkins suggests that her time might be better spent looking for a small, surprising role in an eye-catching prestige film. ”Even though she’s now a quote-unquote lead, sometimes it’s the character roles, not the leads, that are really more interesting,” he says. He points to the example of Tom Cruise, who invested years as producer and star on the underwhelming ”Eyes Wide Shut,” yet scored an Oscar nomination for his brash supporting gig in ”Magnolia” — playing against his nice-guy image.

When Graham’s next big flick, ”Killing Me Softly,” opens in January, she might again draw fire for playing the tramp card: She stars as a research scientist who has a sadomasochistic fling with a handsome stranger (Joseph Fiennes of ”Shakespeare in Love”). This time, though, the tone is decidedly highbrow: The director, Chen Kaige, made the erotically charged, Oscar-nominated Hong Kong drama ”Farewell My Concubine.” ”When I was doing it, I worried a little bit that it might be exploitative,” Graham says. ”But when I watched it, the tone didn’t seem exploitational.” Easy to say when you’ve already played Rollergirl.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
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