'Blair Witch Project' star's career takes a hit
More than a decade after starring in the game-changing film, Heather Donahue was back in the woods...growing pot. The actress, 38, recalls her stint as a medical-marijuana farmer in a new memoir, ''Growgirl''
So we have a bone to pick with you. Back in the summer of 2009, on the 10th anniversary of The Blair Witch Project, you told us you had set up a farm in California with 27 chickens, red Russian kale, and heirloom tomatoes…
But that wasn’t the whole story, was it?
Well, you didn’t ask for the whole story. [Laughs] I was doing all of those things. By that time the chickens had been eaten by foxes, and the deer had devoured the organic veggie garden. So it was just me, the dog, and ”the Girls.”
My medical-marijuana plants. My most fruitful roommates!
How does someone go from Hollywood actress to pot farmer?
You decide you want to live a really interesting life, and when L.A. ceases to provide that, you figure out what comes next. I realized I wanted to write, and I knew I was going to need a space to do that and some way of supporting myself. I went to a silent meditation retreat, and a man sat next to me on the last day who told me he grew pot. I thought to myself, ”Ding!” It would give me time to write, it would give me a cute little house in the woods and a lot of space to figure out what comes next.
You could have gone to jail, right?
I still could. I’m writing about something that is federally illegal. What I was doing was completely legal [according to California state law], but then there’s the federal problem. The risk continues for me with Growgirl. I’ve had a few sleepless nights about it, for sure. But I thought it was important to put a human face on it. So much of the media coverage of the medical-marijuana business [uses] words like trafficking, whereas for me it’s very much a medicinal plant.
Growgirl makes pot growing seem spectacularly difficult.
You can easily grow smokable nuggets. But because there are so many people growing now, people in California won’t settle for anything less than perfection. And our idea of perfection has been very much driven by the dudes’ side of the market. They want their big nugs.
Why did you stop farming after a year?
Partly it was the paranoia. Partly it was that I didn’t want my parents to have to lie to their friends about what their daughter was doing.
One of the things we learn in Growgirl is that pot farmers often don’t turn a profit in the first year. Was that true for you?
Yes. [Laughs] But boy, did I leave with a wealth of experience.
You don’t always paint yourself, or your pot-growing friends, in the best light. How have your fellow farmers reacted to Growgirl?
They have issues with the book, for sure. I expected no less. But I think anybody that decides to write a memoir has to be prepared to make themselves the biggest a–hole in the book. [Laughs] I hope I succeeded in that.
What about your family? Your parents, and in particular your father, act as a sort of disapproving Greek chorus in the book. Growgirl must be his worst nightmare come true.
I have incredibly amazing, loving parents. They’re very happy to see my dream of writing a book come true. Would they have been happier with different subject matter? Yes. But they’re adjusting. My brother always says my mom would be proud of us if we were serial killers [as long as we] cleaned up really well at the crime scene. I think for my dad it’s a little bit more challenging. But it helped that I had early success in acting. It made them realize that I wasn’t just going to dream the dream, I was also prepared to put in the work.
Speaking of that acting success, you write in the book about your intention to fight for the words Blair Witch Project not to appear on the cover. That’s clearly a battle you lost.
It’s a battle I continually lose. I just went to my 20-year high school reunion and it was a pretty constant stream of Blair Witch questions. That is one of those parts of my identity that is stuck there. So I have to love it.
Except, as you make clear in the book, you don’t really love it. What is the main problem you have with that experience?
The central issue I have with Blair Witch is that, because [the character had] my real name, it became such an identity shaper for me. And it was an identity shaper I didn’t really choose and didn’t feel like it reflected on me in a way that felt accurate.
Actually, when I put your name into IMDb this morning, I accidentally ended up on your Blair Witch character’s page.
Right. It also says that I made $4 million, which is untrue. [Laughs] It’s all good. I’ve been able to do so many things because of Blair Witch. I got to live that Hollywood dream. Until it became undreamy. And then I had the good sense to move on.
You were cast in a number of projects after Blair Witch, including some for TV, such as Taken and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And then there was a 2008 horror film called The Morgue.
Yes. Which I don’t recommend. [Laughs] That experience was like a swan song. When I was lying on wet asphalt having just died a death by mock fellation, I realized that this was not the life that I wanted.
They had me siphoning gas, sucking on a tube, to get out of the dire situation. I choked on what I had sucked out of the tube and then died.
What’s next for you?
I have a plan for another book. The next one is fiction. And the one after that will be nonfiction, but I’m not going to talk about that yet.
So, no more pot farming?
I think it would be impossible for me to return to weed growing, although there were many times in the process of writing when I thought I’d made a mistake leaving it to write about it. To have that gift of a long string of wide-open days — I really miss that.