Anyone who's been watching movies over the past three decades should know who Heather Graham is.
She was Lorraine, Jon Favreau's new, life-affirming love interest, in the L.A.-/Las Vegas–based 1996 hit Swingers.
She was Roller Girl in Paul Thomas Anderson's critically acclaimed 1997 film, Boogie Nights, about the San Fernando Valley porn industry.
She was Felicity Shagwell in the 1999 comedy Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
And she was Jade, the Vegas stripper with a heart of gold — and a baby in semi-tow — in The Hangover (2009) and The Hangover Part III (2013).
Graham has long been considered a funny girl and a sex symbol in Hollywood. Now, she's got her own movie about sex, female friendship and empowerment opening Friday. Graham wrote, directed and stars in Half Magic, alongside Angela Kinsey (The Office) and Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine). The romantic comedy offers entertaining supporting performances and cameos by Johnny Knoxville, Rhea Perlman, Molly Shannon and Thomas Lennon.
In the larger entertainment and social world, Graham was one of the women who spoke out against former producer Harvey Weinstein in the wake of Rose McGowan's and Ashley Judd's explosive, silence-breaking accusations of sexual harassment and abuse last year in The New York Times. In a column that appeared in Variety, Graham, 48, recalled being propositioned by Weinstein in the early 2000s in exchange for a role in one of his movies. She refused the studio mogul's suggestion, as well as an invitation for a follow-up meeting in his hotel room. She never was hired for one of Weinstein's films.
Graham recently met with L.A. Weekly at SBE's Hyde Sunset to talk about her new film, as well as being a part of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and what's up next for the Hollywood Hills resident.
L.A. WEEKLY: What was it like to direct your first movie?
HEATHER GRAHAM: It was so fun. Fun from the creative point of view, fun from the practical point of view. There's a lot to think about, like casting, getting the money. Shooting it was really fun. It was natural to me, because I've been on sets my whole life.
Have you written anything before?
No, I haven't. I have the bug now. I really want to direct some more. Since [finishing Half Magic] I've written two things. I've got an option for a book, The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty. It's a great story.
Where did you get the title Half Magic?
My favorite book when I was a kid was called Half Magic. It's a book by Edward Eager — it's about these kids, they find this magical coin and they make wishes. And only half of their wish comes true. They have to wish twice for things to happen. Sometimes they forget they're holding it and then they get half of their wish.
I just thought how in life, sometimes magic — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
The movie's about real magic, not about Harry Potter magic. It's about when you wish for something, how it comes true, or sometimes you don't get what you wish for, because there's something better that you're supposed to get. Or sometimes you go through a hard time, and at the end of it you realize, there's something good that came out of that. Like this movie, actually. We went into production a year before we shot, and we were going to do it in New York, and then the whole movie fell apart, and the financing fell through. And I was so depressed, and it was really traumatic.
And then we got our financer, Bill Sheinberg. And we went the next year (shooting and producing) in Los Angeles. The timing actually is great, because now the movie's coming out when people care more about women's issues than ever before.
Where did you draw inspiration for this movie? Did you borrow from your own personal dating experiences and life experiences?
For sure. I borrowed from my bad dating choices and watching my friends make bad dating choices. I borrowed from being a woman in Hollywood and working on developing projects for about eight to 10 years and not getting any of them made.
So then I was so frustrated that I wrote this movie as a way to express my frustration about sexism in Hollywood, and I wanted to find humor in things that upset me.
I feel like I drew from different breakups that I went through. I dated this guy who did a lot of drugs, like in the movie. And I was so sad when we broke up. And just looking back now, I think, wow, there were so many red flags — that that wasn't really a good person to fall in love with and think, "Oh this is the love of my life." And so I wanted to make fun of myself and the bad choices I've made in the past, and also make fun of Hollywood and how sexist it can be.
In the movie, your boss is a prototypical sexist dude. He thinks he's hot shit, and he says and does all these things that are anti-women, actually quite misogynist. Do you feel like you've encountered that kind of character in the business?
Yes. For sure. Too many times.
Do you feel like you're a member of the #MeToo movement?
Yes, I do. It's great that this movie's coming out, and I feel like I get to talk about that stuff a lot, which is stuff I really care about, and I actually know a lot about, so I'm really grateful that the movie's coming out after the #MeToo movement.
I think women are finally speaking their truths, and people are listening. And I think it's exciting.
You had your own encounter with Harvey Weinstein. When other women were speaking out, did you feel empowered to share your experiences with him?
Yes, for sure, I was very empowered. As a woman, there's not a lot of examples of sexual harassment cases where it seems like the harassers were brought to justice. If you look back, there was Anita Hill, and nothing happened. She was kind of discredited, and [Clarence Thomas] got appointed anyway.
And if you think about Bill Cosby, all those women came forward and he still wasn't convicted. So it seems like this is the first time in history where a really satisfying result came out of some women coming forward with their sexual harassment stories.
So I think as a woman, we're just cheering this on, because we're like, finally, finally. Someone is listening to us.
Do you feel part of the #TimesUp movement?
I am totally behind it, and yeah, the #Times0x000AUp movement is amazing. And I consider my movie to be part of the Time's Up movement. It's about [making the entertainment industry] 50/50 by 2020, and I'm a female director. So I feel like, me putting my voice out there in the form of this movie is exactly what Time's Up is about.
And actually, I thought about Time's Up; I also like thinking what's next. What's next is us. Empowering ourselves as women to feel great about ourselves, and to ask for what we want, and to be happy. And I think my movie is very sex-positive. It's not anti-sex. We don't want to be harassed. We want to have great sex. We don't want assholes at work being abusive to us.
I heard that you fashioned the wishing group in the movie after something you've been doing in real life for a while?
I had this group of girlfriends, and we would get together and make wishes about our lives. We'd wish for money or love or hot sex or work. And a lot of them started coming true. Not all of them. But some of them started coming true.
And then Moby actually joined our group. He was the only guy. We became friends with Moby, and then he gave me music for the movie. Original music. Do you know how expensive that would be? He was so generous, letting us use his new original music. He's really a social activist and he's always making music, too.
Do you think women, particularly actresses, can reinvent themselves in Hollywood as writers, directors and producers as they get older?
Well, I mean, Greta Gerwig is doing it. Obviously she's super successful right now with her film [Lady Bird]. If you look at Penny Marshall, she did it. Being in Laverne & Shirley and directing Big.
There's not a lot of female directors. If you look at the statistics, I think it's like 7 percent female directors in feature films, which is so low.
So hopefully there will be more actresses turning into writer-directors. I love the show SMILF — Frankie Shaw is writing and directing that. Issa Rae and Lena Dunham. There's actresses of all ages doing it, which is cool.
Notoriously, Hollywood skews toward younger and younger actresses. Older women are edged out in front of the camera, with some notable exceptions. So are directing and writing and producing another window of opportunity?
Yes, I think it's definitely another window of opportunity. And I also think that, as a female writer-director, I can write roles for women of different ages and create more work for actresses. You know, because I want to watch actresses of different ages. That's one of the sexist things in the business — there's a lot of older men working, why aren't there older women working? I feel like as a writer and director that I have more power over that. I can just write great roles for women of different ages, and not just discriminate in that way.
Let's talk about your personal upbringing. I've heard and read that you're pretty clean, and you don't touch much, alcohol or drugs or anything.
No, I don't drink or do drugs. In the past, you know, I've experimented and tried things, but I don't really like drinking or doing drugs.
Any opinion about the legalization of cannabis in California?
I think they should [have] legalized it for sure. It's no different than drinking alcohol. I think it's ridiculous to not legalize it, and they should have legalized it a while ago.
But you don't touch it yourself.
I mean, in the past I have, but I don't now.
How long have you been clean of alcohol and substances?
Maybe, like, around 10 years. I had a health problem and I went to get acupuncture and she put me on this healthy diet — and it was like no drinking and blah blah blah. And then I just felt so good afterward, I just thought, I feel so good, I don't want to screw this up. It felt better to be healthy than to drink or smoke pot.
Did you have a conservative upbringing?
Yeah, it was conservative. Dad was in the FBI. We were living in Wisconsin. He's from Philly. Mom is from New Jersey. Then we moved out here when I was 9. We lived out in the San Fernando Valley, Agoura Hills and a bunch of other places. They're still alive, still together.
Heather, you are a bona fide sex symbol. Do you still feel that way?
I mean, it's weird, because when I grew up, I was kind of nerdy. When I was in high school, I was a nerdy kid. I was in smart classes, and I did not think of myself as beautiful.
So then when I got these jobs, I kinda felt like, "Oh, I fooled everyone into thinking that I'm beautiful," when inside I felt like I was this nerd that I felt when I was a teenager.
So I do know that people have thought of me as sexy, and I do feel sexy sometimes.
To think of yourself that way is too strange. I kind of feel like I fooled people into thinking that I was like a sex symbol but in reality I'm just like a normal person. (Laughs.)
Well, I don't know about other people, but I think that you give me and a lot of people confidence.
That's what I want to do with my movie, because I feel like at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what you look like. It's how you feel inside. So if you decide you're sexy, and you just turn yourself on about your own life, and decide that you look good, then you do look better, and you do look good — I think it's about an attitude. So if you feel sexy, you are sexy, basically.
And I think women can decide to feel that way. And that's what I want my movie to express, is that no matter what you look like, you can decide that you're hot and just feel good about yourself.
You had a couple of intimate scenes in the film. Were you at all self-conscious about them?
Yes, I was self-conscious. Doing those scenes always makes me self-conscious. I think it makes everyone self-conscious. But I'm telling a story about sex, so I gotta go there. I want it to be real.
OK, I'm a little embarrassed to ask this, but there are a couple of scenes with you alone in your bedroom. Were you really masturbating in that movie?
I mean, I guess I was. It's probably not the same as when you're home alone. But I definitely was. ... Whatever you saw, I was doing.
Did you do a lot of takes?
It was really awkward.The D.P. was filming me, and my best friend's watching, who I kind of view as my brother. So I'm like, "This is kind of embarrassing."
But in the first scene, I was going for comedy. It was much more for comedic value. And the second scene — she finds this happiness, she feels good about herself. I wanted them both to have a different vibe.
Are you in a relationship right now?
I wanted to ask you about a few roles you've performed in your career. Tell me something about playing Roller Girl.
I'm so grateful that I'm in that movie. And I love that part. It's one of the creative highlights of my life. It was really inspiring to get to work with all those other great actors and get to work with Paul [Thomas Anderson].
The Hangover 1 and 3.
I feel so lucky I've gotten to be in films that people watched and that people remember, and that had a cultural impact, and it's great to be in movies that people liked. It's wonderful.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
It was so fun. I'm lucky I got to work with these talented comedians. When I was younger, I just wanted to be a serious actress and do these really dark dramas. Then I got to work with all these comedians. And I discovered how much I love comedy, and admire these comedians, even more so than the dramatic actors sometimes. It's so important to have a sense of humor in your life in general.
What do you have planned next?
I did this TV show called Bliss that David Cross wrote and directed, and it just came out in the U.K., on Valentine's Day, and they might do more seasons of that. That was really fun.
I'm writing two other projects that I want to direct, and I optioned this book, so hopefully I'll get to work more as a writer-director. And I love acting, too, so of course I'm going to hopefully do more acting as well.
Are there any places in L.A. that you're fond of?
I'm kind of a homebody. I like hiking. Of course, I love going to the ocean sometimes. There's great yoga here. I love the Hollywood Reservoir. There's great restaurants.
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The traffic is terrible. That is the worst thing about the city. It's getting worse.
What are some of your favorite restaurants or places to eat?
Katsuya and Sugarfish. Japanese food is the best. I like Nobu, too. It's healthy, but it's delicious.
Half Magic opens Friday, Feb. 23, at the Los Feliz 3, 1822 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz.