In Focus

Heather Graham: Fun Is Her Middle Name

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 9, 2007

Heather Graham just wants to have fun.

Over coffee in the lounge of a hotel just off Dupont Circle -- where the actress known for bubble-headed roles in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" and "Boogie Nights" had alighted to promote "Gray Matters" (see review on Page 33), a romantic comedy about a woman who realizes she's gay after falling for her brother's fiancee -- it soon becomes clear what the guiding principle in her life is.

No, not Transcendental Meditation, which Graham has practiced ever since filmmaker buddy and meditation advocate David Lynch turned her on to it during the actress's 1991 stint as an ex-nun with a troubled past on Lynch's TV series "Twin Peaks." Her twice-a-day regimen is not just profoundly relaxing, she says, or even a way to tap into what Lynch has described as an ocean of bliss, but, more important, "fun."

Reading reviews of her work . . . eh, not so much.

Asked about the mixed notices given her sitcom "Emily's Reasons Why Not" (canceled a little more than a year ago after a single, ignominious airing), Graham says she doesn't pay attention to stuff like that. "I don't want to read what random people think about me," she says. "It just doesn't sound fun."

Her dream sitcom to watch? "Sex and the City," the defunct HBO series some have called the model for "Emily's Reasons." Sure, it was a groundbreaking and taboo-busting show for its time, but it was also you-know-what. "There was nothing represented in the media or culture," Graham says, "where there was a woman's story in the way that I could relate, and still be fun" -- there's that word again -- "for me to see these women talking about."

As for how she picks her roles, "I just kind of go with what's fun," she says.

Like, for instance, a script she has been developing for herself about the notorious Triangle shirtwaist factory fire of 1911, a long-standing project she hopes to get into production by 2008. "I'm sooo obsessed with that story," says Graham, who has recently become interested in producing vehicles in which she can star. "I've been working on that script for years. It's just really fun."

Hold on a second. A movie about an industrial disaster in which 146 New York City garment workers perished is fun?

"I think that there's something beautiful about a story about tragedy," Graham explains. "Because it's about a fire that was a huge tragedy and a lot of women died, but also how it was the birth of this beautiful thing that happened, which is that all these laws were passed that protected all the workers, that sort of outlawed sweatshops and [created] safety laws."

Okay, so maybe we misjudged her hidden depths.

Graham insists that she has, like everyone else, a "dark side." That, like the late-blooming lesbian she plays in "Gray Matters," her life has not been without a struggle to accept who she is. "I think I identified with it in a weird way," she says. "The idea that it was a story about a person learning how to trust themselves and learning to enjoy and celebrate who you are."

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