Who Is Katherine Heigl?
Born in Washington, D.C., on November 24, 1978, Katherine Heigl is an Emmy Award-winning actress whose breakout role was as Dr. Isobel Stevens on the popular television show Grey’s Anatomy. She went on to land a lead role in the 2007 comedy Knocked Up. Not long after, Heigl earned negative publicity for making a series of controversial statements, including those criticizing the writers and producers of Grey’s Anatomy and Knocked Up. Despite the negative attention, Heigl went on to land parts in many other films, including 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth, Killers and Life as We Know It, and starred in the TV thriller State of Affairs and the legal drama Doubt. She is married to singer-songwriter Josh Kelley.
Early Life and Modeling Work
Katherine Marie Heigl was born in Washington, D.C., on November 24, 1978, to Paul and Nancy Heigl. The youngest of four children, Heigl and her family settled in New Canaan, Connecticut, when she was 5 years old. “I had a wonderful childhood,” Heigl once recalled. “Things were very simple. Everyone else went to beer parties; we played sardines and charades and Scrabble and went to Baskin-Robbins. It was innocent, and it was lovely—because life gets complicated soon enough. Life gets hard soon enough.”
Indeed, life did get hard for the actress. When Heigl was just 7 years old, her older brother, Jason, was killed in a car accident. Shortly afterward, her family converted to Mormonism. “It’s hard work to grow and change and be honest with yourself about your mistakes, and I think the Mormons handle that beautifully. The faith I grew up with has influenced every decision I’ve made in my life—well, except for the bad ones!”
Heigl’s life took another turn when she was 9, after an aunt sent pictures of her to modeling agencies. After signing with the internationally renowned agency Wilhelmina Models, Heigl began modeling, starring in commercials, and auditioning for television and film screen roles. She appeared in her first feature film, That Night, at age 11, and took her first lead role at age 14 in 1994’s My Father the Hero. While still attending her local public school, she accepted a wide variety of acting and modeling jobs. She appeared on the cover of Seventeen magazine in 1994.
Big Break in ‘Roswell’
Katherine Heigl’s big break came in 1999, when she was cast in a starring role on the teen science-fiction show Roswell, which ran for three seasons. The part gave Heigl wider exposure in Hollywood, and she filmed a variety of smaller projects during the show’s hiatuses. After Roswell was canceled in 2002, Heigl appeared in several made-for-TV movies, including a prequel to Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and two Lifetime movies based on the Janet Oke novels Love’s Enduring Promise and Love Comes Softly.
‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Knocked Up’
Between roles in independent and low-budget films—including Zyzzyx Road, which was released in 2006 to poor reviews, becoming infamously known as the lowest-grossing film in history—Heigl filmed a pilot for a TV show about medical interns at a Seattle Hospital. The show, which was soon titled Grey’s Anatomy, premiered in March 2005 and immediately became a smash hit, elevating Heigl, who played Dr. Isobel “Izzie” Stevens, and her co-stars’ profiles in Hollywood.
Heigl used the increased media attention to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation, an issue that became important to Heigl when her brother Jason’s organs were donated following his fatal accident. The actress began speaking on behalf of donor organizations, and received the Dr. James S. Wolf Courage Award in 2005.
In 2006 and 2007, Heigl was nominated for a Golden Globe, and then won an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role on Grey’s Anatomy. She also starred in the 2007 smash comedy hit Knocked Up alongside Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann.
Around this same time, Heigl worked with her mother to start her own production company, Abishag Productions. She named the company after the female figure (Abishag) in the Robert Frost poem “Provide, Provide,” which includes the excerpt: “The picture pride of Hollywood/Too many fall from great and good/For you to doubt the likelihood.” On naming the company, the actress once explained, “I just thought it would help to keep perspective.”
Heigl kept that perspective in mind soon after, when she received negative publicity for a series of controversial statements. First, Heigl publicly sided with friend T.R. Knight amid his public dispute with fellow Grey’s Anatomy cast member Isaiah Washington, establishing a reputation as a candid person who was not afraid to speak her mind.
Heigl received more negative attention in late 2007, this time for statements that she made during an interview with Vanity Fair magazine. During the interview, she called the Grey’s Anatomy storyline a “ratings ploy,” and professed her strong opposition to the portrayals of women in Knocked Up: “[The film is] a little sexist,” she told Vanity Fair. “It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.”
Soon after the interview was published, Heigl was vilified by the press, called ungrateful, pretentious and the like by many critics. This criticism continued after Heigl withdrew herself from Emmy consideration in June 2008, explaining, ”I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination.” Heigl left Grey’s Anatomy in January 2010, terminating her contract early.
’27 Dresses’ and Other Film Roles
After leaving Grey’s Anatomy, Heigl starred in four romantic comedies: 27 Dresses (2008), The Ugly Truth (2009), Killers (2010) and Life as We Know It (2010). However, the actress was well aware of how fickle fame could be; as her mother once noted, “This is a young woman’s career, and the reality is that by 40 or 45, it will be a different career.”
Heigl acquired the film rights to Janet Evanovitch’s popular Stephanie Plum novels, and starred in the first installment of the series, One for the Money, in 2012. The actress continued to perform in films, including the ensemble comedy The Big Wedding (2013) and the animated The Nut Job (2014).
Return to TV
Heigl returned to prime-time TV in 2014 as a CIA agent in State of Affairs, though the show was canceled before the end of its first season. Her follow-up effort, as attorney Sadie Ellis in the CBS legal drama Doubt, also failed to gain traction after debuting in February 2017.
In July 2018, the actress took another shot at a legal drama with her debut on USA Network’s Suits. With longtime cast members Meghan Markle and Patrick J. Adams no longer around, Hiegl was hopeful that her “badass” character of Samantha Wheeler would find her place in the fold.
Marriage and Motherhood
In the summer of 2005, Heigl starred in a music video for singer-songwriter Josh Kelley. She and Kelley began dating soon after, and following their engagement in June 2006, the lovebirds were married in December 2007 in Park City, Utah.
In 2009, Heigl and her husband adopted a special-needs baby from Korea named Nancy Leigh, who they nicknamed Naleigh. In 2012, they adopted a second daughter, Adalaide Marie Hope. On December 20, 2016, Heigl gave birth to their son Joshua Jr.