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Take Three: Anne Heche

Craig here with this week's edition of the character actor column "Take Three". Today: Anne Heche


Take One: Birth (2004)
Whilst watching Birth I’m sure you, like me, were thinking: just what the heck is Anne Heche doing in Central Park? Near the start of Jonathan Glazer’s reincarnation baffler Heche acts in mysterious ways. She suspiciously sneaks out of a hotel lobby and onto the snowy streets of Manhattan. She’s rustling around in the bushes, digging a hole. Is she burying the gift intended for Anna (Nicole Kidman)? Is it even a gift? It looks like some sort of proof, evidence. Her character, Clara, holds the film’s secrets from the get-go. In accordance with the way Glazer structures the script in these early scenes, fragmented by Sam Sneade and Claus Wehlisch’s editing, Clara becomes an enigma we know we'll worryingly come back to later.

Heche’s scenes with Sean (Cameron Bright) after the friction of the plot has been replaced by psychic damage throw a puzzling curveball (the buried package!) to the remainder of the film. These moments provide us with Heche’s best, and most tense, work to date. Insidious, slightly witchy and perverse, Heche reveals a reverse deus ex machina that shows Clara to be the queasily spiteful and questionable presence of the story. Her face, shot in extreme close-up, displays a deliciously evil sheen as she devastates the young boy. On evidence here, I’m baffled as to why filmmakers aren’t snapping Heche up to play the kinds of complicated icy queens usually reserved for Tilda Swinton. Birth features an all-round stellar ensemble but if you haven't seen it recently watch it again to see Heche wrench entire scenes away from the lot of them.

Two more Heche triumphs after the jump including Psycho (1998). Yes, that Psycho...

Take Two: Cedar Rapids (2010)
Heche is the sole female player in Cedar Rapids who engages in daft corporate shenanigans with three other insurance sales fools (John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Ed Helms). Copious beers and shots, a flirtatious nature and a wily way with words might be the best way to sum up Heche’s Joan “O-Fox” Ostrowski-Fox. The sales quartet plays by their own rules during a convention to win the ‘Two Diamonds’ insurance award in the titular Iowan city.

Joan indulges in (drunk) skinny-dipping in a hotel pool, a (drunk) midnight ride on a food trolley, a (sober, I think) corporate scavenger hunt, a (drunk, then quickly sober) trip to a hardcore house party and then (drunken) extra-marital sex with Helms’ Tim Lippe. She plays fast and loose, letting her hair down in Cedar Rapids – and only in Cedar Rapids. Joan’s not a responsible gal and it's a rare pleasure to see a successful businesswoman played for gleeful laughs (with a handful of moving moments dotted throughout) on the big screen. Heche makes the comedy and pathos of her character work by being a cheeky bad girl, but an essentially good-natured one. Her Joan is like a fun, naughtier version of Vera Farmiga’s Alex in Up in the Air or  Stockard Channing’s The Business of Strangers character with a whoopee cushion, or a less foul-mouthed and mussed up Wendy Kroy from The Last Seduction. That's fine company to keep for Heche's  ever-so-slightly immoral insurance vamp. But Heche gives Joan a sweet hue, too. I’d like to see more unconventional O-Fox capers.

Take Three: Psycho (1998)
This ain’t the time or place to get into remake-woe fisticuffs – though Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is surely the test case for yay-or-nay cinematic revisits. Let’s ignore the quibbles and look at the acting. Vince Vaughan’s clammy-giggly Norman, Julianne Moore’s feisty Lila and Viggo Mortensen’s suave Sam all re-enact with aplomb. Heche gives us a perkier, glammed-up Marion Crane, the new-old film's most intriguing character. She adds a great level of sprightly conviction to the role before succumbing to her horrible murder.

Lit by Christopher Doyle and dressed by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor, Heche is Marion 2.0: Jean Seberg hair, tangerine underwear, fingernails hot with colour. For the first forty-five minutes – Heche’s total screen time before her (shower) curtain call – she out-classes everyone in the film. New Marion is the key role, our route to Norman Bates and cabin No.1. and Heche is a tour guide with consummate skill. Her co-stars in the early scenes (James LeGros, Rita Wilson, James Remar, Chad Everett) seem under-rehearsed in comparison. Not that Heche is good by elimination, but she’s the only one who really both catches that Psycho 60s vibe, and gives it an added twist. She’s a skittish, more playful presence than Janet Leigh even as she mimics many of her mannerisms and she adds a smirk of girlish excitement and new kinks of her own. The clipped ‘60s lilt to her voice may be one anachronism too far for some moviegoers (you can hear the research in her voice when she says, “Sometimes only one time can be enough” in Norman’s parlour), but she's completely in tune with Van Sant’s experiment. Her contribution is an often clever and enchanting comment on Marion’s infamous psychotic episode.

Editor's Note: Three more key films for the taking... Donnie Brasco and Walking and Talking are my two favorite Heche performances (other than Birth and Psycho, which were already covered by Craig here). Heche was also a terrific addition to Rampart's thorny bustling female ensemble. Like Craig, I'm completely mystified that more auteurs aren't tripping over each other to work with her.]


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Reader Comments (15)

She totally swiped the juror away from demi moore.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermark

I've been a big fan of Heche since first discovering her (along with most of America) in "Six Days, Seven Nights" - while she's not really known for broad comedy, she absolutely carries half of that film alongside superstar Harrison Ford. I've heard a story (how true it is I don't know) that producers wanted to replace her after she publicly acknowledged her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, but Ford wouldn't hear of it; her work was too good (and the obvious; she didn't do anything WRONG).

I was also really impressed with her turn in "Wag the Dog" - again, a lesser young actress would have been swept to the sidelines by co-stars like Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro, and she totally owns every moment she's on screen - so confident and sure.

Additionally, I also saw her on Broadway in "Proof," and I can't imagine that anyone could play that role with more humor, depth, or subtlety. Simply amazing. I'm hoping she's seen a lot more in years to come. She might very well be as nuts as people say, but the work is so, so solid.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRed Seven

Hear, hear! What a sens-Heche-onal, unique screen presence she is.

I've loved Anne Heche since Another World (don't *or* her as she soaped it up with the very best of 'em) and second Red Seven's motion that she deserves credit for Six Days, Seven Nights. Seriously, say what you will about that (piss-poor, cliché-ridden) screenplay, Heche *sold* whatever clunky dialogue or scene partner she played opposite and managed to deliver impressive comedic timing as well as amazing chemistry with Harrison Ford—and how many actresses can you say THAT about?

P.S. I'd add the tele-film, Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long, her stint on Ally McBeal, and her turn on the Broadway stage in Twentieth Century as further proof of what she can do, from drama to screwball comedy.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Oh Celestia-I will always have eternal love for you.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Interesting picks, but my hands down favorite from her is in Wag the Dog. Hilarious. She's an underrated actress, and will hopefully be able to overcome her offscreen persona (I feel like her name doesn't get mentioned without "crazy" following shortly after) so we can see her in more films.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I second the love for her perf in Wag the Dog as well as Birth - the scene where she and sean are in the bathroom, she has him wipe her dirty hands, and he says "Don't tell Anna" is one of the best, creepiest moments in the film (in fact, I'm not sure the rest of the film really lives up to the promise of that moment - but I still love that movie.)

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Anne Heche is definitely one of the most underrated actors around. For fucks sake, have you seen I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER? Incredible, haunting, dexterous. Oh yeah and she completely gives the sort of Tilda Swinton-esque performance in BIRTH. Completely nailing the style of the film and providing endless waves of visceral feeling in this sketchbag character.

- Sean C.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSean Casey

Sean beat me to it. I also watn to mention "I Know What You Did Last Summer". For just couple minutes, she actually made the movie a whole lot more interesting and created a memorable character in spite of the overall move being a dreck. I think her personal life kinda overshadowed her talent. She has such a unique screen presence and beauty that it baffles me Hollywood going after more generic actresses rather than utilizing her unique screen presence.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

I'm on the "Wag The Dog" bandwagon too! Hilarious, great playing it straight in the midst of the craziness...

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I think she's especially great in Birth and good in everything else I've seen her in (Psycho, Wag the Dog, Walking and Talking) as well... But I can't help it - the first thing that comes to my mind when thinking about her is the fake news crawl item from 30 Rock - "Anne Heche leaves husband for pony" - and Liz Lemon being worried that a guy thinks she's "nut log, Anne Heche-crazy."

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJan

She's really terrific in a little-known film called The Third Miracle with Ed Harris, directed by Agnieszka Holland. It's about the (quasi-romantic) relationship between Heche and Harris's characters against the backdrop of the beatification process as Heche's dead mother is nominated for sainthood. I love this movie; it's a pity more people aren't aware of it.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I've seen The Third Miracle, and I liked Heche in it, too, even though I was only so-so on the movie. I love Anne Heche so much that sometimes when a movie or a performance is boring, I just recast it with Heche and think about that movie. It's always better. I like her memoir, too.

April 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Thaqt period in the late '90s/early '00s was glorious. I haven't seen "Cedar Rapids", so I'd replace it with "Wag the Dog" probably, but she's been routinely so good and so under-loved. I may be one of "Psycho"'s biggest fans, but I think she's actually quite astounding in it. She's just one of many, many brilliant things about the masterpiece that is "Birth".

April 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I loved Anne Heche in ALLY MCBEAL, playing a very crazy character -- she pulled it off with such ease!

April 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKid In The Front Row

I was extremely disappointed that this article focuses on perhaps her 3 LEAST notable credits!

Birth & Cedar Rapids are 2 independent films in which she had supporting roles. Psycho was a ghastly remake in which she was too young for the part, every single actor in that film was miscast and it was visually disgusting.

She has only had lead roles in 2 feature films in her entire career: "Six Days Seven Nights" and "Return to Paradise" (which is, BY FAR, the best role she has ever had--Amazing chemistry with Vince Vaughn in my opinion).

Other notable supporting roles are "If These Walls Could Talk," I Know What You Did Last Summer," and "Spread" (she never looked better than in this movie).

April 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEll
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