By Mal Vincent
February 12, 1998
"People kept saying that I was going to lose my career. Not one person, with the exception of Ellen and her mother, said to me, `Don't worry about that. You're in love.' We have been taught to live a lie in order to stay out of trouble. Between a career and the love of my life, the choice is not a difficult one. I didn't even have to think twice."
This is Anne Heche talking about, (what else?), her now-famous love affair with TV actress Ellen DeGeneres. In New York for the premiere of her current hit Wag the Dog, Heche vowed that she wasn't pursuing the subject, but she also is not shy about it. "Ellen and I `came out' on the Oprah Winfrey show in front of 15 million people. I didn't want any rumors. I didn't want to hide. I'm in a much happier relationship, more fun, more meaningful, than ever in my life. Now we've made it public. Now leave us alone."
Heche, however, doesn't seem to be sacrificing her career at all. To the contrary, she's won critics' awards for her impeccable comic timing in playing Winifred Ames, the president's aide in Wag the Dog. She's a viable contender for an Oscar nomination. In July, the romantic comedy 6 Days/7 Nights will open, co-starring Harrison Ford. Currently she's filming Force Majeure with Vince Vaughan.
The upcoming films are both love stories.
"I've been straight for a lot more years than I've been gay," Heche said. "Why should they ask me if I can play a love scene with a man? I'm an actress. Maybe they should ask me if I could play a gay role? That might be more difficult. I never had a lesbian relationship before Ellen. The more I experience, the more I can act. A little love in my life means I can play love."
She admits that the producers of 6 Days/7 Nights hesitated when she made headlines the week before filming began, "but Harrison and the director, everyone, was behind me doing the part. If it meant risking everything, then so be it. All my life I've done what I thought was right. I'm not changing now."
Heche has a stormy family background. Born in Ohio, she moved 11 times before she was 12. Her father was a fundamentalist church organist who admitted to being gay after he was diagnosed with AIDS. She supported her mother, two sisters and a brother by acting in a dinner theater in Atlantic City. She planned to study design but instead landed the roles of twins Vicky and Marley on NBC's daytime drama ANOTHER WORLD.
She stole The Juror from Demi Moore and then starred with Johnny Depp and Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco. It was at the premiere of Volcano that she appeared with Ellen DeGeneres as her date.
Heche, 28, formerly dated Steve Martin and Neil Moritz, one of the producers of Volcano. "I was never attracted to a woman before Ellen," she said.
Of her role with Ford, she claims, "it's the first leading gay woman in a romantic comedy in the world -- ever."
She thinks it's ironic that Wag the Dog is about subterfuge. "I play a woman, more a girl, who believes everything the president says and does. She's this political person who is committed, totally, to getting the president re-elected -- the kind of commitment that is blind. I find it totally believable, even though it is a comedy."
Her co-stars are acting legends Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro. She was not intimidated.
"We shot the film in 29 days and I walked straight into it from another film. There was no time to think. We're all actors. We're all creating an image. I was comfortable with them."
Her mother and her sisters are not talking to her these days. Continued whispers claim that, in the long run, her booming career will be hurt by the Ellen liaison.
"Gay people should have the right, the potential, to be whatever they can be," she said. "With so much hate in the world, I'm not really interested in people who say love is wrong."