Anne Heche on Cedar Rapids, Religion, Midwestern Women and Turning Down Speed

heche_cedar_rapids225.jpgAnne Heche is happy. Or relatively happy. At least that's how she seems upon first meeting her -- a brimming, enthusiastic counterpoint to her well-documented less happy times that you know will come up at some point in your conversation. Indeed, talking about past choices and decisions, she refers to herself as an "unguided soul" and expresses hope that she's matured over the years. And while it's impossible, over the short time we had discussing the intricacies of her new comedy Cedar Rapids, to make any grand conclusions of maturity, there's definitely an energy level surrounding Heche that would be hard to simulate for a woman who wasn't totally at ease with who she is -- and who she was.

Cedar Rapids features Heche as Joan Ostrowski-Fox, a flirtatious insurance agent from Omaha who, at an annual insurance convention in the titular Iowa city, develops a strong liking for a naïve agent from Wisconsin named Tim Lippe (Ed Helms). Joan, a married woman with children, adheres to the attitude of "whatever happens in Cedar Rapids stays in Cedar Rapids." Movieline caught up with Heche to discuss her comic turn, how she emulated the Midwestern woman, the underlying religious tones of the film and why she chose not to step foot on a bus that couldn't travel under the speed of 50 miles per hour.

I was quite pleased this film was deeper than "crazy guy gets non-crazy guy to do crazy things." Was that ever a concern for you?

I knew how complicated and fun it was. It's obviously a fish out of water story; I think we all love that. We all have been people who feel awkward going into a situation with a whole bunch of people we don't know. I feel that way going to a dinner party where I don't know anybody. So we can all relate. I know [director] Miguel [Arteta] says that he came in from a foreign country to America, we all have our metaphor for what this movie is. I relate to that and love that. I'm from Ohio; now I live in Hollywood. But I thought it was a wonderful story about friendship. Unlikely people meeting each other and having an effect in each others' lives is a beautiful story to me.

Your character, Joan, is probably the most realistic in the film. Do you personally know anyone like her or that has been in a similar situation as her?

I grew up some in Ohio, but, what I found about the Midwestern women -- that I love, not to generalize too much -- but the women of the Midwest have a standard for themselves that is different than a woman who lives in the city. They're refined, they believe in manners, they're often religious in terms of believing in God. At least as God as a... [Pauses] center to help raise your children. A goodness. They live with a soul of goodness and faith. So there are many boundaries that come to those women. I think. The boundaries on how they walk, how they talk, how they engage socially. What would be wild to one of those women is very different than what would be wild to someone who lives in the city. So, to create Joan, I really wanted to honor that. Not create a really wild character -- which is how Joan is written: Wild child who goes and parties! A Midwestern woman who steps outside of herself once in a while in order to survive her life is going to step not very far from where she believes her center needs to be.

Is Tim Lippe's freedom an attractive quality?


At the sushi restaurant, Joan brings up the subject of dreams and laments that her current reality -- married with kids -- inhibits her dream. Tim doesn't have any life barriers.

I think she thinks it's odd.

In what way?

She's embraced the fact that she's an adult. Part of her ability to be and do what she does is that she embraces who she is. In terms of being a strong person in the world, she has come to accept who she is. And part of that is being able to say, "I don't waiver." I don't think that she's interested in being divorced, and I don't think that she's interested in leaving her children: "I might have done it in a different way, but that's not a choice that I have." But I think she looks at him and actually wonders what [have] been the obstacles to make him become a person who is of his age and not able to deal with reality. And I think it's somewhat fascinating to her, but, also, kind of immature. Shockingly unrealized.

heche_cedar_rapids225.jpgIs Joan running from something. Who is Joan?

I really wanted Joan to be a person who arrives at this hotel and puts some red dye from the grocery store on her hair, looks in the mirror and says, "OK, it's our time now!" But, you know what? She's no different than the woman who makes the phone call in the morning to her kids and to her husband to get them to the game. She's the same.

Religion is an underlying theme of this movie.


And religion was a big part of your childhood... and I know it's a lot more complicated than that [Heche's father was a Baptist minister, who, Heche claims, molested her as a child before revealing his homosexuality and succumbing to AIDS]. Do you think that Joan adheres to certain rules and ignores others because of that?

I just think that there are boundaries. There are things that you just don't do. And whether that's God-related, that's it somewhat. There are some really wonderful things about religion and what it teaches, no matter what the religion is. And I think at the center of it all is... What I think religion teaches is kindness and love for other human beings. And I think Joan has that. She's got that. So she was great to build on because if you're centered in kindness and goodness, to me, you're in a group of wonderful human beings, which is what this movie is about.

Will religious people like this movie?

Oh, I think so. I think there's a complete honor and respect to faith. To respecting faith.

Steven Root and Kurtwood Smith's characters are kind of over the top in regards to faith.

There's always people who fall out. That's why we all have a Judas -- that's a story in the Bible, too. That's part of who we are. That's part of why you need those stories to help you understand the metaphors in life. Who are you? Do you fall from grace or do you stay in grace?

Do you choose roles differently than you did 15 years ago? Was there a time in your career that having Harrison Ford in the film was good enough to sign on?

Well, I'm older now, so that's part of it. And probably, maybe I have -- if I'm lucky -- some more wisdom around me and more insight to these characters rather than just, "Wow, I get to say this opposite Harrison Ford?! Right on!" And that is part of it when you are getting hired. You know what's so funny? I used to be so picky. And this is the God's honest truth: I used to be so picky about my movies. I used to think that I knew what was right and what was not right. I didn't listen to anybody; I had so many opinions that were so lame and so naïve in terms of understanding the world. I mean, I really was a girl off the bus from Ohio. And I had all of these different understandings that had nothing to do with anything other than my ridiculousness. And now, if you want to know the truth, I'm much more open. So much more open. So much more in a world of feeling so grateful and blessed that I actually get to do what I do. But it's funny how that all balances out. I probably do get more complicated roles because I'm older and a little more famous. Funny enough, I used to be pickier and probably made the wrong decisions because of it.

What's an example of a decision that you regret?

[Pauses] Well, here's an example. Just dumb opinions, like, "I can't go in on Speed." You know? What?! Who in a million years... How or why any opinion in my brain would get formed around certain ideas. "No, no, I can't do that... I couldn't possibly."

What didn't you like about Speed?

Who knows?! That's what I'm saying: It was completely ridiculous opinions that I only had because of whatever I was thinking that day. Just unguided. I was an unguided soul. I hopefully have matured and become more guided.

I want to get to the bottom of this... so, circa mid-1990s Anne Heche looks at Speed and decides, "No," but looks at Six Days Seven Nights and says, "Yes."

Well, Six Days Seven Nights is great, but, no, it wasn't even that wonderful of a choice. It was, "Speed? How could I? I'll go do a 50-seat play for 20 people a night for four months. That's art!" That's what I'm talking about, the ridiculousness of how I used to make decisions. [In a British accent] I can't do that movie. Oh, please. I was so silly.

I would have watched an Anne Heche Speed movie.

Thank you! Well, if they ever do a sequel, I'm in.

They did, it's called Speed 2: Cruise Control.

Oh. Well, if they do a third Speed, I'm available. Sandra? There's no way; she's Woman of the Year. I'm free, if someone wants to write it, I'll do it.

So you're in for Speed 3?

I'm in! Absolutely.

[A portion of this interview was excerpted previously on Movieline.]

[Top photo: Getty Images]