Anne Heche was being upstaged by a raccoon, and the animal wasn't even in the room.
Heche was talking to a gathering of TV critics about her new series, "Men in Trees," but the critics seemed more interested in gleaning information about Elvis, a raccoon regular on the ABC series airing Fridays at 10 p.m. ET.
As Elvis' talent was discussed, Heche played along.
"Best actor I ever worked with," she quipped. Yet she also revealed Elvis didn't do all his own stunts. He needed a double — a dog called Boomer in a raccoon suit — for a sequence when he had to run really fast.
But eventually interest shifted to the other star of this ensemble dramedy: Anne Heche.
She plays Marin Frist, a relationship guru suddenly jilted while on a book tour who then decides she can better cope with life in Elmo, a small Alaskan town, than back in New York City.
Or can she?
In a follow-up interview, Heche had a lot to say about Frist's attitude toward life and relationships, and she had a few more quips, too.
Asked what self-help books she'd read lately, Heche immediately responded, "`Call Me Crazy.’"
That's the title of her revealing 2001 autobiography, authored after a low point in her life that included bizarre, widely publicized behavior seemingly tied to her break-up with Ellen DeGeneres.
The 37-year-old Heche — glossily sleek, golden-haired, sexily dressed, an astute combination of the self-involved and the self-aware — is on another track now.
"There's no weight change. I have stayed in shape for sure," she remarked, noting that maybe it's just changes in "mind, body, spirit" that make her appear a bit more substantial.
"I used to be a little skinny thing, maybe not enjoying the fruits of the planet as much as I could. I tend to do that more now," she said.
Married to a motion picture cameraman and the mother of a 4-year-old son, she talked about "balance" in her life and work, and how the choice of playing Frist fits in with her philosophy.
"It's incredible that I've found this show and this show found me," she said. "It's really all that I've ever talked about for a long time — why we get so upset with people about the way, or who, they choose to love, and the expectation of the fantasy, and how it gets blown out of proportion when it doesn't work. So I'm hoping that this adds a little lightness to that whole notion."
‘Everyone deserves love’Series creator and executive producer Jenny Bicks, previously a writer and executive producer for HBO's "Sex and the City," said she views Marin's journey as trying to figure out, "`How can I make myself better, whether or not I ever find anybody?' It's not really a show about finding somebody. It's about finding yourself."
Heche described Frist as "a very enthusiastic person," who "when she gets on a roll, I think, tends to spread the word about it, and I, for better or worse, I'm probably that type of personality as well. But I feel that Marin at heart is like I am at heart. She believes that everyone deserves love."
Listening, or not, to what the relocated Frist is trying to work out for herself and others are a disparate clutch of Elmo folk. They include Buzz (John Amos), pilot of the isolated community's lone plane; Jack (James Tupper), who knows how to handle wildlife, including raccoons; Sara (Suleka Mathew), the resident prostitute; Ben (Abraham Benrubi), the bar owner, and Patrick (Derek Richardson), who runs the inn and radio station.
If that all sounds a bit familiar, yes, some critics have compared the dramedy to the offbeat "Northern Exposure." Though also set in Alaska, "Men in Trees," the title a reference to the local road signs warning of forestry work, is shot in Vancouver and Squamish, British Columbia.
Heche brings an impressive background to the Elmo ensemble, including a Tony nomination in 2004 for the musical "Twentieth Century," an Emmy nomination for playing a drug addicted mother in the 2004 Lifetime movie "Gracie's Choice" and the National Board of Review's supporting actress award for the 1997 political satire "Wag the Dog."
Heche said she avoids seeing scripts for upcoming episodes.
"One is it's just more fun to not know," she says. "But I also don't want to rob anybody else of the experience or the audience of the experience by having more information than Marin has. So it keeps me in the most open and the purest place for me to work."