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Katherine Heigl opens up about being labeled 'difficult' in candid interview

In a candid new interview, the former “Grey’s Anatomy” star talks about her professional past and how it affected her personally.
2017 CMT Music Awards - Show
Katherine Heigl says being labeled a "difficult" and "ungrateful" actor impacted both her professional and personal life.Mike Coppola / Getty Images for CMT
/ Source: TODAY

Katherine Heigl hit a Hollywood heyday in the early 2000s with her small screen success on “Grey’s Anatomy” and big screen wins with films like “Knocked Up," "27 Dresses” and “The Ugly Truth.”

But just as her star power seemed to peak, the backlash began.

Heigl’s outspoken nature earned her a reputation as a "difficult" actor. Now, she’s reflecting on that problematic label and how it has impacted her life offscreen.

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“I may have said a couple of things you didn’t like, but then that escalated to ‘she’s ungrateful,’ then that escalated to ‘she’s difficult,’ and that escalated to ‘she’s unprofessional,’” Heigl explained in an interview with The Washington Post. “What is your definition of difficult? Somebody with an opinion that you don’t like? Now, I’m 42, and that s--- pisses me off.”

As for those things she said, in retrospect, they hardly seem as scandalous these days. The actor once posited that 2007's “Knocked Up” was “a little sexist” and claimed the Judd Apatow rom-com painted “women as shrews, as humorless and uptight” and men “as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.” She had complaints about her experience on “Grey’s Anatomy” too and one year, withdrew herself from an Emmy consideration, in part, because she felt the writing didn’t serve her character well.

“At the time, I was just quickly told to shut the f--- up,” she continued. “The more I said I was sorry, the more they wanted it. The more terrified and scared I was of doing something wrong, the more I came across like I had really done something horribly wrong.”

Her husband, singer-songwriter Josh Kelley, told the publication that “If she said (some of it) today, she’d be a hero.”

Instead, her negative reputation grew. Heigl left “Grey’s” in 2010, and though she now says she’d “never say never” about returning to the long-running medical drama, it marked a dark period in her career. And being known as difficult began to fuel anxieties that she’d long experienced.

Katherine Heigl speaks about possibly returning  "Grey's Anatomy"
Heigl played Dr. Izzie Stevens on “Grey’s Anatomy” for six seasons.Walt Disney Television via Getty

“I can't imagine what all of that pressure did to her over the years, dealing with celebrity, dealing with people saying things about her that are not true,” Kelley said. “It would be hard for anybody to process that, especially when it's unjust and a lot of it's negative.”

When the anxiety grew even harder to bear and after she and Kelly expanded their family with their three children, Heigl sought help.

“I asked my mom and my husband to find me somewhere to go that could help me because I felt like I would rather be dead,” she recalled. “I didn't realize how much anxiety I was living with until I got so bad that I had to really seek help. You can do a lot of inner soul work, but I'm a big fan of Zoloft,” she continued, referring to the brand-name drug often used to treat anxiety, depression and other disorders.

She’s also a fan of what can come with time and reflection.

“I’ve grown into accepting that ambition is not a dirty word, and that it doesn’t make me less of a feminine, loving, nurturing woman to be ambitious and have big dreams and big goals,” she said, adding that she’s had more “gentleness” for herself these days.

She also has a new name for herself, telling the Washington Post that she’d like to be called Katie.

“Whichever you prefer,” she said. “Just don’t call me difficult.”