What the Hell Happened to Heather Graham?
Heather Graham has been around a lot longer than most people realize. She had an early role in a Haim/Feldman “Coreys classic”, got caught up in the craziness of James Woods and somehow clawed her way to being Hollywood’s “it” girl for a few short years in the mid 90′s. And then, she vanished into virtual obscurity. What the hell happened?
I pride myself on having an eye for talent. So when I saw Swingers in 1996, I felt like I had discovered “that funny guy” (Vince Vaughn) and “the blonde at the club” (Heather Graham). I watched their careers with interest as their stars rose. I rooted for them both to succeed and felt validated when they both became big stars.
I did not anticipate that “the big guy” (Jon Favreau) would go on to direct Iron Man. But I was happy for him too.
Over the years, you can imagine my embarrassment as I came to realize that Graham had been around for years before Swingers. Not only that, but I had actually seen a lot of her work without taking much notice.
Heather Graham’s first role was an uncredited cameo in the Mel Gibson-Diane Keaton prison romance, Mrs. Soffel in 1984. She was 14 years old. That fresh face I “discovered” in 1996 had been working for 12 years by then. Ooops.
In fairness, you can’t blame a 14-year-old boy for missing a Diane Keaton movie. Especially Mrs. Soffel.
Graham’s first credited roles weren’t until 1987 when she appeared in two episodes of Growing Pains and a TV movie called Student Exchange.
Ohhh, that Mike Seaver. I wonder what he’s up to now…
Man, I did not see that coming. Anyway…
In 1988, Graham got her first significant role opposite the Coreys (Feldman and Haim, Martin and Lewis of the 1980′s) in License to Drive.
Graham was Corey Haim’s dream girl named (get this) Mercedes Lane. Because, you know, cars.
Being a 17-year-old dude, the Coreys were no more appealing to me than Diane Keaton. So I missed this one too. But the reviews were surprisingly positive for a movie starring Corey and Corey. And it was a hit at the box office.
Later that year, Graham had a small but important role in the Ivan Reitman comedy, Twins.
When I read that Heather Graham was in Twins, I assumed she was one of the girls the twins met up with in their travels. But no, it turns out Graham played Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito’s mother in flashback.
Heather Graham as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito’s mom. Only in the movies.
Graham got a big break playing a drug addict in Gus Van Sant’s breakthrough movie, Drugstore Cowboy opposite Matt Dillon. It was a supporting role, but the reviews were great. Drugstore Cowboy was a small movie, but it was seen by casting agents.
In 1990, she had a small role in Lawrence Kasdan’s black comedy, I Love You to Death.
Like a lot of Kasdan films, I Love You to Death had a star-studded cast. Even the bit parts were filled with the likes of Keanu Reeves and William Hurt. I recently re-watched I Love You to Death specifically to spot Graham. Blink and you will miss her.
In 1991, Graham appeared opposite John Travolta and Jamie Walters in the rock-and-roll coming-of-age film, Shout.
At the time, Travolta was squandering his Look Who’s Talking career bump. And Walters was on his way to becoming the “How Do You Talk to an Angel Guy”.
For what it’s worth, I hear it’s like trying to catch a falling star.
Anyway, Shout was a bomb. Travolta was nominated for a Golden Raspberry. And Heather Graham moved on to greener (and weirder) pastures.
In 1990, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks was a cultural phenomenon on TV. It launched the careers of actresses like Sherilyn Fenn, Mädchen Amick and Lara Flynn Boyle.
The first season was critically acclaimed and a ratings winner. But in the second season, things started to fall apart rather quickly. I was a die-hard Peaks Freak, so please bear with me while I reminisce.
As the ratings started to decline, ABC got nervous. They insisted that Lynch reveal the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer. Lynch insisted that doing so would kill the show. But he relented to studio pressure.
Unfortunately, Lynch was right. With the killer revealed, Twin Peaks lost its reason to exist. The writers scrambled to find new stories to tell. But nothing they came up with worked. Instead of being strangely compelling, the second season of Twin Peaks was often just dumb.
In the midst of all this, there was a struggle between the writers and the show’s star, Kyle MacLachlan. The writers kept trying to link MacLachlan’s popular character, Agent Cooper, with the show’s most popular female character played by Sherilyn Fenn. They figured a romance between the show’s most popular characters would ignite the ratings.
But MacLachlan objected on the basis that Agent Cooper was an upstanding FBI agent and Fenn’s character was supposed to be a high school student. The issue got so heated that MacLachlan threatened to walk if the writers didn’t cut it out.
So instead, Fenn’s character got sidelined with an embarrassing subplot in which her dad begins reenacting the Civil War. Did I mention the writers had run out of ideas?
With Fenn’s character out of the way, they introduced a new character played by Graham. Annie Blackburn was a character created for the sole purpose of being Agent Cooper’s love interest/damsel in distress. She had all the depth you would expect from such a character.
A year ago, such a role would have made Graham a huge star. But by this point, cancellation was right around the corner. ABC was bouncing Twin Peaks all over the schedule. Fans had trouble finding the final episodes on which Graham’s character appeared.
We aren’t quite done with Twin Peaks just yet. In 1992, after the show was cancelled, David Lynch directed a movie called Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
Some of the TV cast refused to come back. They were upset about the way the show had ended and thought they could do better on their own. That worked out reasonably well for Lara Flynn Boyle. But not so well for Sherilyn Fenn.
Kyle MacLachlan originally opted out of the movie for fear of type casting. Reluctantly, he agreed to a reduced role. The show had ended on a cliffhanger with Graham’s character’s life in the balance. But without full participation from MacLachlan, that story would have to wait.
Instead, Fire Walk With Me was a prequel to the show. MacLachlan had an extended cameo. And Graham appeared for a moment teasing what might come should a sequel get made.
Unfortunately for Twin Peaks fans, there was a huge backlash against the show after its cancellation. Fire Walk With Me was booed at Cannes and bombed at the box office. The sequel in which Graham would likely have had a more significant role was never made.In 1992, Graham also appeared opposite James Woods in the boxing movie, Diggstown.
Diggstown was a pretty forgettable movie. It got mixed reviews and did so-so box office. But it is significant to Graham because, like Sean Young before her, she began a relationship with her co-star. Graham was 22 and Woods was 44 at the time.
Woods, charmer that he is, summarized their relationship thusly to Movieline magazine in 2000:
Q: Your name has been linked with more than a few women in Hollywood. What was it like for you and Heather Graham, with whom you once said you were “wildly in love”?
A: Heather and I were together literally every day for almost a year. Now she has some sort of revisionist view of it–I read in the press she said something like, “I don’t know what I was doing. I must have been looking for a father figure.” Hey, all I remember is a wonderful time with a beautiful young woman who I thought would grow into a very successful actress, as she has. I always felt I was nice to her and it was a great experience. When we run into each other, it’s always cordial.
Q: It lasted as long as it was supposed to, it sounds like.
A: Actresses are very conflicted about a lot of things, like being mothers, for instance. They keep thinking, is my body going to change? Am I going to lose my beauty? In Hollywood, the appeal lies in being a young hottie– that’s where the employment is. I had a conversation with Heather when she was, like, 21, and I asked, “Do you ever think about getting married?” And she’s like, “Yeah, when I’m about 35. I’ll meet somebody and have a kid when I’m about 40.” Susan Sarandon ruined the world when she had a kid when she was, like, fucking 96 years old. Now, every actress wants to wait to have a kid at 90.I said to Heather, “How do you know you’ll get the same attention from men when you’re that age?” She was like, “Oh, you just like me for my blonde hair, my blue eyes and my big tits?” There was too long a pause before I answered, “Well…” and she just stormed out. That was the beginning of the end.
James Woods, ladies and gentlemen. Now would be a good time to lock up your daughters.
In the early 90′s, Graham was still paying her dues with small roles in three movies. She played “Cowgirl Heather” for her Drugstore Cowboy director, Gus Van Sant, in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. She also appeared in Six Degrees of Separation with Will Smith and Donald Sutherland.
Cut to 1996. Graham had a small but eye-catching role opposite Jon Favreau in the comedy, Swingers. She doesn’t do much more than awkwardly flirt with Favreau and cut up the dance floor. But it was extremely memorable.
The scene occurs towards the end of the movie as Favreau’s character, Mike, finally gains some confidence. Mikey’s all grown up!
Swingers was a hysterical indie comedy. It got great reviews and was a cult hit at the box office.
It was so money! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Vegas, baby!
If you have no idea what I am talking about, go check out Swingers and thank me later.
In 1997, Graham had small roles in two more high-profile movies. First, she played Rollergirl in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ode to 70′s porn, Boogie Nights.
Boogie Nights was extremely well-reviewed and a hit at the box office.
Later that year, Graham had a celebrity cameo in the horror-movie-within-a-horror-movie in Scream 2. The Scream sequels gradually chipped away at the reputation of the original. But in 1997, doing a cameo in Scream was still cool.
Not so in 2011 for Scream 4. Remember that.
In 1998, Graham had her first shot at real stardom with a decent-sized role in a mainstream movie. Unfortunately, that movie was the idiotic big screen adaptation of the 60′s TV show, Lost in Space.
Lost in Space wastes a great cast that includes Graham, William Hurt, Mimi Rogers and Gary Oldman. Oh, and also Matt LeBlanc and a pre-Maxim Lacey Chabert. I actually got a copy of Lost in Space for free when I bought my first DVD player and I still felt cheated out of two hours of my life I couldn’t get back.
The reviews for Lost in Space were deservedly negative. But in spite of the reviews, Lost in Space was actually a modest hit at the box office. In fact, it finally unseated long-standing box office champ, Titanic, after an amazing 15-week run.
As successful as Lost in Space was, it still fell short of the studio’s expectations. The cast was signed on for sequels that would never be made.
At roughly the same time as Lost in Space was stinking up the multiplexes (I am waiting for the first comment telling me I am being too hard on the inoffensive sci-fi flick), Graham was also appearing in the little-seen James Toback film, Two Girls and a Guy, opposite Robert Downey Jr.
Two Girls and a Guy is the kind of movie actresses are supposed to do in between main stream movies to show their range. But in the pre-Iron Man days, Downey wasn’t much of a draw. Most people never heard of the film in which he two-times Graham with Natasha Gregson Wagner.
(Don’t feel bad. I had to Google Natasha Gregson Wagner too.)
In 1999, Graham finally had her big year. Although, in retrospect, it wasn’t as big of a year as I remembered.
First, she appeared in the Austin Powers sequel, The Spy Who Shagged Me. The first Austin Powers film was a modest hit that attracted a larger following on video. The sequel brought the franchise to the masses. It wasn’t nearly as fresh or funny as the original. But it was a huge hit that saturated pop culture for years.
But as big as The Spy Who Shagged Me was, there was no mistaking the fact that it was Mike Myers movie. He played multiple roles and kept all the good lines for himself. Graham did little more than wear short skirts.
Even Mini-Me upstaged her.
Later that summer, Graham appeared opposite comedy legends Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy in the under-rated Hollywood satire, Bowfinger.
Graham summarized her role in Bowfinger thusly:
“It’s about these losers in Hollywood who want to make a movie, and I’m this naive, innocent girl who wants to be an actress. I’m willing to stop at nothing.”
Graham was very believable in the role. I will comment no further.
Bowfinger got very good reviews. It did well at the box office, but was not a runaway hit. Which is a shame because it may be the last funny movie either Murphy or Martin ever starred in.
In 2000, Graham finally (finally!) got her first chance to star in a movie. That movie was the quirky indie comedy, Committed.
Just to show you how committed I am to my readers, I actually watched Committed before writing this article. After doing so, I feel like I should be committed… to an institution.
Okay, I’m out of “committed” jokes. But that’s about as many jokes as the movie has going for it.
Graham stars as a young woman whose husband, played by Luke Wilson, abandons her with little explanation. Eventually, she goes searching for him despite the fact she does not know where he went. Based on a post card with a cactus on it and an illegible post mark, she decides to look for him in Texas. The entire state of Texas.
I won’t even attempt to describe the randomness of Committed. At one point, Graham is kissed on the mouth by a character played by Casey Affleck. Despite kissing him back, she scold him. “I’m married,” she says. “Plus you’re my brother!”
I only wish the rest of the movie was half as good as that line. Although I did think it was kind of cool that the movie co-starred Patricia Velásquez (pictured above with Graham). Both would later go on to guest roles on Arrested Development.
In 2001, Graham had a busy year with three releases. The first of which was the Farrelly brothers comedy, Say It Isn’t So.
Just a few years before, the Farrelly brothers had a massive hit with their gross-out comedy, There’s Something About Mary. That film made stars out of Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz. Say It Isn’t So attempted to do the same thing for Chris Klein and Heather Graham.
Obviously, lightning didn’t strike twice. Critics blasted the comedy in which Graham and Klein played a couple who discovers that they may be related. The incest humor didn’t play with audiences either. Say It Isn’t So bombed big time.
2001 was Graham’s year for being directed by brothers, because her next film was the Hughes brother’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, From Hell.
From Hell starred a pre-Pirates Jonny Depp as a turn-of-the-century police inspector investigating Jack the Ripper. Graham played a prostitute who could be the next victim.
From Hell got mixed-to-positive reviews and was a respectable hit at the box office. Especially when you take into consideration that Depp was not yet the A-list powerhouse he would later become.
Graham ended the year with a role in the Ed Burns comedy/drama Sidewalks of New York.
I think Roger Ebert’s review of Sidewalks tells you everything you need to know:
“The movie lives at the intersection between Woody Allen and Sex and the City…[It] is funny without being hilarious, touching but not tearful, and articulate in the way that Burns is articulate, by nibbling earnestly around an idea as if afraid that the core has seeds.”
Sidewalks was another “prestige” movie that just didn’t register with critics or audiences.
In 2002, Graham played another porn star in the Hollywood/Bollywood mash-up, The Guru.
For this one, I think I’ll just let you watch the trailer. It will be easier that way.
The Guru hoped to bring the Bollywood musical to American audiences. But in spite of decent reviews, Americans weren’t having it. We barely tolerate American musicals.
In 2002, Graham also appeared in the erotic thriller, Killing Me Softly.
Hold on a second. Heather Graham starred in an erotic thriller in 2002 and I am just now hearing about it! What the hell happened there?
Well, Killing Me Softly was the first and only English-language film from Chinese director, Chen Kaige. Expectations for the film, co-starring Joseph Fiennes, were sky-high. To say the movie disappointed would be a tremendous understatement. As of this writing, it has a 0% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
I have yet to see the film. But I had a hard time finding a picture for this article in which Graham wasn’t naked. With that in mind, Killing Me Softly must be pretty horrible. Because it would take a lot to keep guys from watching a movie with that much naked Heather Graham.
In 2003, Graham had an uncredited role in the Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson comedy, Anger Management. It was a hit, but Graham was barely in it. She also had a starring role in Hope Springs with Colin Firth. That film got bad reviews and bombed at the box office.
By 2004, the former Felcity Shagwell’s “It Girl” status had been revoked. She was sentenced to starring in the Rosemary’s Baby rip-off, Blessed. The one saving grace is that she appeared in an episode of Arrested Development that year.
I am going to save us all some time. From 2004-2009, Graham starred in one bomb after another. Most of them are movies you have never heard of. She had a nine-episode guest run on Scrubs which lead to her getting her own series, Emily’s Reasons Why Not. Her show was cancelled after only one episode had aired.
In 2009, Graham had a small but memorable role as a stripper in The Hangover. Finally, Graham was in a hit!
The Hangover was such a big hit, that it inspired a sequel. Just about the entire cast returned except for Heather Graham. Although Graham will be returning for The Hangover 3.
The Hangover didn’t lead to much else. More direct-to-video releases. A cameo in Scream 4 (although I am not certain whether or not that was reused footage from Scream 2). Graham’s biggest movie post-Hangover was Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer which attempted to be the female Diary of a Wimpy Kid and failed miserably.
So, what the hell happened to Heather Graham? Well, after researching this article I have come to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, James Woods was right. But I’m not happy about it.
Kim Basinger Thora Birch Matthew Broderick Nicolas Cage Chevy Chase Kevin Costner Geena Davis Bridget Fonda Brendan Fraser Mel Gibson Cuba Gooding Jr. Heather Graham Melanie Griffith Steve Guttenberg Daryl Hannah Helen Hunt Michael Keaton Nicole Kidman Val Kilmer Jude Law Jennifer Jason Leigh Penelope Ann Miller Demi Moore Rick Moranis Eddie Murphy Mike Myers Michelle Pfeiffer Molly Ringwald Meg Ryan Winona Ryder Arnold Schwarzenegger Steven Seagal Elisabeth Shue Alicia Silverstone Christian Slater Mira Sorvino Wesley Snipes Sharon Stone Mena Suvari Uma Thurman John Travolta Kathleen Turner Robin Williams Debra Winger Sean Young Renee Zellweger
Posted on September 5, 2012, in Movies, What the Hell Happened? and tagged austin powers, boogie nights, entertainment, heather graham, movies, scream, swingers, the hangover, twin peaks. Bookmark the permalink. 47 Comments.