BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Katherine Heigl looked like she was about to cry.
Her eyes were watering, and her beautiful face contorted as if in pain.
For a moment, one might have thought that she was re-living that mea culpa cover story in a national magazine in April, in which she apologized to the public for any missteps or misstatements she might have made in leaving her Emmy-winning role in the hit TV show “Grey’s Anatomy” to pursue a burgeoning movie career.
But it turned out not to be a bout of contrition that caused her discomfort, but allergies. In fact, she apologized for making faces, and assured me that she is done making apologies. Yes, even she appreciated the irony of that last remark.
The 31-year-old actress, who is sporting dark hair these days instead of her familiar blond locks, spoke freely about her need to apologize publicly, and, sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel room, she also explained the dark hair, how adopting a child in September changed her life, and why she chose to star opposite Ashton Kutcher in the action/ comedy “Killers,” which opens Friday.
She plays a young woman on vacation in France who meets the ultimate bad boy — a government assassin. Hilarity, death and marital bliss ensue.
Q. Is the apology tour over?
A. (laughs): Yes, it is.
Q. How did that work out?
A. I don’t know. For me, it was a weird time. I was told that I really offended people, and that people thought I was being ungrateful and that I was losing my fan base. The most upsetting part of that was that people thought I was ungrateful. I really needed to correct that, but then the apology became the whole story.
Q. I didn’t want to be another media person dwelling on the apology, but I thought that Entertainment Weekly cover was so strange.
A. I needed to clarify my position, which was that I’m just a kid with an opinion; don’t take me too seriously. I used to whine, in a joking way, that I was tired at work, but suddenly that turned into ungrateful.
Q. Do you believe your motivations were misunderstood?
A. Certainly, my motivations were misunderstood. I didn’t mean that I shouldn’t have to work these hours on the job. It wasn’t just me working 17 hours a day; there was a whole crew of people working the same hours, and it upset me that people thought I was complaining for myself. The crew was working longer and harder than me, and I thought it was unfair. But it came out like I was this whiny actress.
Q. Do you think you’re past it now?
A. I think so, although everybody brings it up in interviews.
Q. Sorry about that.
A. No, it’s OK. It is what it is. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed. I was for a minute, but I’ve done my part. But I don’t want to come off like a diva. I know it’s still fresh so people want to talk about it.
Q. Did you learn anything from the experience?
A. One of the most important things you can do as a human being is to grow and change, and admit when you’re wrong. I was wrong, and I admitted it. Believe me, I’m going to make a million more mistakes in my life.
Q. In “Grey’s Anatomy,” you did some pretty serious acting, but in your movie career, you have shown more of an inclination toward comedy, particularly in “Knocked Up,” “27 Dresses,” “The Ugly Truth” and now “Killers.” When did you get in touch with your inner Lucy Ricardo?
A. (laughs) It was “Knocked Up” that gave me my first opportunity, although I was mostly the straight person reacting to those incredibly funny people around me. That got me more comfortable with physical comedy.
Q. But there must have been something before that. Were you funny in high school?
A. Oh no. I took myself way too seriously in high school.
Q. So, how did you find comedy?
A. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was about 19. I hit puberty late, and I was about 20 pounds heavier than I am now. I had a baby face but a voluptuous body, and 20 pounds overweight doesn’t go over well in Hollywood. I was being told constantly to lose weight. And then my skin broke out. I was really self-conscious. So I stopped relying on being pretty, and started relying on being funny.
Q. So, you weren’t a naturally funny kid?
A. My mother always thought I was funny. Does that count?
Q. No. My mother thinks I’m tall and blond.
A. (laughs). But I did have a weird sense of humor.
Q. Do you enjoy doing comedy?
A. I love it. There’s nothing better than bouncing funny lines off each other.
Q. Can we address the elephant in the room?
Q. Why the dark hair?
A. It’s for a film role I’m starting in July. It’s called “One for the Money.”
Q. That’s based on the Stephanie Plum novels. How does “Killers” fit into the career plan?
A. I didn’t want to move too far away from the romantic comedies because I really enjoy them and they’re working for me, but it has this whole action twist. I get to be goofy to Ashton’s straight man. In my other roles, I played the neurotic, uptight girl, but I got to play something entirely different.
Q. Obviously, you’re not running from the romantic comedy genre?
A. I’m not saying I’ll never doing another drama again. In fact, I have a dramatic project planned in the fall, but it’s certainly not “Monster.” It’s not that heavy. But I love romantic comedies. That’s what I go to see at the movies. Sometimes, I just want to laugh and be entertained. The heavy dramas stick with me too long.
Q. Excuse me, but would you like a tissue?
A. No, I’m all right. It’s my allergies. I’m dying, but I’m OK. I just want to make sure I don’t have some gigantic mascara drip running down my face.
Q. No, you’re good.
A. Thank you.
Q. It seems as if you enjoy making movies a lot more than making television shows. Is that true?
A. The only reason I prefer it to TV is that it’s more of a part-time job. Television is a nine months a year job; movies are a three-month job. I can control my year a little better.
Q. Why is that important?
A. I can spend more time off with my family. My husband (singer-songwriter Josh Kelley) is releasing a country album soon, and I’d like to take the baby with him on tour.
Q. You’re going to do the whole tour bus thing?
A. I already told him I’m not sleeping on the bus. Me, the baby and eight guys on a bus? I don’t think so. They smell. I’ll stay in a hotel.
Q. Has motherhood made you a better actress?
A. I don’t know that yet.
Q. Why did you wait so long to become a mom?
A. In our 20s, it was all about our careers, and it was all about us. Finally, we decided to expand the horizons a little bit. I really wanted to be a mom, and I really wanted something in my life that was more important than me.
Q. And did it turn out as you had hoped?
A. There is one part of me that feels like Naleigh has been in my life forever, and that I have been her mother forever. There is another part of my life that is completely different than it used to be. But I still go out to dinner with my husband, and I still have a few hours while she’s sleeping to do what I want. I still live my life.
Q. But wouldn’t you have liked to enjoy this movie-star phase as a single woman with no responsibilities?
A. No, I’ve been working my whole life. I really wanted a family. I was done with work being my number one priority.
Q. Your first thought in the morning is her?
Q. But when you do have some free time, do you think about your career?
A. Yes. It’s still important to me, and that’s a dilemma for me. I’ve always said I’ll be a working mom, and now I realize it’s going to be a compromise. I’m already itching to get back to work, and yet my heart is aching right now because she’s upstairs and I’m not with her. It’s distracting not to be with her.
Q. What was your sudden “Grey’s Anatomy” fame like?
A. It was the most exciting time of my life for about two years. I couldn’t believe photographers were following me around. I couldn’t believe anyone cared what I ate in a restaurant. It was thrilling because I spent so many years worrying about my next job. I wouldn’t have traded that time for anything.
Q. But it must have grown old at some point?
A. It did, but you hate to complain because people think you’re being ungrateful. But it wasn’t healthy to have so much focus on me. I started to not be me. Then again, nobody held a gun to my head and made me be an actress. I chose this life, and I’m glad I did.