Heather Graham on Breaking Out of Supporting Roles

“My whole career I’ve wanted the opportunity to do more, and to prove that I could do more”

Heather Graham became a household name for supporting roles in films like Boogie Nights, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and The Hangover. While these male-driven blockbusters may have launched her career, her most recent project — a quiet, complicated drama called The Rest of Us — cements her status as a leading lady.

In the film, Graham plays Cami, a successful author and divorcee who forms an unexpected bond with her ex-husband’s new young wife and daughter after he dies suddenly. The importance of women supporting one another is not lost on Graham, who in 2017 added her voice to the dozens of actresses accusing Harvey Weinstein of predatory behavior.

Heather spoke with our producer Emily Pinto about finally playing the protagonist, the Harvey Weinstein trial, and standing by her viral tweets about the 2020 Oscar nominations.

Emily Pinto: The film is surprisingly sympathetic to both your character, Cami, and Rachel, the young woman Cami’s husband left her for. What was your reaction when you first read the screenplay?

Heather Graham: I definitely liked the script. It was so thoughtful, and both women were really interesting and complicated. But as good as the script is, a lot of the moments that will make viewers get on board with both women are thanks to the filmmaking. It’s a story told by women — there’s a female writer, a female director, female producers, and an almost entirely female cast. Women are good at seeing other people’s points of view — because in life, there’s not always a “good guy” and a “bad guy.” This story offers a very fresh perspective on the complicated relationship between a first and second wife.

How would you describe Cami? At one point her daughter Aster says that Cami’s “need to be a saint is pathological.” Would you agree with this assessment?

When I read the script, I had a hard time reasoning how a woman would invite her nemesis to come and live with her. It just seemed really crazy. But I can relate to the feeling of when you’re dating a guy, and he talks about his ex, and he says “Oh, my ex was so crazy.” Then as you get to know the man you realize, “Well, he’s actually pretty frustrating.” You really want to hear his ex’s side of the story, because she’s the only person who might be able to understand what you’ve been through with this guy. These two women in the film were both let down by the same man, so I think they can relate to each other deeply, in a way that no other person could. But I do think that Cami tries really hard to seem perfect on the surface. I can relate to that, and to the feeling that as a woman you have to take care of everybody all the time.

Audiences know you as the love interest in comedies like “Austin Powers” and “The Hangover,” but this role is much more nuanced and three-dimensional. How does it feel to finally play the lead, and to see that your performance is getting rave reviews?

I’m just so grateful for the writing! When you’re cast in a role that doesn’t have a lot to it, you can try to create some complicated backstory for your character. But if it’s not in the writing, or it’s not in the mind of the director — who so often is a man — then the three-dimensionality isn’t going to be there.

I got used to being a supporting character, so when I read the reviews of this movie it makes me want to cry! I’m just grateful that somebody could see me in a role that was thoughtful and complicated, and trusted me with that. I think the reason why I was able to shine in this role was because I was finally given more to do. My whole career I’ve wanted the opportunity to do more, and to prove that I could do more. I’m just so grateful that they hired me.

You added your voice to the dozens of women who spoke out against Harvey Weinstein. How does it feel seeing him finally on trial?

I just think he is so full of it. Seeing him walking into the courtroom with a walker so he doesn’t seem scary… it’s all just an act. At least he’s been convicted in the court of public opinion, and helped to spark the MeToo movement. Of course, I hope he gets convicted, but I have my doubts over whether this will be fair. Look at Bill Cosby — he was let off a bunch of times before he was finally convicted, even with all of those women testifying against him. But in a way, I think this all relates back to “The Rest of Us.” The message I hope that resonates is that when women have each others’ backs, they can be so powerful.

Last year brought audiences a number of rich, complicated films written and directed by women. While many have gotten critical acclaim, they’re not necessarily getting awards recognition — and there were no female directors nominated at either the Golden Globes or the Oscars this year. You’ve tweeted a bit about this… How does it make you feel?

One night I got a bit frustrated and I started sending some angry tweets about the Oscar-nominated films. And then somebody pointed out to me that as long as the majority of the voting academy is made up of older white men, then these are the sort of results we’re going to get. And I realized, “Oh, there’s the answer.” As women, we are not equally represented in the voting body. I’m part of the Academy, and I’m so grateful to be part of it, but I think they need to include more women. People are definitely more aware that the inequality in gender representation is an issue, but I don’t think there have been any massive moves to change that. Movies made by women, and that tell women’s stories, are still not given the same clout as men’s movies. There’s a double standard there. Men are often given a pass to skip movies they see as “women’s movies,” but we’re supposed to run to the theater to go see films like The Irishman, or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which are made by men and star men and hardly have any female characters in them at all. It seems like the movies that everyone “has to see” are usually the ones by men and about men.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This originally appeared on Medium.com