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InStyle cover girl: Katherine Heigl
Katherine Heigl

She's the one queen of rom-coms, Tinseltown's most candid voice, devoted mum, charmed wife, and loyal daughter: Katherine Heigl wears many hats. Now, she invites us inside her refreshingly real world.

At first glance Katherine Heigl has the slightly frazzled air of one who's skipped the first meal of the day. It's 2pm on a recent afternoon and Heigl's Los Angeles home is a flurry of activity: assistants buzz around purposefully, minor renovations are being conducted upstairs, and Heigl, 33, is at the centre of it all. "I'm not a breakfast person," she admits, placing a board with fine cheeses, salami and raspberries on an ottoman, and folding her long limbs to perch on a sofa. "Help yourself," she adds. We sit in the cosy sunlit living room, Heigl sporting an orange cowl-neck sweater, ecru ankle-length jeans and leopard-print boots. When Romeo, one of Heigl's five beloved dogs, relieves himself on an ornate rug, she leaps up and carries him with outstretched arms into the kitchen. The episode plays out like a scene from one of Heigl's screwball comedies and attests to her fuzzy appeal.

A child actress with an extensive list of film credits, Heigl's breakthrough role actually came on the small screen in 2005, as Dr. Izzie Stevens on the drama Grey's Anatomy; in 2007, she won an Emmy for her compelling performances. The transition to big-screen rom-coms came soon after. With her comic timing, relatable personality and good looks, the actress vaulted to the top of the A-list in blockbuster movies including Knocked Up, 27 Dresses and The Ugly Truth; her most recent turn was in the ensemble follow-up to Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve. While some performers are concerned at being typecast, Heigl admits that romantic-comedies are her lodestar. "Boy meets girl. Boy and girl hate each other. Boy and girl fall in love, are torn apart and then get back together. I love them. I watch every single one. And," she says with a triumphant smile, "I adore being in them." Her latest movie, though, is a slight departure from recent form. In One For The Money (out February 16), an adaptation of the popular Janet Evanovich novel, Heigl plays a down-on-her-luck lingerie buyer who reinvents herself as a bond hunter. Her first assignment is to catch a cop accused of murder - the same handsome cad who took her virginity years earlier. "She's not nearly as neurotic as most of the characters I play," says Heigl. "She's a badass and doesn't really show fear, even if she is terrified."

Off screen, Heigl married singer-songwriter Josh Kelley in 2007; two years later, the couple adopted a baby girl from South Korea, Naleigh. (Heigl's older sister, Meg, was adopted from South Korea.) The family divide their time between their LA aerie and a ranch in Utah, "a little slice of heaven." Along with her mother, Nancy, Heigl has long been an advocate for helping shelter dogs find homes, which partly explains her own brood. There is Romeo, Stella, Weezer, Piper and Oscar, a stray that Heigl rescued from Mexico. One of her oldest, Mojo, died a short time ago and she wells up talking about him. "That's the thing about animals, you have to keep saying goodbye. But I love having them in my life." As she speaks, Heigl toys with an electronic cigarette to wean her off smoking the real ones. In person, she is gracious, affable and delightfully chatty. "Ask me anything," she says.

In One for The Money you are a self-styled bounty hunter pursuing a former flame, and you needed to handle a gun, drive an ice truck and pick a lock with conviction. Good times? "It was fun. It took some getting used to, doing these things, admittedly. We went to a range to practice shooting and it was exhilarating. I was actually a pretty decent shot. The character is from small-town New Jersey, brave and bold, but in over her head. That's what makes you root for her."

Were you required to study back-to-back episodes of Jersey Shore to nail the blue-collar Jersey accent? "As soon as I knew I was doing the movie I downloaded the whole season on iTunes, and realised that none of them are actually from Jersey. But then I was hooked and had to watch the whole thing. My character's accent is very specific, so I got a dialect coach. He would write it down the way it would sound, adding lots of a's and w's to everything."

The character is tracking down someone from her past. Before you were married, did you ever reach out to erstwhile loves? Or have any ever tried to contact you over the years? "Yes. No. Yes. A year after high school I tried to get my high-school boyfriend to date me again. I had relocated from Connecticut to Los Angeles and was really striking out in the dating department. And I remember thinking, 'My high-school sweetheart was kind of great. I wonder if he would take me back?' But it didn't work out [laughs]. Oh well. It worked out for me in the end."

You've never been averse to speaking your mind about the industry. Do you feel this has ever weighed against you? "Sometimes it has and sometimes it hasn't. There was a minute when I was afraid to say anything at all. But in my mind there's a difference between foot-in-mouth comments and being forthright. If I'm passionate about a subject, then I should be brave enough to talk about it honestly and not worry about people's reactions. It's never my intention to offend anyone, so when I have, I've been horrified."

Would you say you are thin-skinned or thick-skinned? "Totally thin-skinned! I'm a big baby. I feel like men can sort of shrug their shoulders if people have a strong reaction to something they've said. Whereas I spent two years questioning everything about myself. Maybe I am ungrateful? Maybe I am too opinionated? So yes, I'm thin-skinned."

Let's change tack. Is there anything that has surprised or challenged you about marriage? "Well you can't completely prepare for it. You don't know what to expect until you're in it. We didn't live together before we got married because I was clinging to my 'bachelorettedom'. It requires a lot more thoughtfulness than I had maybe realised. Communication can be difficult, and sometimes whatever you're saying is not exactly what they're hearing and that can start to breed resentment. You don't even know it's happening. Maybe one or the other is not feeling noticed enough or taken care of enough. You can love someone so intensely, and know they love you intensely, and still manage to completely f*** it up."

Pick up the new issue of InStyle, starring Heigl as our glamorous cover girl, to read more of our interview.

By George Epaminondas
Photographed by David Gubert
Styled by Katherine Green
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