Press Tour: Katherine Heigl on her ‘difficult’ reputation and coming back to TV

It's no secret Katherine Heigl has a reputation for being “difficult.” So of course the question came up at the Television Critics Association press tour session for her upcoming NBC drama “State of Affairs.” That does not mean Heigl was ready for it.

To be fair, the specific question she had to field involved quite a few different ideas at once. Among them: giving her the opportunity to “clear up” some recent statements about her career, whether or not she thinks her gender plays a role in the criticism she's received, why she chose this role to return to TV and the perception that she and her mother and manager, Nancy Heigl (an executive producer on “State of Affairs”), are “difficult” to work with.

Maybe it was the directness of the question, or maybe it was just because she knows this is tricky territory to tackle (no matter how she answers, it's going to generate more headlines with the words “Katherine Heigl” and “difficult” in them — like this one!), Heigl let out a long “Ummmmmm” followed by an even longer silence.  

When “State of Affairs” showrunner Ed Bernero attempted to come to her defense, he was shot down to ensure Heigl answered the question herself. And so the visibly shaken star asked to have the entire question repeated and addressed as much as she could.

“I don't know that I said my career was not in my control,” she began. “I think I said I had stopped challenging myself and I was making choices that I loved — I love doing romantic comedies — but I stopped exercising different muscles of my ability. In that moment I felt I was letting down my audience and I wasn't challenging them either. I think this opportunity — a lot of people want to know, 'Why this show?' — it's an extraordinary role … an extraordinary opportunity.”

“I certainly don't see myself as being difficult,” she continued. “I would never intend to be difficult. I don't think my mother intends to be difficult. It's important to everybody to conduct themselves professionally and respectfully and kindly. If I've ever disappointed anybody it wasn't intentional.”

Earlier in the day, NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt and president Jennifer Salke fielded a question about why Nancy Heigl is an executive producer on her daughter's show [at 9:09 in the live blog]. When the question came up again, the younger Heigl sarcastically responded, “She bakes us cookies.”

Nancy's response was slightly more illuminating: “It started because [executive producers] Bob [Simonds], Rodney [Faraon] and Hank [Crumpton] came to Katie and I. Katie and I have a partnership. They came to us maybe two and a half years ago. We loved the concept and the people. It just seemed like a progressive thing. I'm her mother for sure so I care about her interests, but I'm just learning about executive producing and I'm learning from people who really know how to do it. It's been fun and interesting.”

Director and executive producer Joe Carnahan added, “Nancy's been pretty great with this process. Particularly the casting. The way I came into it, these guys were hugely instrumental. The group we put together was absolutely a team effort, it would be reductive to think Nancy wasn't a part of this as much as everyone else.”

The rest of the panel was relatively tame (Emmy winner Alfre Woodard, who plays the U.S. President and receives regular briefings from Heigl's CIA analyst, was also in attendance, but didn't get to say much besides the fact she wants people to get used to seeing a female President). Mostly, Carnahan and Bernero did their best to convince anyone who would listen that they've created a cable quality drama because that's what they want, Heigl wants, NBC wants, everybody wants.

“We all set out to do something that would move in lockstep with a cable program,” Carnahan (who also directed the pilot of NBC's “The Blacklist”) said. “You've got 'Homeland,' 'Breaking Bad,' a lot of great shows out there.”

Whether or not the critics and reporters who have actually seen the pilot believe the execution matches that ambition, Bernero insists NBC is totally cool with whatever they want to do: “I've had a lot of discussions with NBC about there doesn't have to be a wall between what you can do in cable and what you can do on a network,” Bernero said. “You just have to use different language and not show sex as much. There's nothing cable does that we can't do.”

To which Heigl quickly added: “Except show boobs.”