Trash Talk: Anne Heche Digs Deep with Cigarette-Smoking Cynic in That’s What She Said

Sometimes you’ve got to embrace the crazy to save your sanity.

That’s the sense one initially gets after watching actress-turned-director Carrie Preston’s (True Blood, The Good Wife) latest film That’s What She Said, which debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and opens in theaters today. This female-driven raunch fest brings together three very different women on the worst day of their lives. The story surrounds Dee Dee (Anne Heche), a foul-mouthed, cigarette smoking cynic who has given up on romance and men, and her best friend Bebe (Marcia De Bonis), a hopeless romantic with no luck in love but an exceptionally accepting heart. As the two women prepare Bebe for a big romantic night with a potential new boyfriend, their plans get sidetracked by Clementine (Alia Shawkat), a sex addict who hasn’t quite figured out her boundaries.

While the premise sounds simplistic on the surface, as with any good comedy this chance encounter sets in motion a series of hilarious misfortunes that send the trio on an insane adventure through New York City. It follows many of the conceits seen in male-driven comedies, but with a pointedly female perspective that shows how losing all control can ultimately help restore a sense of order.

Anne Heche recently spoke with us about That’s What She Said, dishing on Dee Dee, making indie movies, and how the smell of garlic can almost send her over the edge.

FTK: On creating the bizarre but bonded relationships the characters shared:
ANNE HECHE: Carrie really thinks and believes this is a movie about friendship. I believe this is a movie about finding friendship, even in the darkest hour, and learning to have faith [and to] trust. We all came together through different friends.

How did you get attached to the project?
Alec Baldwin called and told me that I had to read this script. He and I were in Twentieth Century together with Kelly Overbee, the [film’s] writer. He said I could pull off this character. I thought that somebody who could play a hilarious sex addict, nymphomaniac was Alia, [whom] I’d just done Cedar Rapids with. So I called her [and] she was in. Marcia De Bonis was in the play when it was done on Broadway nine years ago. We were all bonded through other friends or our own friendships. In that was truth already, and that’s the easy kind of truth to get on camera because it’s organic.

What was it like playing Dee Dee?
I take [being asked to play Dee Dee] as a genuinely huge complement because I think she is a very complicated woman that we don’t get to see very much. She’s not worried about whether people like her or not.

We’re in a world where every single movie that has a woman in it is usually wrapped around the woman wanting to be liked in some way: she’s young, she’s the hero, she’s the lover of somebody, she’s the grandmother, she’s the chef. We always have these woman that we’re somehow supposed to relate to in these gorgeous, motherly, loving, or sexy ways.

I just wanted to strip all that away and see what would happen. And what I’m really in love with is that people are finding that they relate to it, because it’s like watching yourself on your worst day– and I do worse, so you can laugh at it.

What is it you loved about the character?
Oh God, Dee Dee! I opened the script and there was a girl who was hung over, fell out of bed, got up, brushed her teeth while smoking her cigarette, and I stopped and was like, “What?!” I had never read anything like that. I thought that’s one of the most absurd things in the world to describe a character taking action that way, because it’s such punishment and such self abuse and such addiction. The challenge was to make all that nasty stuff funny. There is so much self-destructiveness in that behavior that I had to go into really, really dark waters of a person that had lost hope for [herself], and I made that funny. It was really tough stuff and I tried to be hilariously funny.

What’s it like working on an indie film as opposed to a big-budget studio feature?
It’s always a challenge to make a low-budget film. We had to do a lot of our locations at times when people don’t work in New York, so the bar scene at the end of the movie was probably 15 pages long and were working in a sticky, stinky, cranky, horrible bar. We started at 4:00 in the morning when it closed and had to end the scene at 4 in the afternoon when it opened again. So we were rolling around literally in beer and muck and mire for about 10 days– and that was just one scene.

The rest was the same. It was a trip. It was hard work [and] we never had time to rehearse anything. Everything we shot was stolen on some street that we were going to get kicked from if we did another take.

The coffee shop was actually a pizza parlor. We came in the morning and [the owner] was making the pizza sauce that they were going to serve in the joint — his  business had to continue while we were filming, which is in and of itself hilarious. There were no chairs, no makeup chairs, lights, coffee spread [didn’t] exist. We showed up, it was 4 AM like it was everyday, and we looked over and there was the tray of Doritos packs left over from the day before for breakfast. And Alia looked at me and she was like, “Man, I told you I’d do anything for ya, but this might be pushing it.” It was a moment that was one of our lows, like, “Wow, I’m so tired, I can’t even stand up. But my chair doesn’t have a back and I’m smelling garlic.”

And it was really funny. So, of courses we laughed about it. But it was not an easy shoot.

Preston on set

How was working with an actor-turned-director like Carrie Preston?
Carrie is the reason this movie got made. She’s the champion of it. It would not exist without her belief and her stamina and her sacrificing everything, including her bank account, to get it made.

Working with somebody like that is inspiring and addicting. She’s a ball of fire and she’s about as skinny as a twig, and it’s really funny that she’s got so much energy and life and presence around her. And I think she can make anything happen. I’m so proud of her for fighting so hard for this movie, because I think it’s going to turn her into the director she wants to be. With enough people seeing her work she’ll be able to continue that as a career. I know she really wants to do that.

Other than Bridesmaids, there really aren’t a lot of mainstream movies featuring complicated women. Do you think they can only be seen in independent films?
Indie film takes risk in all areas, not just complicated women. The broader your audience, the more you have to appeal to. I think it takes an introspective person to want to go into the theater and see the dark side of themselves. It’s represented [in the characters], we look for a reflection in those people.

So if somebody’s willing to take a risk and walk through the door and go, “Wow, man, I look like that and some days I get hung over, too. And some days are rough.” That takes a particular kind of person. It does not take a particular kind of person to watch me with my hair curled and my lipstick on, in a pretty lace dress. If that’s easy to digest, then that’s easy to digest, and more people would like to digest that! So both are valid, it’s just that that’s why we have so many different media outlets.

There are so many different ways that we can participate in the arts and fortunately I’m able to get into some independent films and rough things up a little bit. Then I’m doing Save Me on ABC, and hopefully I’ll be as loveable and acceptable as I can possibly be so everyone can giggle with me that way, too.