There’s no doubt that Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche are the hottest couple in Hollywood — at least this week. The question is, now what? What happens careerwise for the pair now that both women have acknowledged they’re romantically involved? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Hollywood is of two minds about the issue. Established comedian DeGeneres, 39, who essentially plays herself on ABC’s Ellen, is on safer ground. Rising movie star Heche, 27, who flirts with Tommy Lee Jones in Volcano and recently landed the coveted lead role opposite Harrison Ford in the romantic comedy 6 Days, 7 Nights, may be more at risk.
”The big issue is, Will it affect the audience’s perception of the movie?” says 6 Days producer-director Ivan Reitman. ”If it becomes sort of a joke that this woman is having a romance with Harrison Ford, then it will be a problem.” One female studio exec is more blunt: ”Knowing too much ruins the fantasy. She’ll never be able to play a dramatic leading-lady role. [She can play] no believable love scenes with a man anymore.”
Then again, Fox Films honchos Bill Mechanic and Peter Chernin seem unperturbed. When grilled about l’affaire Heche three days after Volcano’s opening, Mechanic noted that he couldn’t see any downside to their star’s relationship with DeGeneres. Chernin chimed in jokingly: ”Well, [Bill] doesn’t have a crush on her anymore.” Mechanic kiddingly disagreed, saying ”More so. More so now.”
Howard Sternesque fantasies aside, industry insiders see two very different outcomes:
· The worst-case scenario. After all the hype, the biggest danger DeGeneres faces is that her show will be canceled — not because she’s gay, but because Ellen’s ratings have been consistently anemic this season. Several insiders say that Ellen was waning and that the April 30 episode brought it back. They predict the show’s new life expectancy is only a season at best.
Without her signature series, DeGeneres may find future roles scarce. In Goodbye, Lover, her first film since the painfully awkward 1996 flop Mr. Wrong, she plays a detective, but that’s a supporting role. ”There could be some opportunities lost as a result of people stereotyping her in some way,” says David A. Neuman, president of Disney’s Touchstone Television, which produces Ellen.
Heche, for her part, could find herself blocked by nervous execs. ”When a studio executive is risking $40, $50, or $60 million,” says entertainment lawyer David Colden, ”he or she is often unwilling to risk that the public [won’t] care about the private life of an actor.” Adds Colden: ”The truth is, it will probably affect her future casting…. There’s an irony that in an industry filled with powerful homosexuals, some open and some closeted, decisions are still made based on an actor’s private life.”
· The best-case scenario. Ellen gets an honest and badly needed point of view, and the show begins living up to the star’s potential. ”This will make it a little freer, a little realer,” says comedy writer Allan Burns (The Mary Tyler Moore Show). ”You don’t have to go through the hypocrisy. A lot of us have suspected something after seeing [the character] Ellen with a succession of guys.” Ellen casting director Tammy Billik says the series will not become an ”Ellen dating game.” Adds gay activist Chastity Bono: ”It’s not a show that will be just appealing to gay people. There’s her and there’re straight people [on the show], which is the reality of life for gay and straight people.”