There are two questions any reasonable person might ask before meeting Anne Heche: (1) Is she still crazy? (2) How will she react if asked whether she's still crazy? But when the pale, skinny blonde in the pink plaid baseball cap strides into a pub north of Vancouver, she protests. ''I don't understand,'' says the 37-year-old actress, in her dry desert cackle. ''I've been such a truthful communicator my whole life. It's funny to me that people are nervous around what I'm gonna say. Like I'll throw the table.''
Fear not: No tables will be thrown, for Anne Heche, World's Most Famous Former Lesbian and Crazy Person, is now a stable, grounded wife and mother. And with the leading role in ABC's Friday-night dramedy Men in Trees her first major part in eight years the onetime girlfriend of Ellen DeGeneres is ready to reconnect with audiences as an actress, not as a tabloid headline. Heche stars as Marin Frist, a New York City relationship-advice author who relocates to a tiny town in Alaska after learning her fiancé is cheating on her. ''I think people root for her in some weird way'' is how Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy who wrote a part on his series just for Heche sums it up. ''She's been put through the wringer, and come out of it with her priorities in a much stronger place.''
There's no need to go too deep into Heche's wringer; it's all in her 2001 autobiography, Call Me Crazy. Suffice it to say that Heche with her secretly gay father who died of AIDS when she was 13 did not have a terrific childhood. To help pay the rent, she started acting at age 12 for dinner-theater audiences in New Jersey. And although she had early success in soap operas (Another World) and movies (Volcano, Psycho, Wag the Dog, and Six Days, Seven Nights), Heche says she ''always felt like a character actress who was lucky to get the roles. I did not own my presence very well.''
Ultimately, it was Heche's personal life that vaulted her to fame: One fateful day in 1997, she found herself rather publicly in love with Ellen DeGeneres, who, in case you missed it, is a woman. This created a bit of a stir. As an encore, Heche left her relationship with DeGeneres in 2000 and was hospitalized one day later after wandering around near Fresno, Calif., calling herself Celestia and looking for her spaceship.
With all of that behind her, Heche is completely at home with her past. ''Every relationship in my life was leading to the moment where I went to Fresno,'' she assesses. ''I made some really outrageous choices to find love, and I'm so grateful for it. Without Ellen, I never would have been as clear as I am now.'' She exhales: ''And boy, am I clear.'' In fact, the sunny afternoon in the pub falls on Heche's fifth anniversary of marriage to Coley Laffoon, a jovial golden retriever of a man whom Heche credits with picking her up, brushing her off, and putting her on a path to stability. ''I understood when I met Coley that there was a new way to exist,'' Heche says. ''I was done with my fantasy world. It took me to the end of a road, and the road was hot, and screwed up, and landed me in the hospital. Okay. Next?''
Next, Heche began to find her way back. ''I kind of lost the passion for acting because it created a lot of conflict with Ellen,'' she explains. ''Then logic'' and, in large part, Laffoon ''came in and dictated: If you don't wanna be the person who's always searching, digging, why don't you re-explore acting, since people seem to think you're pretty good at it?'' So Heche warmed up with parts on Broadway (Proof, Twentieth Century) and guest spots on TV shows (Ally McBeal, Nip/Tuck, Everwood) before landing the Alaskan real estate of Men in Trees. ''I think she was primed to lead a show,'' says Trees creator Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City). ''She is very driven, committed. That's all you can ask for. And talent. That helps.'' Heche who says Trees has given her an opportunity to be more herself on screen than ever before explains her character in a way that could double as a description of her own journey: ''It's not only a story about [Marin] finding herself again in this world,'' she says, ''but finding her relationship to the earth.''
Given all initial concerns, let it be known that it is very pleasant to be in Heche's confident, assured presence, despite or maybe because of all that's come before. And it's not hard to figure out why this girl who's wandered through the worst of all possible worlds currently has three main priorities, namely herself, Coley, and their 4-year-old son Homer. ''It just makes sense,'' Heche concludes. ''I had a bad family life. I went in search of a great one, and I found it. So I feel like, yeah, my whole life was leading right here. Right here.''
Anne Heche's Must List
The actress adores living near the shore and hearing the Truth from Gore.
An Inconvenient Truth 2006
''I loved this,'' Heche says of the Al Gore doc. ''I'm so happy to know more. And happier to have such a teacher.''
This Book Will Save Your Life 2006
''It's hard to find time to read for pleasure,'' but she's deep in A.M. Homes' novel, set in Los Angeles.
Rock Star: Supernova
''Fantastic show!'' she says of CBS' singing competition. ''My husband turned me on to it.''
The Pacific Ocean
''I'm living close enough [in Vancouver] to hear it in the mornings before I go to work. The sound calms my soul.''
Justin Timberlake, SexyBack
''When I heard that song I was like, Who's that? Really? So I listened and thought, Wow, he's really going someplace [new].''