Cover Story

Baby, It's You!

After a season of controversy, ''Grey's Anatomy'' star Katherine Heigl gets serious about her movie career. First stop: making a man out of a man-child in the comedy ''Knocked Up''

ANATOMY LESSENS ''I think if I can find roles that are different enough from Izzie, I can find a way to shake her.''
Image credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY JUSTIN STEPHENS
ANATOMY LESSENS ''I think if I can find roles that are different enough from Izzie, I can find a way to shake her.''

There's a cigarette tip and slippered feet poking out the door of Katherine Heigl's trailer. She's smoking American Spirits in a fluffy blue bathrobe, drinking a Diet Coke, with Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, pancaked on the wide arm of her chair. It's late May and Heigl is on the set of 27 Dresses, an always-a-bridesmaid, never-a-bride romantic comedy shooting in Providence, R.I. Her hair is shorter and darker than it usually is — an attempt to convince audiences that this classic beauty could actually be overlooked by men.

Heigl's mother and manager, Nancy, a small, smiling woman with short blond hair in prim chinos and a crewneck sweater and blouse, soon climbs the stairs bearing a tray of food. ''I brought you some chocolate cake, and they're having lamb and, look, scalloped potatoes!'' she cries, settling herself down at the small kitchen table. ''Katie, the doctor needs your SAG card to fill the prescription.''

''I think I left it in my other wallet at home,'' says Heigl, 28.

''Katie, don't switch wallets anymore,'' her mother says. ''Just pick one and stick with it!''

''Shut it!'' Heigl barks, good-naturedly.

''Somebody's cranky for lunch,'' says Nancy.

Heigl's career took off two years ago, thanks to Grey's Anatomy, on which she plays beleaguered intern Izzie Stevens. Ever since, various Jeremy Piven-esque characters have been swooping in and trying to replace her mother. ''They're all making a play,'' says Heigl. ''I cannot stand dealing with people in this business.... You have all these people you pay who are supposed to be on your side, but I can't trust them like I can my mother.'' She attributes much of her success to her mother's good sense and shrewd business savvy. ''Nobody can watch her back better than I can,'' says Nancy, before reminding her daughter again to eat, eat. The actress nods admiringly. ''She really lures them in with the needlepointing and the Ann Taylor Loft clothes,'' she says. ''Nobody would suspect that she's a pit bull.''

Team Heigl's focus right now is making that often fraught transition from TV to the big screen. ''We're all familiar with how Jennifer Aniston moves, how Courteney Cox speaks, because of 10 years on Friends,'' the actress says. ''But I think if I can find roles that are different enough from Izzie, I can find a way to shake her.''

A perfect time, then, to get Knocked Up. When Heigl went in to audition for the role of a very fertile one-night stand in writer-director Judd Apatow's follow-up to The 40 Year-Old Virgin, she quickly realized that she'd have to ditch the script to keep up with costar Seth Rogen. ''He was off the page and going on a run,'' she says. ''Nobody said, 'By the way, we're just going to improv!'''

Meanwhile, Rogen had met with dozens of women, none of whom knew who he was — or found him particularly funny. ''They all thought he was some guy we paid to read,'' says Apatow. ''Katherine was the only actress who laughed at Seth during the audition.'' ''It was perfect,'' remembers Rogen. ''She has a very strong personality, so I could really give it to her and it didn't seem mean. I just kind of looked like an idiot, if anything, because she just seemed so much smarter and stronger and in control than me. And she's big. She's tall and statuesque, so it looks like she could knock the s--- out of me.''

NEXT PAGE: Rejected for Felicity and Alias — ''That's when I wanted to quit.''

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