Katherine Heigl Was Hollywood’s Go-To Leading Lady – Until One Comment Turned Her Career Upside Down

In 2008 Katherine Heigl was flush from the successes of box-office smashes Knocked Up and 27 Dresses. The star was also one of the highest-earning actresses in film and TV, thanks to her celebrated part in Grey’s Anatomy. But towards the end of that year, Heigl’s career began to crumble. And it was due – in part – to one particularly scathing comment that she made about a past project.

It’s worth noting, too, that Heigl had actually been a star for quite some time at this point. Born in Washington, D.C., on November 24, 1978, Heigl is in fact the youngest child to parents Nancy and Paul Heigl. She had three older siblings – but her older brother Jason lost his life following a car accident in 1986. And after their son’s death, Heigl’s parents became Mormons, converting their family to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

From the age of five, then, Heigl grew up in New Canaan, Connecticut. And almost from the beginning, it seemed as if the youngster was destined for stardom. She signed to Wilhelmina Models at nine, in fact, and soon picked up her first job – appearing in a magazine advertisement. After this, Heigl was paid $75 per hour for modeling in Lord & Taylor and Sears catalogs.

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Heigl’s first taste of TV came when she starred in a national ad for Cheerios. Naturally, then, the child model was attracted to the world of showbiz, and she subsequently turned her attention to the study of acting. Her efforts paid off, too, and in 1992 Heigl took her first film role in the romantic drama That Night.

A part in Steven Soderbergh’s Depression-era drama, King of the Hill, followed. Then Heigl bagged her first lead role, alongside Gérard Depardieu, in the 1994 comedy My Father the Hero. During this period, though, Heigl was balancing her acting and modeling careers with her studies at New Canaan High School. But the actress subsequently dropped out of school in her sophomore year to chase the bright lights of Hollywood.

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So, between 1995 and 1999, Heigl enjoyed notable roles in the Steven Seagal thriller Under Siege 2: Dark Territory and the Disney television movie Wish Upon a Star. She also starred in a TV movie of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and successfully pursued her modeling career. In fact, the star frequently appeared in publications such as Seventeen.

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Heigl’s profile then rose even further after 1999, when she began playing alien-human hybrid Isabel Evans in the sci-fi series Roswell. And while enjoying her time in Roswell, Heigl also starred in a number of films, including the independent flick 100 Girls and horror movie Valentine. These roles were likely the reasons why she was picked as part of FHM’s yearly “100 Sexiest Women in the World” as well.

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And the work kept on coming after Heigl’s stint in Roswell came to an end in 2002. For instance, the actress starred in an MTV revamp of Wuthering Heights and a modern-day riff on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, entitled Evil Never Dies. She also appeared with Johnny Knoxville in the 2005 comedy movie The Ringer – but Heigl’s biggest break was yet to come.

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Yes, Heigl’s rise to stardom made an enormous leap when she won the role of hospital intern Dr. Izzie Stevens in Grey’s Anatomy. The ABC medical drama was first broadcast in 2005 as a mid-season replacement for Boston Legal. Yet it proved immensely popular with fans and soon became one of television’s highest-rated shows.

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But while 2005 was undoubtedly a standout year for Heigl, 2006 brought even more success. You see, Heigl was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in Grey’s Anatomy. And although she eventually lost out in the Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or Television Film category to Emily Blunt, Heigl’s stardom was well and truly in the ascendance.

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Then, in 2007, Heigl starred in the Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up. In the movie, the actress starred as Alison Scott, a driven career woman who falls pregnant after a one-night stand with Seth Rogan’s oafish Ben Stone. The narrative then follows the unlikely parents as the two very different characters navigate their unintentional pregnancy together.

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Knocked Up was a box-office hit, scoring $148 million in domestic receipts off a budget of just $30 million. Of course, these kinds of numbers further propelled Heigl into the spotlight. And following the success of the movie, the actress was able to command higher fees than ever before. So when Heigl starred in the 2008 rom-com 27 Dresses, she reportedly earned a cool $6 million. This movie took home another $162 million from the worldwide box office, too.

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Later in 2008, then, Heigl was named among the five highest-paid actresses in the Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment: Power 100 list. And in July of that year, Forbes also named Heigl as the biggest-earning TV actress – after she bagged $13 million for her continuing role in Grey’s Anatomy.

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So while Heigl had become a bonafide movie star, she continued to delight audiences on the small screen with her portrayal of Izzie Stevens. Her performance in the role even won Heigl an Emmy in 2007. The gong seemingly took the actress by surprise, though – as she admitted in her acceptance speech that her mom hadn’t even believed that she’d win it.

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While receiving her first Emmy, in fact, Heigl said, “My own mother told me I didn’t have a shot in hell of winning tonight, so I really don’t have anything prepared… This is my dream come true. I’ve been doing this for 17 years, and people don’t count [the years] ’cause I started as a kid, but I counted because I’ve worked my a** off.”

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So it appeared that Heigl was well and truly the toast of Hollywood. Yet as 2008 progressed, rumors began to circulate concerning the actress’ future with Grey’s Anatomy. The first warnings actually came from the January 2008 issue of Vanity Fair. During an interview with the glossy mag, you see, Heigl condemned a storyline depicting an affair between her character and a married man as a “ratings ploy.” And the star didn’t stop there.

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Heigl added, “It was absolutely something that shocked people; it wasn’t predictable, and people didn’t see it coming. It’s our fourth season; there’s not a lot of spontaneity left. And business is business; I understand that, but I want there to be some cooperation between the business end and the creative end, so there’s some way of keeping it real.”

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And Heigl’s comments about the material she’d been given for Grey’s Anatomy weren’t the only derogatory remarks that the actress made about a production she’d starred in. In the same interview, in fact, Heigl revealed that she also had concerns over the film Knocked Up – the box-office smash she’d headlined the previous year.

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In Heigl’s brutally honest critique of Knocked Up, you see, she told Vanity Fair, “It was a little sexist… It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days.”

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Continuing with her no-holds-barred evaluation of the Judd Apatow movie, Heigl added, “I’m playing such a b*tch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.” And the comments caused so much controversy that co-star Seth Rogen was still being asked about them eight years later.

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In a 2016 interview with Howard Stern, Rogen said, “As we were making the movie together, honestly, I was like, ‘I would make a dozen movies with her. I would be whatever the s****y version of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan is.’ I thought, ‘Oh, we have a great dynamic, we were funny together, I was having a very good time.’” But these impressions seemingly changed after Heigl’s interview was published.

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Rogen continued, “And then when I heard afterwards she didn’t like it, that she seemed to not like the process, and she did not like the end product either, I think when that happens — also your trust feels somewhat betrayed.” The actor added that while he harbored no ill feelings towards Heigl, he had not had any direct contact with the star since their movie obligations had ended.

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In June 2008, though, additional comments from Heigl seemingly made matters worse. But this time the star’s eyebrow-raising remarks were about Grey’s Anatomy – and would jeopardize her entire career. The controversy actually ignited after it emerged that Heigl had not submitted herself to be considered for an Emmy nomination – despite winning the gong just one year before. Heigl’s lack of action was subsequently noticed by members of the press, of course.

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So, in a statement explaining why she declined to submit herself for Emmy consideration, Heigl said, “I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention… In addition, I did not want to potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials.”

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Needless to say, Heigl’s comments reportedly angered some of her colleagues working on Grey’s Anatomy. Her words also likely left fans of the series shocked. And while the show’s creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes didn’t publicly respond at the time, she revealed her own reaction to Heigl’s remarks a few years later.

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Speaking during a 2012 appearance on Oprah’s Next Chapter, Rhimes opened up about Heigl’s cutting comments. She told the host, “On some level, it stung and on some level, I was not surprised… When people show you who they are, believe them. I carry that [mantra] with me a lot. It has served me well.”

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Rhimes also seemingly referenced the Emmy controversy in a 2014 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. In fact, she proclaimed that “there are no Heigls” on the set of her political thriller Scandal. And, appearing to throw yet more shade at the actress, Rhimes referred to her “no a******s” policy, adding, “I don’t put up with b******t or nasty people. I don’t have time for it.”

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So it’s perhaps unsurprising that it was Heigl’s second perceived attack on Grey’s Anatomy that would help lead to the supposed downfall of her once glittering career. Yet the actress continued on the medical drama until 2010 and even earned $12 million for her roles in 2009’s The Ugly Truth and 2010’s Killers. But thanks partly to her comments, Heigl’s reputation in show business seemingly never recovered.

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You see, reports about Heigl’s diva-like ways extend beyond the actress’s tendency to publicly criticize projects that she’s been involved with. It was, for example, alleged that Heigl’s momager, Nancy, is overprotective of her daughter. Heigl was also said to have made “movie-star demands” on the set of 27 Dresses – according to a “source” of The Hollywood Reporter.

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In 2009 Heigl additionally faced allegations that she had been dropped from the cast of rom-com Valentine’s Day after demanding a colossal paycheck. Another supposed source apparently told Page Six, “Producers at New Line originally had Katherine on their casting list. They wanted her for the project, but during the talks, she came back demanding $3 million for the role.”

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However, Heigl’s representative denied the allegations. A spokesperson said, “The story is ludicrous. Early negotiations are a daily occurrence in this business, and just for clarification, Katherine walked away from this project for multiple reasons.”

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Yet between 2011 and 2017 Heigl starred in just a handful of TV shows and films – none of which made much of an impact with critics or audiences. Heigl also seemingly had a dry year in 2016, as the actress appeared in just one project: a commercial for Cat’s Pride kitty litter. So it’s arguably clear that Heigl had fallen a long way since being one of Hollywood’s most popular and well-paid stars.

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And her faltering career didn’t go unnoticed by Heigl herself. In an interview with Marie Claire in 2014, the actress said of the Hollywood machine, “This thing that was my best friend for a long time suddenly turned on me… And I didn’t expect it. I was taken by surprise and angry at it for betraying me.”

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Heigl also reflected on what had happened to cause such a seemingly monumental fall from grace in a 2011 interview with Elle. She concluded, “I’ve never really been America’s sweetheart. I had ’em for a second, thinking maybe I was. And then I opened my mouth, and it was very clear I wasn’t.”

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In 2016 Heigl further discussed the Emmy-nomination controversy during an appearance on Howard Stern’s Sirius radio show. The star revealed that she’d actually apologized to Rhimes following the media circus her remarks had caused. Heigl said, “I went in because I was really embarrassed… So I went in to [see] Shonda and said, ‘I’m so sorry. That wasn’t cool, and I should not have said that.’”

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Heigl continued, “I shouldn’t have said anything publicly. But at the time, I didn’t think anyone would notice… I just quietly didn’t submit and then it became a story, and I felt I was obligated to make my statement, and [I should have just said], ‘Shut up, Katie.’”

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Heigl also tried to further explain her comments about Knocked Up. She said, “I liked the movie a lot. I just didn’t like me.” Speaking of her character, Heigl added, “She was kind of like, she was so judgmental and kind of uptight and controlling… I was like, ‘Why is that where I went with this? What an *sshole she is!’”

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However, there seemed to be nothing that Heigl could do or say to shed herself of her “difficult” reputation. According to a 2012 article by The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, one top TV producer – who remained anonymous – apparently said of working with the actress that “she’s not worth it.”

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So it appears that Heigl’s reported unreasonable demands, scathing remarks and difficult behavior were enough to push her career off-course for almost a decade. She eventually left Los Angeles, in fact, for a no doubt quieter life in Utah with her family. Nowadays, you see, Heigl has three children with her husband, the singer Josh Kelley.

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Yet while it seemed for a time that Heigl’s career was pretty much dead in the water, the actress managed to stage a comeback – beginning in 2018. That’s when she joined the cast of legal drama Suits, for its eighth season, and proved a popular addition to the cast. And when Netflix was looking for someone to headline its 2020 adaptation of Kristin Hannah’s novel Firefly Lane, the streaming service signed Heigl too. Heigl’s story, then, is not over yet.

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Heigl is not the first person to fall off of the Hollywood carousel, of course. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, for instance, it seemed as though Fairuza Balk could be the next big thing. And after the young actress made her breakthrough as a teenage witch in cult classic The Craft, the stage was certainly set for her to become a household name. But, these days, Balk is no longer headlining movie posters; in fact, you may not even have seen her on screen for years. So, why exactly did the one-time child star seemingly disappear from Hollywood – and what is she up to at the moment?

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Well before Balk made it to Tinseltown, however, she had been born into a family that had more than its fair share of artistic talent. Her mother was a dancer, singer and artist, while her father was a musician. Balk also went to the Royal Academy of Ballet at the age of four, as both her mom and grandmother had done before her. And the future star made her screen debut at a young age, too, appearing in 1983 TV movie The Best Christmas Pageant Ever before she had even turned ten.

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But then came the role that would change Balk’s life. While still just nine, the pre-teen auditioned for the part of Dorothy in Disney’s Wizard of Oz sequel, Return to Oz. The odds were against her, too; not only was she up against almost 1,000 other aspiring actors, but she was also the youngest of the bunch. Nonetheless, Balk was successful, and understandably the media started to take an interest in the girl who had stepped into Judy Garland’s ruby slippers.

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In 1985, for instance, Balk was interviewed by The Washington Post about her new-found stardom. She was 11 years old by then and had forgotten some of the finer points about how she’d won her Return to Oz role. “You just held up a card, smiled and had a short interview,” Balk explained. “Like, ‘Did you like Oz and would you like to go there again?’”

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The creators of the movie were very impressed with their young star, too. And in 2012 Return to Oz’s editor Walter Murch spoke to the Film Freak Central website about the project. It had been a long and hard shoot, by all accounts, but even so Murch recalled that Balk had been “absolutely great – a fantastic ally in the making of the film.”

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In that Washington Post interview, meanwhile, Balk had said that she’d like to be a chiropractic veterinarian if an acting career didn’t work out. She also revealed a rebellious streak that would later serve her well in The Craft. Without informing her mother, she’d once sneaked off and had her ears pierced.

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At first, Balk had even attempted to perform the procedure herself. “I was fed up with trying to get the nerve to stick a pin through my ear,” she told the newspaper. “So I just said, ‘Okay, I’m going to get my ears pierced’… They put alcohol on and went ka-thunk. It didn’t hurt; it just felt hot.” Her mother, Cathryn, wasn’t impressed, however. “I almost killed her,” the star admitted.

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And since then, it seems that Balk has looked back on Return to Oz with appreciation – mainly because of what it taught her about the business of acting. In 1999, for example, she gave a candid interview that was ultimately included on the VHS re-release of the movie . “Towards the end of the filming of [Return to Oz, I got a little tired,” the actress recalled. “And that’s when I began to realize it was work.”

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“It wasn’t just, you know, what you wanted to do when you wanted to do it,” Balk went on. “You had to get up every morning and go and be a professional. And as a child, that’s kind of a hard concept to grasp, and you have to get it… You have to be responsible, and I think it makes you an adult very quickly.”

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Balk continued to work as an actress throughout the 1980s and 1990s as well as briefly going to high school. In 1992, for instance, she played the teenage daughter of a single mother in the drama Gas Food Lodging, with her touching portrayal earning her a Best Actress Independent Spirit Award that same year.

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Then, of course, came the other film that Balk would become primarily known for: 1996’s The Craft. As its many fans know, the horror flick tracks the fortunes of four high school students-turned-witches who ultimately find themselves paying a high price for their new-found power. The Craft was an unexpected hit, and it’s considered a cult movie today.

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Balk wasn’t impressed by the idea at first, though. “I was incredibly mesmerized by Fairuza,” actress Sarah Bailey told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. “There was a rebellious authenticity to her that I wish I’d had. We did the screen test and I drove Fairuza home. She was like, ‘I have a feeling this [movie] might be a piece of s**t, and I’m not doing it.’”

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Balk also spoke to Entertainment Weekly, explaining that she had had another film in the pipeline at the time. “I had agreed to do Basquiat,” she revealed. “Julian [Schnabel, the director] and I had become friends. Meanwhile, my agent said, ‘There’s this other big movie and they really want you.’”

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“I was trying to figure out if we could move dates, and then I got a phone call from Julian screaming at me, saying, ‘You’re doing another movie!’” Balk continued. “I said, ‘No, I’m doing your movie.’ He hung up after cursing me out, and I called my agents. And they said, ‘We accepted The Craft.’”

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So while Balk wasn’t part of Basquiat in the end, hindsight proves that her agents made a canny decision. After all, The Craft has since gone down in teen horror history. “I still get tweets about [The Craft],” Balk told Entertainment Weekly. “What an honor to have been part of something that people love so much.”

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Furthermore, while working on The Craft, Balk actually began to develop an interest in Wicca – a modern strain of Paganism. And while rumors about the actress’ involvement in the religion spread for a long time, in 2017 she put them to rest. “The true story is [that] I found this occult shop in LA, and I used to go there to ask them questions and do my research,” Balk told Entertainment Weekly.

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“[The workers] were really lovely people,” Balk explained. “[The woman who owned it] wanted to retire. She couldn’t put the kind of money into it that it needed to keep it up, and so it was going to be turned into a Chinese restaurant. I thought, ‘For the oldest occult shop in the country, that’s a tragedy.’”

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And Balk went on, “There was a man that used to work [at the store], and he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. And he was a sort of a teacher to me during [The Craft]. I thought, ‘What a shame this is going to be turned into a Chinese restaurant.’ So I bought [the store] and put some work into it and helped it survive.”

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But Balk definitely wasn’t a practicing witch. “People of course were like, ‘She bought an occult shop and she’s fully into this, and it’s all real.’ That has taken on its entire own mythology that’s essentially out of my hands,” she said. “You can tell the truth and talk to people, but they want to believe what they want to believe. What can you do? I’m not involved with that shop anymore. It was a very long time ago.”

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Rather than becoming a full-time store owner, then, Balk continued with her acting career. But not all of the movies in which she subsequently starred turned out to be big hits. The Island of Doctor Moreau – in which Balk appeared alongside Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer and David Thewlis – particularly proved to be a disaster. After an intensely troubled production, the movie was released in 1996 to very poor reviews.

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And while Balk starred in several more films after that setback, such as American Perfekt, The Maker and Life in the Fast Lane, most of these have largely been forgotten. But the actress’ career wasn’t over just yet. In 1998, you see, she appeared in a drama that’s considered by some to be among the finest ever made: American History X.

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American History X tells the story of two brothers – played by Edward Norton and Edward Furlong – who both get involved with the neo-Nazi movement. And Tony Kaye’s gritty feature emerged to some acclaim, with critics praising the film for both its plot and its performances. Norton even ended up being nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Derek Vinyard.

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In American History X, then, Balk played Stacey, the girlfriend of Derek. And, interestingly, despite being cast as a white supremacist, the actress herself is part Romani and part Cherokee by way of her father. “For many years, my family told me never to tell anyone about that part of my heritage, fearing that I would be judged or hated or that it would affect my career,” Balk wrote on her website in 2010.

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Proving her versatility, Balk also starred in a movie a million miles away in tone and theme from American History X: the Adam Sandler vehicle The Waterboy. And while critics took against the flick, the public didn’t seem to agree. In any case, The Waterboy is still the biggest-earning sports comedy ever.

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After that came the 2000 film Almost Famous, in which Fairuza played the character of Sapphire. And in a sense, Almost Famous’ fate proved the exact opposite of that of The Waterboy. While the nostalgic dramedy didn’t make much money, you see, it nevertheless won a lot of praise from reviewers. Veteran critic Roger Ebert named it as the best film of that year, for example.

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But Balk’s career subsequently seemed to stall. Throughout most of the rest of the 2000s, she starred in a variety of forgettable films, such as Dose of Reality, Personal Velocity: Three Portraits, Deuces Wild and Don’t Come Knocking. And while 2009’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans earned good reviews, it wasn’t enough to put the actress’ star back into the ascendancy.

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In a 2013 interview with the website Dread Central, Fairuza shed a little light on why she may have faded out of the public consciousness. “I always want to stay interested. I never just want to work for the sake of working,” she said. “There has to be ‘something’ there for me so that I can grow from the experience.”

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“I’ve never just taken a job because I wanted the check,” Balk continued. “I took the job because either I wanted to do something really crazy like The Craft or get a chance to do a comedy like The Waterboy or do an incredibly powerful drama like American History X. There has to be something interesting for me, or I don’t want to do it.”

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“I struggled a lot with being pushed too hard in my twenties, with people telling me that I had to keep taking more and more movies because that’s really only when I’d be relevant,” Balk added. “Hollywood is designed that way. It’s always about the new flavor of the moment, and I’ve always preferred to be a bit more mysterious.”

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And in the same interview, Balk also talked about her earlier career-defining role in Return to Oz. “At that age, everything really felt like a game to me, so I had an amazing time making it,” she said. “To live in that world as a child was anything but scary, so I guess I never realized at the time how surrealistic the story and the tone of the movie was going to end up being.”

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“The other thing I never realized as a kid was just how beloved our movie was,” Balk explained. “I thought it was kind of popular, but that was about it. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized just how special Return to Oz ended up being. Throughout the years, fans would send me letters or even these incredible gifts with their stories about what the movie meant to them, and I was absolutely shocked.”

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Dread Central asked Balk about The Craft as well, and it seemed that the actress was more than willing to open up about the movie. “What I remember really enjoying at the time was doing all the research into Wicca for the role of Nancy, because I had no idea that it was something that was all about empowered women,” she said. “That was incredible – to see a religion celebrating women as goddesses and then using that as an allegory throughout the movie.”

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And Balk also revealed how fans of The Craft had reached out to her over the years. “I’ve heard stories from fans who have told me how The Craft helped them accept themselves or gave them the strength to come out or escape from an abusive relationship or even gave them the courage to stand up for themselves,” she said. “And I think that speaks volumes for the movie we made.”

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Balk had spoken to Dread Central to promote her 2013 thriller Dose of Reality, which went straight to DVD and video on demand. And, alas, the movie wasn’t well received upon its release. To date, it holds a mere 4.4/10 audience-reception rating on the Internet Movie Database.

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Yet Dose of Reality’s relative failure didn’t put Balk off talking to the media. In 2014, anyway, she spoke to the website Shock Ya! about another indie film she was doing, August Falls. And, once again, the star gave some insight into the way in which she approached acting. “People have tended to see me as an actress who has played edgier, darker roles,” Balk explained. “That’s something that, as much as I’ve enjoyed exploring, isn’t necessarily the one thing I want to do.”

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Regarding her career, Balk added, “On indies, you forgo certain luxuries and privileges on a studio film. You kiss those goodbye happily and embrace what you’re doing. Both of them are worthy and have the better and less of things. But on indies… you embrace them as team efforts.”

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August Falls came out to middling reviews in 2017, after which Balk appeared in the 2018 horror Trespassers. And while the bloodcurdling flick hardly set the box office on fire, there was nevertheless praise for Balk’s performance. The Hollywood News said of the movie, “It is the characterization work that is really effective. Fairuza Balk steals all her scenes. It’s never really that clear which side her character is on, and it’s fun for the audience to try and figure out.”

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Over the years, meanwhile, Balk has built herself quite an audience on social media, with more than 40,000 people currently following her on Twitter. She also maintains a personal blog through which she keeps fans informed about her exploits outside of acting, such as making music and traveling across the U.S.

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And when Balk was asked about her character in August Falls during her interview with Shock Ya!, the answer she gave could well have applied to the actress herself. “For a great many of us, as we go through our lives, and as we evolve and age, we have to learn to embrace the fact that it isn’t always under our control,” she said.

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“Life is going to go the way that it’s going to go,” Balk concluded. “It’s about finding the inner strength and light inside of you and learning to trust that to guide you through the difficult times.” So, although Balk hasn’t had a hit movie in a while, she at least seems happy where she is – and she’s definitely shaping up to be a master of her craft, too.

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