Heather Graham has played her fair share of sexy roles over the course of her career — from Rollergirl in Boogie Nights to Felicity Shagwell in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. But make no mistake — while the 47-year-old is undoubtedly sexy, she has no patience for sexism.
Graham, who recently spoke out about being propositioned for sex by disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, was a guest on Monday’s Build Series NYC to promote her new role as Judalon Smyth in TV’s Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders. She also touched upon her upcoming movie project — she wrote, directed, and appears in Half Magic — which was inspired by sexism in entertainment.
“I was frustrated about sexism in the business — which has been a big news story lately,” Graham said during her interview. “I wrote this script as a way to make myself laugh about things that were upsetting me, and then it turned into a movie. It’s coming out in February.”
Graham said that her film — which also stars Angela Kinsey, Molly Shannon, and Sex and the City alum Jason Lewis — is focused on relationships, being a woman, and sexuality. “It’s about three women and their friendship, and it’s a sex comedy, but it’s also a female empowerment movie. And I think it’s a satire of the movie business — and sexism in the movie business.”
The film was also influenced by her love life. “I went through a breakup and I was sad,” said Graham, whose famous exes include Edward Burns and Heath Ledger. “I just thought: I want to laugh. Tragedy plus time equals comedy. I was trying to laugh at the stupid dating mistakes I had made, and laugh at myself. I started writing about relationships. I put in the Hollywood backdrop of the business and [was] laughing about how sexist it is, basically.”
While many of her projects have had a sexual undertone, the License to Drive star grew up in a religious home where sex wasn’t a welcome topic for conversation at a young age. “I was told I was going to go to hell if I had premarital sex,” she said. The forthcoming movie also touches upon how that message influences people as they age, and how they can feel good about sexuality as an adult.
Graham said she originally set out to tell the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a 1911 blaze in New York City that killed 146 garment workers, the majority of whom were women. “I was trying to get it made, and it was like, ‘No one cares about women stories. We don’t want to see it,’” she recalled. “I tried for so long.”
Regardless of her background, the Milwaukee native is pushing forward for women. “There are many different levels: One is just greenlighting movies about women and telling women’s stories. Another is sexual harassment in the business; how much people get paid, the opportunities you have, how many women in power there are in Hollywood,” said Graham, who said that only 7 percent of directors are female.
“I think if you just accept it, you go: Oh, men are in power. I guess men are more powerful,” she said. “At a certain point you go: Why is it all men in power? Why can’t there be more women in power?’ As you grow up, you go: I want to be able to do those things. I want to be able to direct. I want to produce something.’“
And that sums up where she is right now.