Katherine Heigl says she 'ambushed' writers on 'Grey's Anatomy' after withdrawing her name for Emmys consideration

Katherine Heigl says withdrawing her name from Emmy consideration
Katherine Heigl says withdrawing her name from Emmy consideration "ambushed" the writers on Grey's Anatomy. (Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

In 2008, Katherine Heigl created a stir — and, she says, a "reputation for being difficult" — when she withdrew her name from Emmy consideration despite her portrayal of Dr. Izzie Stevens on Grey's Anatomy being awarded Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series the year before. At the time, the actress explained that she "did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination," a statement she now says "wasn't very nice or fair" to the show's writers.

Heigl is opening up about her time on the long-running ABC series in Lynette Rice's How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey's Anatomy, out Sept. 21. According to a new excerpt published by Australia's Daily Telegraph, the actress admits her Emmys move "ambushed" her colleagues. (Heigl has previously shared that she apologized to series creator Shonda Rhimes over the matter, with the TV titan later telling Oprah Winfrey that Heigl's statement "stung" but did not surprise her, adding, "When people show you who they are, believe them.")

Heigl, 42, said at the time that she didn't want a Emmy nomination to "potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials," suggesting that Grey's writers had let her and her character down. Speaking to Rice, she shared her regrets that her issues with the writing became public.

"I thought I was doing the right thing," the excerpt from Rice's book quotes her as saying. "And I wanted to be clear that I wasn’t snubbing the Emmys. The night I won was the highlight of my career. I just was afraid that if I said, 'No comment,' it was going to come off like I couldn’t be bothered [to enter the race]. I could have more gracefully said that without going into a private work matter. It was between me and the writers. I ambushed them, and it wasn’t very nice or fair."

The book also digs into Heigl's frustration at not getting a raise along with co-stars Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey, Sandra Oh and Isaiah Washington. Heigl, who began to find big-screen success in films like 27 Dresses, made it known that she wouldn't renegotiate her contract, but ultimately saw her own pay increased following Washington's firing after his use of a homophobic slur during an on-set argument with Dempsey, an incident that Heigl and co-star T.R. Knight, who is gay, spoke out about.

Heigl won an Emmy in 2007 for her portrayal of Dr. Isobel
Heigl won an Emmy in 2007 for her portrayal of Dr. Isobel "izzie" Stevens. (Photo: Bob D'Amico/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

Heigl defended her willingness to stand up for herself.

"In this town, women who don’t just snap and say, 'OK, yessir, yes, ma’am' start to get a reputation for being difficult," she told Rice. "I’ve decided it’s not worth it to me to be pushed around so much."

But she denied that her eventual departure from the show in 2010, shortly after the 2009 adoption of daughter Naleigh and about 18 months before her contract was actually up, was prompted by a power move or desire to trade TV for film.

"I started a family, and it changed everything," Heigl told Rice. "It changed my desire to work full-time. I went on family leave and just got to be a [mom], and it changed my whole perspective… that was really the turning point. So before I was due back, I spoke again to Shonda about wanting to leave. Then I waited at home until I was given the formal OK that I was off the show. The rumors that I refused to return were totally untrue.

"[Shonda] wanted to try to figure out how I could do both [parenting and the show], and I kind of wanted to do both," she continued. "There wasn’t a great way to compromise the work schedule that didn’t negatively affect the crew or the cast. It wasn’t feeling fair to them or the show to ask them to bend around my needs."

Unnamed sources interviewed by Rice dispute this, however. One claims that Heigl "wanted out because it was so hard working with Shonda," and was punished for expressing her opinion, while an anonymous former ABC Studios executive maintains that Rhimes and ABC brass wanted to "get her out" rather than indulge her requests to juggle TV, parenting and a feature film career.

More than a decade after her departure, Heigl says she regrets being perceived as "ungrateful" for her time on the show.

"The 'ungrateful' thing bothers me the most," she told Rice. "And that is my fault. I allowed myself to be perceived that way. So much about living life, to me, is about humility and gratitude. And I’ve tried very hard to have those qualities and be that person, and I’m just so disappointed in myself that I allowed it to slip. Of course I’m grateful. How can I not be?"

Now a mother of three, Heigl expressed a similar sentiment earlier this year, as Yahoo Entertainment previously reported.

“I may have said a couple of things you didn’t like, but then that escalated to ‘she’s ungrateful,’ then that escalated to ‘she’s difficult,’ and that escalated to ‘she’s unprofessional,’” Heigl said in an interview with the Washington Post. “What is your definition of difficult? Somebody with an opinion that you don’t like? Now, I’m 42, and that s*** pisses me off.”

Excerpts from Rice's book, which details the behind-the-scene drama on the long-running hit show, have previously revealed the demanding behavior that reportedly led to leading man Dempsey being killed off.