TORONTO – She left the set of “Grey’s Anatomy” for good in March 2010, but Katherine Heigl began to feel as if she’d stepped back into Seattle Grace when she started shooting “One for the Money.”
In theatres Friday, the romantic comedy has a hearty list of “Grey’s” talent, including director Julie Anne Robinson, who helmed several episodes of the hit medical drama from 2006 to 2009.
Several of the film’s co-stars have also been on “Grey’s”: Jason O’Mara played a patient with a brain tumour in two episodes in 2008; Debra Monk was cast as George O’Malley’s mother in several instalments; and Daniel Sunjata plays nurse Eli (although he didn’t sign on to the show until shooting wrapped for “One for the Money”).
“It was crazy. So weird,” Heigl, 33, said in a telephone interview of the multiple “Grey’s” ties. “I didn’t even realize it when I first met Jason and we were talking about the part.
“Julie Anne I knew, of course, because we had done a few episodes together and I had just really loved working with her, so that was a big part of why I wanted to work with her on the film as a director. And then she was like, ‘Hey, remember when Jason was in “Grey’s?”‘ And I was like, ‘No. What role?'” Heigl recalled with a laugh.
“I was so embarrassed by myself for not remembering, but his storyline was with some of the other actors and I hadn’t had any scenes with him. I don’t know if I missed the episode or what. And then Daniel, of course, goes on (‘Grey’s’) as a regular as soon as the movie wrapped.
“It was so funny. I was like, ‘How random!'”
Heigl, who played Dr. Izzie Stevens for six seasons on “Grey’s,” said she hasn’t had a chance to talk with Sunjata about being on the show, but she added: “I hope he had as great an experience as I did. I think he was great.
“I didn’t get to see much of his (role) because I don’t watch much anymore but he’s such a great actor and such a great guy, I hope it was a positive experience.”
Despite rumours that Heigl quit “Grey’s” on bad terms, she has said she left to focus on her family, which includes her adopted daughter Naleigh and actor-musician husband Josh Kelley.
In recent days, Heigl has been quoted as saying she wants to return to the series. But during a round of telephone interviews on Thursday, a publicist warned not to ask about the show, noting the actress did not want to discuss it.
Instead, she kept the focus on “One for the Money,” which is based on the first book in Janet Evanovich’s popular Stephanie Plum mystery series.
Heigl co-produced the film and stars as the lead heroine, a New Jersey lingerie salesperson turned bounty hunter assigned to chase down former cop and murder suspect Joe Morelli (O’Mara).
In online chat forums, Stephanie Plum readers have engaged in heated debates about whether Heigl fits the role, and the Connecticut-raised actress said she felt the pressure to live up to fans’ expectations.
“I knew that I was going to really do my absolute best to get as close as I could to her because I feel the same way that the fans of the books do, and I’m a fan of the books,” said Heigl, who’s won an Emmy and been nominated for two Golden Globe Awards for her work on “Grey’s.”
“It was nerve-racking and it is scary and hard to take a book that is so popular and that has so many fans, and go out on a limb and turn it into a film. And a lot of these fans have been waiting for a film for a long time, so you don’t want to disappoint.”
Heigl wore a curly brunette wig, worked with a dialect coach on a New Jersey accent, and learned how to shoot a real gun for the part. Her daughter was on set during shooting in Pittsburgh in the of summer 2010, but she didn’t “get too freaked out by the wig or anything like that,” said Heigl.
“I think she’s sort of used to it by now. I’ve changed my hair colour and style, like, six times in her short little life,” she added with a laugh.
Other stars in “One for the Money” include John Leguizamo, Sherri Shepherd, Debbie Reynolds and Fisher Stevens. The screenplay is by Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray and Liz Brixius.
The film is just one of several Heigl has co-produced with her mother and producing partner, Nancy Heigl, under their Abishag banner.
Heigl said she enjoys producing because it’s a unique creative outlet.
“It’s a different challenge and it has a different set of obstacles that I just found really interesting and exciting, and I just love having more control,” she said. “I love being able to have a voice when it comes to sort of the bigger creative decisions.
“And producing, too, is an opportunity for me to sort of actively seek and create art and roles and stories for myself instead of just waiting for them to come to me.”
Heigl said she’s constantly looking for new projects to produce, noting “the business is changing and making less and less films now.”
“Hollywood is an interesting place. If one thing is successful then you get a slew of scripts that sort of mimic that one project that did well,” she continued.
“So if you want to get outside the box at all or tell a different story, you know, I tend to read a lot. I love to option books and go from there.”
Heigl would “love” to do another film in the Stephanie Plum series, “It just really depends on whether or not this one does well enough to get the big finance guys to get onboard,” she said with a laugh.