Why Katherine Heigl is so unpopular

UNDER ATTACK: Actress Katherine Heigl
UNDER ATTACK: Actress Katherine Heigl

Cast even a casual eye over the entertainment news circuit and you could be forgiven for thinking that Katherine Heigl was the only "difficult" person in Hollywood.

Yes, in a town filled with prima donnas, wildly unchecked egos, drug fiends and general lunacy, evidently Heigl's transgressions are so immense that it's still open season on the sometime rom-com queen, who this week finds herself front and centre in another screed about the evils of Katherine Heigl.

This edition in the long-running saga comes courtesy of Gawker, who in a piece titled "Reputed Difficult Person Katherine Heigl Doesn't Think She's Difficult", singled out her response to a reporter's question at the summer press tour for her new NBC show, State Of Affairs.

In light of the bad vibes that seem to accompany her projects, said reporter enquired as to Heigl's take on her rep as an on-set pain. The actress responded, "I can't really speak to that. I can only say that I certainly don't see myself as being difficult. I would never intend to be difficult. I don't think my mother sees herself as being difficult. We always ... I think it's important to everybody to conduct themselves professionally and respectfully and kindly. If I've ever disappointed somebody, it was never intentional."

She's not mentioning her mother tangentially, either: the fact that Heigl's mother, Nancy, is her "momager" is also a continued source of sniffy column inches about the star (despite the fact that there are plenty of momagers - and "dadagers" and "sistergers" - at work in the entertainment industry).

I don't have any strong feelings either way when it comes to Heigl's work: I was never aGrey's Anatomy fan, but I have on occasion enjoyed her filmic excursions (against my better judgement I have a soft spot for 27 Dresses, and while I agree with her that aspects of Knocked Up were "kinda sexist", I still enjoy it).

Katherine Heigl and mother Nancy Heigl on April 13, 2014 in New York City. Photo: Josiah Kamau

However, the level of vitriol continually lobbed her way since 2008 leaves me wondering if it might be time to call time on this peculiar industry pastime.

It reached a head when Vulture ran an excoriating series of features about Heigl's faltering star power; first, in 2010, when they described her appeal (or lack thereof) with, "While to some she's a ditzy-delightful movie presence, to others she's a headstrong, self-immolating, gaffe-spewing, headache-inducing diva freak. Or both." They returned for round two in 2012, "Heigl's seemingly unfixable image problems have cratered her box-office draw, and she's off the leading lady short list, say our experts."

(If you look at an archive of Vulture's Star Market features, more often than not the assessment of male stars' career prospects tends towards the positive - "The new Paul Newman"! - while female stars have to "escape the rom-com curse" or prove they're "more than just a pretty face".)

It's true that difficult or prickly people often lack the self-awareness to accept that they're part of the problem, and that may well be true in Heigl's case. Attempting to trip her up at the press tour for her first major project in years, on the other hand, smacks keenly of meanness. I mean, come on, starring in ads for sleep-aid ZzzQuil doesn't exactly strike me as Heigl riding out the past few years sitting on her high horse and sneering at her industry peers.

Besides, she's not the first actor to publicly "air her grievances", as The Hollywood Reporter sniffily put it, about a project she's soured on since the AD yelled "wrap"; Jim Carrey last year withdrew his support for Kick-Ass 2, to widespread rounds of applause for keeping it real, when he decided the film was too violent. In other words, Heigl seems to get a lot of grief for behaviour that's not that different to male stars who are frequently given second (and third, and ninth) chances to redeem themselves.

Additionally, "difficult" is a word that tends to be slung with far greater frequency at women in the entertainment industry; last year, director Lynne Ramsay was decried as "difficult" when she left a project ("walked off set!!!") due to creative difficulties.

In a piece on Ramsay's treatment, Soraya Roberts wrote, "In fact, none of the famously difficult male filmmakers have been labeled as such. Either their hellish shoots are given cute nicknames -- "Apocalypse, When?" for Francis Ford Coppola's infamously delayed feature to "Flaws" for Steven Spielbergís error-addled shark flick -- or they are treated with euphemisms like mercurial, the word actress Lily Tomlin used to describe her "I Heart Huckabees" director David O. Russell."

It remains to be seen whether State Of Affairs will be a success, or the career renaissance that so many seem to think Heigl desperately needs. But it's perhaps the fact that an actress who speaks her mind and demands a certain level of respect and remuneration is so often chastised for being "difficult".