By Anusha Alikhan
Heather Graham has always been a delicious contradiction, titillating viewers with her fresh-faced, innocent looks while taking on sexually explicit roles.
She first gained widespread notice by skating around in her skimpies as the porn starlet Roller Girl, in 1997’s Oscar-nominated “Boogie Nights.” Now 36, Graham is getting a lot of attention for her role as a lesbian in the new project “Gray Matters.”
The indie film, which opens nationwide Feb. 23, has received rave reviews after screenings at the Hampton Film Festival, the Santa Barbara Film Festival, the International Film Festival in Ft. Lauderdale, and at its recent showing in New York. She has “never looked lovelier,” according to one critic, with another calling the film “an exquisite glass of champagne.”
The movie is a romantic comedy about two siblings, Gray and Sam, who are so alike that they fall for the same girl. This is no simple matter of brotherly rivalry however. Gray, played by Graham, is a girl who unwittingly falls heels over head for her brother’s fiancée, played by Bridget Moynahan. For the first time, Gray, who previously attributed her lack of success in the love department to the lack of available men, is suddenly confronted with an alternate explanation—maybe, just maybe, she’s gay.
While Graham’s portrayal of a closet lesbian is humorous, it does hold a certain social awareness appeal that, when done right, could help re-launch her career into the mainstream, and get her access to the cool club of actors like
Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger who have played cross-over roles. This is, of course, not Graham’s first encounter with the risqué. She agreed to a full-frontal shot in “Boogie Nights,” played a prostitute in “From Hell,” and sported the porn star label once again for the “Guru.”
In “Gray Matters,” she gears up for some girl-on-girl action, sharing several “hot” scenes with co-star Moynahan. When asked about making out with Moynahan at the D.C. premier of the film, Graham reportedly responded, “She was a pretty good kisser. The lips are very soft and sweet.”
Graham, who has an Irish background, was raised in a strict Catholic family. The actress is currently estranged from her mother, a noted children’s book author, and her father, a retired FBI agent. While they were initially supportive of her acting career, they did not want her to participate in scenes involving nudity or sex, and even made her turn down a part in the ‘80s teen-hit “Heathers,” because the language was too vulgar. Graham’s acceptance of a more provocative part, as a scorned girlfriend in “Two Girls and a Guy” in 1997, is reportedly a role that her parents strongly objected to, and her estrangement from them occurred shortly afterwards.
The actress also distanced herself from her Catholic roots early in her career, saying in a 2001 interview that the doctrines of the Catholic Church stifled her sexuality, “Why do I have to do what all these men are saying?” she said. “Why is a woman’s sexuality supposed to be so evil?” Since the main focus of “Gray Matters” happens to be female sexuality, on Graham’s part this role is perhaps another way to jab at the gut of the Church and leave her prim upbringing behind her.
Ironically, it is her angelic, “good Catholic girl” appearance – big blue eyes and honey-dew skin – that give her an edge whether she is playing a porn star in “Boogie Nights,” a prostitute in “From Hell” or a junkie in “Drugstore Cowboy.” Esthetically, she is endearing in otherwise controversial roles. In “Gray Matters,” Graham will join a long list of actors who have represented characters wallowing in their sexual confusion.