EXCLUSIVE: Sandra Oh and Anne Heche on 'Catfight,' Fight Scenes and Fighting for Roles
By John Boone
Writing out the plot of Catfight makes it sound absolutely insane: The satire stars Sandra Oh as wino trophy wife Veronica and Anne Heche as failed artist Ashley, one-time college frenemies who run into each other years later and end up in a brawl that leaves Veronica comatose. Two years later, she wakes to find that she's lost everything and Ashley is now thriving. The two re-meet, another brawl ensues, Ashley goes into a coma and everything changes...again. There is also a war on terror, a not-so-subtle Trump diss, and a character called the Fart Machine. Then again, when you have a chance to watch the indie film (out March 3), it is that insane. ET sat down with the stars for a freewheeling discussion about their movie, why Oh doesn't want to talk about Grey's Anatomy and losing roles to each other.
ET: This movie is unlike anything I have ever seen. What drew you to this project? Do you remember your thoughts when you first read the script?
Anne Heche: I've never read a script like this. From the first scene, I was like, "I want to do this movie. This guy -- like, what a voice!" Then you keep reading and it goes further and further and as [writer-director Onur Tukel] kind of takes you slowly into one movie, you think, Oh, this is kind of fun... [and then] BAH BAM! And you're like, "Wait a minute! Did I just read that?! Is this really...? Did he really...? Does this movie exist for these women?! Oh my god! I gotta do this movie!" And then it never let go of that.
Sandra Oh: [Laughs] And then we never let go of it.
Heche: I think it was the same for Sandra; we talked to Onur and learned who our sparring partner was going to be and we were like, Whaaat?! I met Sandra a long time ago and I was, of course, a huge fan of hers. We were doing a charity function introducing different people, so she was backstage when I came offstage, holding the Sandra court, if you will, with everybody around her giggling and drooling. As I'm being ushered out the door, I was like, "I WILL WORK WITH YOU SOMEDAY! I love you!" Or whatever else I barked in your ear.
Oh: You called it! You called it, like, 10 years before. And then it happened!
Heche: And then it happened! So, you never know when it's going to happen. And, by the way, I'm really glad that I didn't do a guest star on Grey's Anatomy first.
Oh: You're such a f**king liar! This is basically -- I don't even want to talk about it. Because you're such a..."Psycho." You know, I don't really mean to "Wag the Dog," because of some [pointing at Heche] "Volcano"--
Heche: It doesn't work! Out of context it doesn't work! Randomly shooting off titles doesn't work. It works when I say I'm really glad that I didn't have to be one of the guest stars on Grey's Anatomy, so that when we worked together we had a complete movie to do together.
Oh: [on iPhone] I'm trying to go to IMDb, because I want to do the rest of this interview by saying your film titles.
Heche: She is so funny. But anyway, Grey's Anatomy wouldn't have captured--
Oh: You bitch.
Heche: I'll stop, I'll stop! But it is true! I'm really glad that we didn't work together before this movie. Because it's weird to imagine that really we were not meant to work together until this movie came to us, because our sparring partner needed to be--
Oh: Each other.
Heche: And so this gift was like, wowza!
Oh: I know, because it took me "Six Days and Seven Nights" to read it. [Laughs]
Heche: You slow reader! I love that she has to look at my IMDb. Let it be noted, if she is quoting one of the movies that I've done because she doesn't want me to say Grey's Anatomy a lot, I don't have to look at her resume. I don't have to be educated. You're looking at my IMDb? Close it down! It's even more insulting that you don't know my movies.
Oh: I do! But I want to know all the titles. I already tried to stick a couple in there.
Heche: This all is coming up because earlier I said our characters were so "Clueless."
Oh: And we were really trying to do it to Alicia [Silverstone, who co-stars in Catfight as Ashley's girlfriend]. Clueless is easier to put in. Especially with these characters.
Heche: Then it became my challenge to her.
When you hear the title Catfight, you're expecting maybe a slap or some hair pulling. But you two full-on brawl in this. Why do you think that title was chosen?
Oh: I think that's one of the great things about the actual film. One of the things that I also liked about it is the actual title. Because it's exactly that -- you have an image of what a catfight is, and this film really upends it. Those images of what you might think a catfight is is not what these two characters do. At all.
Heche: It's also the depth of feeling that women have and how we express it. Like, women and our behavior, we're supposed to behave. But if we would let out our anger toward another girl, we wouldn't be violent. We'd just smack each other and pull each other's hair a little. Even "catfight" in its essence of fighting doesn't allow women to be powerful in the depth of emotion. I think that's one of the things that we liked exploring.
Like, if we can take all of this life that these two -- for lack of a more complicated term -- flawed women [have], who are so angry at themselves or the world or anybody else that they can blame, when you dig down as deep as you can possibly go to get yourself to the place that would make that fight happen, that starts to encompass what we think complicated women are about. And how it's expressed is through the fighting, and we loved that metaphor, obviously. I think, really, women are hungry to express themselves as we see men express themselves. But we've learned different ways to do it.
The fight scenes must have been so fun to shoot, just because of how crazy they are. How much training did you have ahead of time?
Oh: Well, we didn't have Matt Damon's schedule.
Heche: No, we didn't! But I have his six-pack. In my ice cube tray. Which I had to bring [to set], because they didn't have money for water. [Laughs] I'm kidding.
Oh: No, there was no training. It was a very, very, very small budget. It was a micro budget, and we shot this over 16 days. So, a whole film over 16 days, there's no fat at all. There is no room for rehearsal. Our very first scene was the scene where [our characters] met. On an indie film, you are really crunched for time.
Usually, these fight scenes are quite choreographed--
Heche:That is true! It's choreographed. We didn't train, but they were very, highly choreographed and very specific.
Was that done ahead of time, or on the day of?
Heche: On the day.
Oh: Again, I don't know that they really had time. Locations would change.
Heche: And we didn't have the money to get in the day before to choreograph. So, the fight coordinator was choreographing in the stairwell while we were shooting [another scene]. As you do on a low budget.
Oh: It was on the fly. Like, suddenly we're in the room. He's going to choreograph a fight, our stunt doubles do a couple of passes, they film it, and then Anne and I do it move by move by move. We'll do two moves here, three moves here. Do you feel comfortable? OK, we can do four moves here. And we would slowly film the entire thing.
Do you have any leisure, then, to enjoy it and think, This is absurd and fun? Or is it This is stressful and we gotta get it done?
Heche: It's incredibly focused. But I think that's one of the things that parallels the movie. The humor is the humor because we are so intensely grounded in the messed-up characters that we are. You don't let go of that. We never commented within the movie on how crazy our characters were or how silly we got. If I had the self-awareness to roll my eyes or have a sense of humor about myself, of course I wouldn't get into a brawl! Because I would be able to be, like, "What an idiot! Why am I so upset?" And it took that amount of intensity. The fights are supposed to be funny and entertaining to everybody, but for us, it’s the most intense. It's life or death.
Oh: It's only funny if it's like that.
Heche: I don't think we ever came out of it and went, "Oh my God. Look at what we're doing." There was no way to take a breath or to have a point of view, because we were characters who didn't have a point of view and we only had a day to shoot it. I think we took a breath after we stopped shooting to go, "Wow, was that a crazy day."
What was it like going back afterward and watching it all cut together?
Oh: It was actually very emotional and not so easy. We saw it for the first time screened at [Toronto International Film Festival] and we both really needed to take a moment afterward. It was a very emotional moment, because, again, you don't know what it's going to be. And just the impact of seeing an image of yourself being so violent--
Heche: And so violent to another! And soooo ugly. I knew that I needed to create that person that people wanted to kill, but then to actually see it. It's like, Ughhhhhh! It was heartbreaking! I just felt like my soul was laid naked in front of everybody to see, because there was no relief. And to allow that kind of darkness to be shown, I think that's one of the things that people are going to respond to about the movie. That there was no break in time in this movie where you think, "Wow! Sandra really wants people to like her!"
Heche: We didn't do the movie to give ourselves a break. But the result that we went for, I think we actually hit -- which you don't say very often. I literally left the theater and it was freezing and I stepped outside and just started bawling. I started bawling and I was like, "I don't even know where it's coming from! I'm not a crier!"
Oh: You're such a big crier. You are.
Heche: I actually don't express myself a lot through tears! I get emotional, but I don't express my feelings about myself or my own needs through [tears], that's not a way I communicate. But it was such a relief to have done something that mattered.
Having sat with you for about 15 minutes, you seem to get along really great. But you hear stories about how Hollywood and this industry can pit women against each other. Is that something you feel you've experienced?
Heche: You mean women who don't like women? Yeah, all the time. We're not those kind of women.
Oh:I haaate you. I know that you have expressed that before. I will say, for me, of course there is that, but [in] my experience, just the work that I've done over the past year -- all women, mostly women of color, directing and writing for me -- it's also my choice, to veer toward working with those people.
Heche: I would say that is more in the past. But also, a lot of things get smoothed out as I learn, I mature, I start understanding that people are actually trying to help me. There's a lot of the Anne growth that had to happen to. But certainly, I think there are women who compete with other women and women who want to not only support but be part of that artist-woman in any way that we can be. I want to be a part of [Sandra's] life, like, without a doubt. No matter what! Because I want to help create as much as I can for her, as an artist. I respect her, I adore her, I don't go in and compete.
Oh: But that also speaks to the lack of opportunity and space. When there's only, let's say, one part and there's thousands of women.
Heche:I want it! But Alicia [Silverstone] was amazing, because she has said very openly [that] she wanted to play Veronica and Onur wanted Sandra to play Veronica. He is very outspoken in terms of what he wants and what he needs, and he is very persuasive. So, Alicia was like, "You know what? I want to be a part of this movie. I want to be a part of this cast. I want to work with you, Onur. Let's make the relationship with Anne's [character] something that feels really unique to me." So, of course we want the roles that are great. But I love her vulnerability in saying that. She came on board and we couldn't have done that movie without her.