Katherine Heigl is speaking out about the impact her reputation has had on her life. In an interview with The Washington Post, the 42-year-old actress opens up about the backlash she received earlier in her career.
Heigl has drawn ire for such things as deeming her 2007 film Knocked Up "a little sexist" and withdrawing herself from Emmy consideration while on Grey's Anatomy because she felt she wasn't "given the material this season to warrant" a nomination. She played Dr. Izzie Stevens on the medical drama for six seasons, from 2005 to 2010.
"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 says. "What is your definition of difficult? Somebody with an opinion that you don’t like? Now, I’m 42, and that s**t pisses me off."
At the time of her controversies, Heigl says she was "just quickly told to shut the f**k up."
"The more I said I was sorry, the more they wanted it," she says. "The more terrified and scared I was of doing something wrong, the more I came across like I had really done something horribly wrong."
While the criticism was intense then, Heigl's husband of 13 years, Josh Kelley, thinks everything would've been perceived differently had it happened today. "If she said [some of it] today, she’d be a hero," he says.
Likewise, the actress' 27 Dresses co-star, James Marsden, thinks Heigl's critics just didn't understand her.
"She has very strong convictions and strong opinions on certain things, and she doesn’t back down from letting you know if she feels like she’s been wronged in any way," Marsden says. "I’ve always seen that as just strength of character. I can see how that can get construed as being difficult or ungrateful or whatever. But if you know Katie, it’s simply because she has the courage to stand behind something she believes."
Heigl's departure from Grey's Anatomy before the end of her contract also didn't win her many fans, and that, coupled with how she was perceived as being "difficult," led to less money-making roles for the actress, a period of time that she describes as "a shunning."
"You can be the most awful, difficult, horrible person on the planet, but if you're making them money, they're going to keep hiring you," she says. "I knew that whatever they felt I had done that was so awful, they would overlook it if I made them money -- but then my films started to make not quite as much money."
Heigl's anxiety continued to grow, until it reached its peak one year after her now 4-year-old son, Joshua, was born.
"I think my family, my mother, my husband, my friends were scared. And I regret deeply that I scared them like that. But I just couldn't control it. I had no tools," she says. "... I asked my mom and my husband to find me somewhere to go that could help me because I felt like I would rather be dead. I didn't realize how much anxiety I was living with until I got so bad that I had to really seek help. You can do a lot of inner soul work, but I'm a big fan of Zoloft."
Kelley, who also parents daughters Naleigh, 12, and Adalaide, 8, with Heigl, says he "can't imagine" what she was going through during that time.
"I can't imagine what all of that pressure did to her over the years, dealing with celebrity, dealing with people saying things about her that are not true," he says. "It would be hard for anybody to process that, especially when it's unjust and a lot of it's negative."
Gradually, though, Heigl began interacting with her fans on social media, and tried to give them a peek at her real-life personality.
"It took me a long time to feel confident enough to read their comments because I just assumed the worst," she admits. "Now, it feels like a little community. I've tried to rebuild that trust with my fans through social media, show them more of who I am off camera."
Now, Heigl says she's "in control" of her life and feels "happier" than she ever has.
"I think she has found the person that she truly is, and she’s found her way to be that person with the world," Kelley says of his wife. "She just seems more at ease with family, career, and life itself, and I’m really super proud of her for that."
"I’ve grown into accepting that ambition is not a dirty word, and that it doesn’t make me less of a feminine, loving, nurturing woman to be ambitious and have big dreams and big goals," Heigl agrees. "It’s easier to be happy because I have a little more gentleness for myself."
Professionally, Heigl is focused on her new Netflix series, Firefly Lane, and doesn't seem keen on returning to roles of the past.
"I could never say never," she says of returning to Grey's Anatomy. "I think it would just be completely dependent upon the team over there, how they feel about it, and the story."
When ET spoke to her earlier this month, Heigl admitted that a Grey's return is "not likely." Watch the video below for more of Heigl's interview with ET.