After almost choking to death on a sandwich, Anne Heche’s Beth Harper claims she can talk to God in the new NBC comedy, Save Me. When she’s revived, Beth thinks she can see the Big Guy and starts to make amends to everyone she’s every shut out of her life… and it’s a lot of people.
Also starring Madison Davenport (Shameless) as her horrified daughter, Michael Landes as her skeptical husband and Alexandra Breckenridge (American Horror Story) as her husband’s ex-mistress, Beth eventually starts to win people over with her new optimistic views on life.
In this interview, Heche talks about her love of physical comedy, trying to quit acting when she was younger and how we all get “messages” from God.
Save Me airs on Thursdays at 8pm on NBC
You started your career with drama, but more recently the roles you’ve taken, like this and Hung, are comedy. Is that because it’s a better schedule for a mom or is there another reason that you want to do comedy now.
Anne Heche: You know what, nobody saw my bad soap acting. I think a lot of people laughed at that when I was 17. But I think I’ve always been drawn to, you know, making people giggle.
I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to do so many different things in so many different mediums, you know? And I guess when I went to Broadway with Alec Baldwin and I was – I did 20th Century, I just fell in love with physical comedy.
You cannot get more pleasure, I don’t think, then throwing yourself up against a wall and listening to an audience just cackle with laughter. And I guess I kind of set out to make more of those opportunities happen for myself, for sure. And Save Me has fallen into that, just you know, desire to make people giggle.
I do like the schedule though, that is – that’s for sure. but it’s not necessarily about schedule, it’s just that the joy of my life kind of, you know, it’s funner probably for people to hang out with me when I’m making them laugh than when I’m making them cry.
So it gets addictive.
I watched an episode of Another World when you were the twins, and you did a great job because you could always tell which one was which. Can you remember back then…
Anne Heche: Of course. I’m not that old.
No, but I’m saying, can you remember your feelings back then, of the career that you’ve gone on to have, did you ever imagine that this – that you would work consistently like you have?
Anne Heche: Oh my gosh, no. I mean no. I tried to quit acting after I stopped that job, and go to – I wanted to go to Parsons School of Design.
I never thought in a million years that anybody would continue to hire me as an actress. And when I was getting ready to go I paid my, you know, first tuition and everything and then I got a call asking if I wanted to go and audition for O Pioneers!, a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie.
And I got it and then was like, “Well” – and this is so funny because it does dovetail kind of perfectly into Save Me, because I thought, “I must be getting a message from God. I must be – I mean come on. Somebody’s hiring me to go work with Jessica Lange? I better do this.” And so I didn’t go to Parsons School of Design and I haven’t stopped working since.
So you know, God does dictate some things in our life I guess. But as I was, you know, I’m meant to be a fool.
So you believe in messages from God then, like in the show?
Anne Heche: Well you know, I think we all get messages. I think sometimes we’re more in tune to it than others. And like Beth in my show, I probably misinterpret messages often. And I’m going down, you know, trippy, windy roads trying to find out if the messages are actually – if I’ve interpreted them correctly.
And I’m sure we all do that. It’s part of what I love about the show. I – you know, we look for signs, we look for messages. Sometimes it comes in a book, sometimes it comes in the stars, and you know, we try to figure out how to make our lives work.
What was it that really attracted you to the script in the first place? What made you say, you know, you had to do this?
Anne Heche: Well I think I mean it goes along the lines of what I’ve been saying. You know, I believe that we get second chances in life. And Beth, my character, is in a situation; she’s an Ohio housewife, I’m from Ohio. That’s not – that’s kind of the first of many things that Beth and I have in common.
But you know, she’s a housewife and she hasn’t done it very well. She’s not a great mom, she’s not a great wife, she drinks too much, she plays too hard, and she hasn’t really been responsible. And by the time we come in to meet her and she’s choking on a hoagie, her life isn’t great. And she gets this – she gets a second chance to do it again.
And I love that because I’ve been so blessed with many chances in my life that I’m really – I get really excited by being able to play women that get to do it all again, you know? Because we don’t – I’m so sorry that I am on a cell phone, I don’t – I no longer have a land line in my life. Is that – does that mean I’m a modern woman? Forgive me for those. I – am I now modern? So you know, I like that. I also like that we – I think that we do come to points in our life where we need something to believe in. And whether or not we believe – or wherever we get our strength from, I think we have so much courage, everybody, to walk through this life and try to make it right.
And that’s really all Beth is trying to do. She wants to do it right and she wants to make people happy along the way. And I like that. She’s a really positive person. And this message that these – this connection that she has with God has filled her with the joy of life. And she wants to give it to everybody like a gift.
And sometimes when you have that big of a gift, sometimes people don’t want it. So it’s not always – it doesn’t always work out perfectly for her, but she is really trying to figure it out in a positive way. And I love all that about her. And she’s a goofball. She’s a total goofball, and so am I, so I love that I get to make people giggle.
And what do you find the most challenging?
Anne Heche: You know humor, for me anyway, I always want it to be something that people understand and can relate to. It’s – when you’re playing a person who talks to God, you want to be sure that people believe that’s actually really happening.
So that’s kind of the balance that we’re trying to strike all the time in the show, that you really believe in Beth, that she’s not – that it’s not so far, you know, so far in a realm that we don’t understand. She’s a girl just like us and that’s how – it’s not really difficult to do that, but that’s what we wanted to do. We want to stay grounded too.
How did you prepare for the role?
Anne Heche: Let’s see, what did I do? Well in the pilot, you know, Beth is kind of a slob when we first meet her. You know, before Beth gets filled with God she’s a – she’s kind of a slob and a drunk and everything.
So in the pilot, for the first time she decides to get herself together and go out and start running. And I remember thinking, “I wonder how God feels in your body?” You know, “What is – what does – what would it feel like if all of a sudden God started walking around in your body?”
So I went into Hancock Park which is where I live in Los Angeles, and I went to a gorgeous street that looked like the street where we were going to shoot, that kind of looked like Cincinnati. And I remember putting on earphones and I looked all around and was really hoping that nobody was watching me, and I started acting – I started feeling what it would feel like. Like, “What would it feel like if all of a sudden I was just filled with God?”
And so I started running down the street and I was jumping and doing jumping jacks and shaking my leg and doing all of this goofy stuff. And I looked over and there was like two dogs and two people with their heads tilted like, “What is in that girl? What is that about?” And I realized that I had figured it out, that this character needs to be filled in her body all the time.
And so my work kind of was – that I prepped for, started there. Just, “What does it feel like to feel that good? What would it feel like if I felt, if I knew that I was going to be okay?” Which is really what I feel like God is to Beth, an answer that everything’s going to be okay for her, that she’s going to make it, she’s going to live, she’s going to reconnect with her daughter, she’s going to reconnect with her husband, her friends, everything’s going to be okay.
And so that’s the feeling that I have when I’m working on her.
During your time on the set, how well did you bond with your fellow cast members?
Anne Heche: My gosh, they’re like my family. They’re just the most super-duper people.
My daughter – I just, you know, I adore Madison. From the time she came in to audition with us it was like she – like she calls me her second mom. Her mom is adorable and I love her mom, but I – you know, I’ve basically adopted her.
My friends are just the most darling group of, you know, supportive actors. And Michael Landes is the best TV husband you could hope for. It’s just – we have a terrific time.
Have you learned anything about yourself from playing Beth?
Anne Heche: That I am more of a dope than I ever have imagined. I like making people laugh. I will – I mean people say to me on the set, “Man, you will do anything.” I won’t tell you what the episode is, but we do move toward a place where Beth takes in the messages from God and she is really, she is on her death bed, again.
She believes that she has to do something and she’s all – she – her family says, “You know what, if you’re going to go this far, like this is it. This is enough. I’m leaving. You cannot be this person. I’m going to – I’m leaving you.” And even in the rejection of her family she’s like, she believes in God, she believes God is telling her something to do.
And I will tell you, I got down on my knees. This path of, which is the hilarity about Beth, the path that she goes on leads her to a place where she ends up in the mud eating the dirt off the ground and shoving it in her face in front of television cameras to prove something to her friends.
And after I did it, you know, they yelled cut and it was so disgusting. Actually my son was there watching because I knew that he just loves when I make a fool out of myself. So he was there just barfing. He’s like, “Oh no you did not do that.”
And I looked and the director said, “You know what Anne, you will just – you will do anything to make people laugh won’t you?” And I – and that was a thing that I, you know, that’s kind of what I’ve learned; that I will go – I will eat mud. I will eat mud if it’s funny.
How long did you actually live in Ohio? And how did your knowledge of Ohio inform you as your performance?
Anne Heche: I moved from Ohio when I was about 6. So my knowledge of Ohio probably informed me – well I lived with a mom who’s, you know, from Ohio and Indiana so I probably took some of my Ohio mom from her.
But probably not a lot. It’s probably more my visits to Ohio. I shot a movie called Milk Money in Cincinnati and so it was probably – it’s probably more those memories that I have even, that kind of informed my Ohio sensibility for the movie.
You mentioned that the part of Hancock Park looked like Cincinnati, but I’m hearing that the setting – that the show kind of changed and after four or five episodes that it’s kind of more generic Ohio or is it still pretty much Cincinnati?
Anne Heche: You know, we actually shot – I mean Hancock Park has some beautiful old houses. But we shot in Pasadena, which is really, really, really beautiful out here. And did it become more generic really, as the show went on; I don’t think necessarily.
I think we’re just more of an – you know not – we don’t get so specifically in Cincinnati because we’re not shooting there. You know, so I don’t think we wanted to be – sometimes you have to do that so that you’re not like offending anybody by, “That’s not the Cincinnati street,” because we didn’t do locations there. So in that way I guess it becomes more generic.
You’ve done series TV before, so at this point how easy or difficult is it for you to say, “Yes,” to committing to a show?
Anne Heche: Oh my God well, “Yes,” is the easiest answer I have. Like, “What? You want me to be on TV? Sure.” I love it.
I mean at this point in my life I find it so extraordinary that people are still asking me to be on TV. It’s just – it amazes me sometimes because I go, “Wow have I really – really? You want me to go be in this show that I think is so hilarious and so awesome?” And I mean I think I’m amazed that people keep coming up with new ideas, let alone new ideas that they want me to be in.
But I love to work. And this – I mean I guess if I could have shaped a show or an idea or a sense of humor for myself, I would have come up with this. I did not create this show for myself but I’m happy — thrilled — that I’m a producer on it.
So when NBC approached me about it I was like, I just – I couldn’t believe it. The blessings of my life are extraordinary. And this is one that I’m just, you know, I’m thrilled that they asked me to do.
How easy is it for you when you’re doing a series, to keep the character fresh when you’re going back to it season after season, as opposed to working on a feature film?
Anne Heche: Well, I would love to be able to tell you in three years what it feels like to be keeping it fresh. Right now I am just, you know, keeping my fingers crossed that I get a second season. I feel like there – we haven’t even begun to tap into what the – what Beth’s life is and what will happen to her with this, you know, extraordinary thing that she has going on in her life.
I mean, because of the subject matter, because Beth talks to God, we have – you know, it just is kind of endless. I think Darlene Hunt and I are – you know, I mean we’ve just done 6 – 7 episodes really. So we want – like we just think that the possibilities are endless.
I can’t imagine getting tired of what that journey is because the show is like starting at the beginning of somebody’s life, but as an adult, you know? So it would be really hard for that not to be fresh, to me.
But you know, talk to me in seven years. I can’t wait. I mean please, I hope we’re having this conversation and I’m like, “I’m so bored with her. I’m so bored with this God topic.” I mean it has fascinated people for millions of years, you know, so I think we’ve got a lot of stories that we could tell.