Closing out SBIFF with Heather Graham

By Steven Libowitz   |   February 20, 2024
Heather Graham stars and directs Chosen Family, which has its world premiere at SBIFF (photo by Dimitri Sarantis via Wikimedia Commons)

Heather Graham has made a career out of portraying the charming, sexy-but-sweet girl who’s lighthearted and lovable as she’s in on the joke. Think Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, the girl Jon Favreau finally connects with in Swingers, roles on TV’s Scrubs and Californication, and even Rollergirl in Boogie Nights. Graham plays a similarly sane but self-effacing character in the romcom Chosen Family, which will have its world premiere as SBIFF’s Closing Night film on February 17. But the difference is she wrote the role herself and also directed the film, her second effort behind the camera in a 35-year career. 

Graham plays Ann, a people-pleasing yoga teacher trying to achieve some inner peace despite a dating life in the dumper and a family that’s manic. Ann meets the perfect guy but finds herself competing with his daughter for his attention. Struggling to repair her estranged relationship with her sister (played by Julia Stiles), she relies on her friends (Andrea Savage, Thomas Lennon, and Odessa Rae) to provide support and guide her through life’s troubling decisions.

Graham has made no secret that the story springs from her own life, much as her writer-director debut, Half Magic, was based on her many experiences in bad relationships and harassment she has faced in Hollywood. The affable actress took a break from ski lessons in Wyoming to talk about the movie and more. 

Q. Just how close to the truth is the story in Chosen Family?

A. It’s made up but it’s inspired by my life. I was always codependent and at a certain point I got curious how that happened? I was intrigued by the idea that sometimes when a kid is frustrated by these qualities in their parents, they end up finding the same ones in their relationships. I wanted to explore that idea because my friends were just really the most supportive people in my life. 

I only saw the preview, but that kid is such a fierce competitor, and your self-doubts seem really uncomfortable?

It was meant to find humor in something that’s painful, as it’s about my own journey with codependency, and how to get free. The little girl is a bit like her sister, repeating that frustrating dynamic to her family. 

Your last movie was something of an indictment of Hollywood and how hard it is to get a movie made as a woman. Was it any easier this time around? 

No. It was very hard to get made. To be honest, a lot of movies get made based on actor attachments and men are much more valuable (at the box office). So when you write a movie where the man isn’t the star and his character isn’t like this Indiana Jones hero, and you don’t have a massive name to make it, it’s very hard. I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s so many more movies made about men because the whole system of financing for films is geared around male-dominated products and male actors. 

I like watching films that have a female protagonist in a story about her journey. I wanted to share how learning how to heal myself and finding laughter and pain and just getting to play a character that it’s not exactly me, but has a lot of similarities. I’m so grateful that I got to make it with actors who are my friends.

How is it to have the film premier in Santa Barbara? 

It’s so exciting. It’s about celebrating my friendships, and pretty much the friends who have inspired me, they’re all going to be there, including some I have known since I was a teenager. People are flying in from Greece and coming in from San Francisco, and newer friends from town and they’re all coming. I’m excited. 

I saw the photos of you from last summer in a bikini that you yourself posted on Instagram. I don’t know how to ask this question in a PC way, but holy s—, you look incredible! What is your secret? 

Thank you, that’s very sweet. I work out. I do yoga. I eat healthy. I don’t drink or do drugs, and I guess I have lucky genetics. And being an actress puts the fear in you too. I’m going to be on camera – I can’t just gain 30 pounds. But it’s also something I explore in the movie. There’s a scene where my character is being told she should become relevant by putting up pictures of herself in a bikini. Whenever I’ve done that, they get a lot of likes. So I was just exploring how as actresses now, or artists or people, we’re supposed to put everything on Instagram. So I was just kind of making fun of myself at the same time. 

I read that you still have the roller skates from Boogie Nights from more than 25 years ago. Where do you keep them? 

It’s the coolest thing. I just moved and I was thinking maybe I should get rid of them, just give them to Goodwill or something. But my manager called the Academy Museum (which has film stills and other archives as well as props and other objects). That’s where they keep Dorothy’s Ruby Red slippers from The Wizard of Oz. They unanimously wanted them. Isn’t that amazing! 


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