Laura Heisler is a theater, film, and television actress. She has appeared in many Off-Broadway productions as well as television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, The Americans, and Madame Secretary. In 2015, she was cast as the lead in the feature film As Good as You, where she portrays a woman who struggles with grief after the death of her wife. The film was released in LA theaters on June 9.
Kim Carr: Please tell us about yourself.
Laura Heisler: I’m an actor, born in Chicago, and raised in Bethesda, MD, outside DC. I was a New York theater actor for many years, before moving to LA for a spell, doing more television work. My husband and I recently moved back to the East Coast. I’m also a mom to two wondrous little boys: a two-and-a-half-year-old and an eleven-month-old. I was actually pregnant with my first son while I was shooting As Good as You.
KC: Can you tell us about the film and your role in it?
LH: The film follows the story of Jo, in the aftermath of the loss of the love of her life, her wife, Amanda. Jo and Amanda had hoped to have a child before Amanda passed. Jo is now desperate to realize that dream — or she thinks she is — she is desperate to hold onto any part of Amanda, of the future she had thought she was going to have, of the past she can’t let go of. She is sleeping with both of her best friends. She is trying to conceive a child with Amanda’s little brother. She is drowning in her grief, her truly bad decisions, and her loneliness.
KC: What drew you to the character of Jo?
LH: Her humanity and fallibility. It’s exciting to play a character who is just reeling from one bad decision to the next. I loved that she was making “unlikeable” choices, and behaving selfishly and impulsively and desperately — that’s just fun stuff to play. I loved her wry sense of humor. I loved that she was acting out sexually; it’s not what we are expecting to see from a grieving widow. I was also just deeply moved by her journey, and by the film’s treatment of her grief, its respect for it. There aren’t easy answers to loss. The film makes her dive headlong into that reality and realization. It was just a really moving, beautiful script.
KC: Which scene was the most difficult or emotionally challenging to film? Why?
LH: You know it’s funny, the film is pretty chock full of emotional scenes, but really the hardest stuff for me to shoot was usually the most simple things, like just walking down the sidewalk sipping coffee. Sometimes it’s the simplest stuff that is so easy to overplay. But I would say the scene where Jo breaks down in front of Dr. Berg’s office was particularly intense to shoot. Jo starts the scene hung over, over-caffeinated, just an absolute physical and emotional mess, and the scene revs up pretty fast and furiously. There were a lot of physical realities to try and establish quickly, and then create the space for this tidal wave of grief to pour out. Gretchen, our amazing screenwriter, was on set that day, and I was very aware of her presence. Jo’s story is certainly not Gretchen’s story verbatim, but Gretchen did lose her wife as well, tragically. I was so aware of the real life story behind our story, of wanting to capture and honor her grief, and the language she uses to describe it. In the end I remember feeling like there was a channel running between us that day, channeling some of her heartache to me. I don’t begin to suggest that I actually understand what it’s been like to go through what she’s gone through — I certainly don’t. But I think she was so generous and available emotionally with her story and her heart, to all of us, and it was impossible not to pick up on that and let it inform your work. Also, I should add — Annie Potts is as wonderful in real life as she is on screen. I’m a huge fan, and she was so generous and lovely to work with on those days. She was instantly warm and open and supportive.
KC: How did you prepare for these difficult scenes?
LH: Just making sure you’re in a relaxed and open state. That you’re doing everything you can to set up the given circumstances of those scenes as they start, so that it’s all there, and then you can ideally work against the emotion, fight to stay in control and to get what you need. Stay connected to your scene partners and open to their choices each take — it’s always the surprising moment that another actor gives you that takes you off balance in just the right way, so that something real and unexpected and interesting can happen.
KC: Which scene was the most fun to film?
LH: Every day was really so much fun. But I particularly loved shooting the bar scenes with Lisa and Nate, especially their final sorry and goodbye scene. There’s just so much going on between all three of them. They were just juicy scenes to play. And long scenes — you could really get lost inside them. And both of those actors were just amazing to work with. So giving and funny and just beautiful.
KC: Do you think Jo made the right decision to go to Berkeley?
LH: Yes, absolutely. She has to breathe new air for a bit. She needs to get out of that house and their memories — she’s paralyzed there — so that she can actually find the space she needs to actually walk through the rest of her grief. So that she can find Amanda again, so that she can let her go.
KC: And do you think she’ll come back to be with Lisa?
LH: I don’t know. I’m sure that Gretchen has a better answer than I could. I think they’re probably not done, the thing that’s between them — it seems like there’s more there to explore and unpack. Whether they’ll wind up together in the long run? I don’t know. I can imagine that by the time they find each other again, they may not need each other in quite the same way they do now.
KC: What was a takeaway that you had after playing a woman who loved and lost?
LH: To be just so tremendously grateful for my husband, my partner Andy. I mean I already was, but I would feel so grateful that at the end of each day I could come home and hold him and be with him, and love him. It was never lost on me that Gretchen couldn’t do the same. Some days that was pretty overwhelming.
KC: It’s important, as an actor, to work with and support female directors — Nicole Kidman, in fact, just this week at Cannes, pledged to work with female directors more. Can you speak about this from your own experience working with Heather de Michele on As Good as You?
LH: I absolutely agree. I was so excited to be working with a female director, a female writer, and a female producer on this film. I think women artists must support and champion each other. I loved working with Heather. Not just because she’s a woman artist, but because she was great. But did it feel great to know we were making a very female story, with a front-and-center female protagonist, and a female creative team? Yes. It was awesome.
KC: What’s next for you?
LH: Don’t know yet. I’m excited to find out. I’ve been doing a lot of episodic TV lately — most recently, episodes of Chicago Med, Elementary, The Americans, Madam Secretary. And I’m eager to do more film work.
Kim Carr is a film studies major at University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she hopes to eventually get her graduate degree. She enjoys watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, and writing screenplays for her own movies, which may one day be shown “at a theater near you.”
As Good as You is available on iTunes: https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/movie/as-good-as-you/id1238074755?mt=6&at=11l7mn