Tucked away behind Toronto’s Downsview Park, unmarked grey buildings tower over an uneven parking lot and unkempt grass, where the odd wildflower reaches out towards passing trucks. It’s hard to imagine a newly minted royal like Meghan Markle slugging out long production days within these sound stages for seven seasons on USA Network’s Suits. Yet, this is indeed where the glamorous New York legal scene and its fashionable characters come to life.
While original stars Gabriel Macht, Sarah Rafferty and Rick Hoffman remain, Markle and co-star Patrick J. Adams are now gone — replaced with series regulars Dulé Hill, Amanda Schull and Katherine Heigl for season 8. It’s Heigl’s trailer that’s parked first in line to the right of those buildings, with an inconspicuous sign marked “Sam” (for Suits character Samantha Wheeler) tacked on the door. Inside, though, the décor is surely fit for royalty. Pristine white shag carpet, pink throw pillows and white flowers set the ambience, while a sweet scent wafts from a nearby diffuser and several lit candles cast the illusion of a meditative retreat. Indeed, Heigl’s rescue Pomeranian, Sergeant Snuggles, has majestically passed out at the head of the pillow-strewn bed.
Heigl, who turns 40 this year, is certainly queen of her craft. At age 15, she starred as Gérard Depardieu’s daughter in My Father the Hero, released in 1994, and then worked her way through a handful of other projects before starring in the 1999 TV series Roswell. But it was in 2005, when she landed the role of Dr. Izzie Stevens in Shonda Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy, that she became a household name. Two Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy win later, it all blew up.
Heigl withdrew from the 2008 Emmy Awards following her win the year before, stating she hadn’t been given sufficient material. She began booking romantic comedies and asked to be released from her Grey’s contract despite having recently renewed it for more money. And then there were the rumours that she and her manager mother, Nancy Heigl, were difficult to work with, something Rhimes fuelled in the press. It all culminated in Heigl’s highly publicized exit from the series in 2010 and a short-lived foray into feature films.
Fast-forward to today and Heigl has apologized to Rhimes for her comments. She has been to therapy to deal with the public scrutiny following the “difficulty” rumours and recalls getting to a point where she was afraid to tell wardrobe that the shoes she’d been issued on one gig were too small for her feet. Meanwhile, she has become a mother to three children, married musician Josh Kelley and found new footing in her career.
“I really had to adjust my work expectations and schedules to accommodate being a working mom,” says Heigl, adding that during production, her family moved to a “tiny” condo in Yorkville, where they were living on top of one another. “It’s a fallacy that we can do it all. I’m compromising being with the kids right now to be here on Suits. Or I’m compromising doing what I love to do professionally to be with my kids. You have to make those choices, but the beauty of something like this is that I’m playing someone who can still be a role model to my children. And the schedule is so awesome. It’s amazing not to work every single episode, every day.”
If it weren’t for Heigl’s work ethic, she may never have landed such a sweet gig. Over the past four years, while headlining two short- lived TV dramas, State of Affairs and Doubt, she has also started producing with her mother. When the duo pursued Suits creator Aaron Korsh to write a potential project, it inadvertently led to the role of Samantha Wheeler on the recently renewed show, marking the first time in Heigl’s career that she has joined something in progress.
“It’s been a totally different experience because you’re walking into something already established. But it’s also a relief in a way because I already know I love the dialogue, the characters, the look of the show. You’re stepping into something that’s already working and there is a real relief in that. It’s not as much pressure,” says Heigl.
“She’s a force on the screen. She has such an amazing attitude, she’s so professional, she knows her lines, she shows up on time, and she can do anything,” Korsh raves, revealing it’s a first for him too, creating a character after an actor’s been signed. “You ask her to play a scene in a completely opposite way than she just did and she knocks it out of the park. She just breathes new life into the show.”
While the future of Suits, its legacy of powerful women and Heigl’s role on it remain unknown at time of press, the actor reflects that this character is unlike anything she has ever tackled and it empowers her in “a soulful new way”.
“I feel like I’ve aged out of the insecurity and waffle-iness of my 20s, and the trying to loudly make a stance in my early 30s,” she says. “Now I feel more like a Samantha — someone who can draw boundaries, can get it done, can take charge, but can do it with grace and ease and a smile and not look contentious.”
This is 40 indeed.
By Amber Dowling – *This article originally appeared in INSIGHT: The Art of Living | Fall 2018
Photography Courtesy of: Vera Anderson/WireImage/Getty Images