Will Six Days, Seven Nights play in Peoria? Whatevr the outcome, it's not all up to Heche
"You know how a woman gets a man excited?" Harrison Ford's grumpy old cargo pilot growls at spunky New York magazine editor Anne Heche shortly before they crash-land together on a deserted South Seas isle in Six Days, Seven Nights, the new, lighter-than-an-ocean-breeze romantic comedy that Disney's Touchstone Pictures releases June 12. Not even pausing to hear a reply, Ford grumbles, "She shows up." Ba-ba-bum.
Hollywood doesn't necessarily believe its own hokum, though. For what if the woman on-screen is openly attached offscreen to another woman? Will moviegoers still show up to vicariously luxuriate in her filmic romance with a man?
For years the conventional Hollywood wisdom has held that audiences won't accept an openly gay actor as a romantic lead. But then, since the few openly gay actors around were relegated to supporting character roles, the theory--even though it provided a rationale for many a gay star to stay in the closet--has never been put to the test. All that's about to change.
When director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) first called in Heche to test opposite Ford for the lead role in the $70-million Six Days, Seven Nights, she was just another up-and-coming actress with a string of steadily building credits: a stint on the TV soap Another World; a star turn in the 1996 independent feature Walking and Talking; a supporting role as Johnny Depp's long-suffering wife in Donnie Brasco in 1997. "But she had the one thing you can't manufacture--it just had to be there--the chemistry with Harrison," recalls producer Roger Birnbaum.
Heche had an even more immediate chemistry with comedian Ellen DeGeneres, whom she met at last year's Vanity Fair Academy Awards party. Just as she was about to be cast in Six Days, Seven Nights, the biggest break of her career, Heche and DeGeneres began appearing together as a couple in public, triggering a media firestorm. "We made our decision before Anne's relationship with Ellen became public, but we knew about it," says Birnbaum. "To be honest, we did talk about it. But we talked about it for a second and then said, `Who cares?'"
Hollywood cared. As Heche herself admitted to The New York Times, "In an instant I was told I was not going to have a job anymore.... Nobody was hiring me. And then the word came that everybody was going to wait and see how I did in Six Days, Seven Nights."
But Six Days, Seven Nights is at best a problematic test case for whether an up-front lesbian can carry a very hetero romantic comedy. An intentionally breezy summer entertainment that borrows riffs from The African Queen and Romancing the Stone--and avoids the overheated sexual politics of Lina Wertmuller's similarly set Swept Away--the movie's eventual success or failure shouldn't have to rest on Heche's shoulders.
It is, after all, a Harrison Ford vehicle too. And though Ford is Hollywood's top-grossing movie star (his films have raked in $2.08 billion worldwide, and dollars are how Hollywood ultimately measures stardom), his forte is straight--no pun intended--action-adventure films. …