Happy Camper

Details catches up with Blair Witch star Heather Donahue, the woman we'd most like to spend Halloween in the woods with.

-Details Magazine October 1999

Did you worry about your Blair Witch character's being named "Heather Donahue"?

Not at the time.  Now I find myself accused of "not acting," as though they plucked me off a bus and said, "Hey, want to be in a movie?"  I got news for you:  A pile of rocks isn't scary.  The only reason the audience thinks it's scary is because we tell them it's scary.  But people feel more comfortable if they think we weren't acting, because then they don't feel like idiots.

You got paid about the same amount you made temping to be in a $30,000 movie.   It became the hit of the summer.  Is your life any different?

You certainly don't expect an appearance on The Tonight Show from a job you got answering an ad in Back Stage.  It's like a double life.  There's this whole crazy whirlwind around me, but my real life hasn't changed.  I still drive an '84 Toyota Celica, and I can't afford to move.  But the reason I got into this profession is that you just never know what's going to happen next.

After the movie you took up camping.  Any other hobbies?

I like doing those things that girls without health insurance should really avoid like the plague.  Like rock climbing, snow-mobiling and skiing.  Last year I ran a marathon.  That and Blair Witch had a big impact on me--knowing that no matter how far you think you can go, you can always go further.

As the only woman on the set, what did you learn about men?

I love men, I really do, and I appreciate a good solid fart joke or scatological joke.   But something happens to otherwise perfectly normal men when they travel in packs.   This atavistic streak comes out of them and they behave like wolves, prowling around, laughing and being boys.  But I think it really worked that they cast a woman in my role.  With three guys, it would've been a comedy.  Women have a unique ability to bring a little heart to a movie.

Pre-Blair, what was your weirdest role?

During a college internship I was in a play in London called Fried Blood.  I was dressed in an orange clown wig, a red clown nose, and a black leather dress, frying up this man's blood with peanut butter and coriander.

And what did you do to support yourself during the lean, blood-cooking years?

I temped in advertising and marketing.  I learned a lot about brand building, image building, market manipulation, and demographics, all things I had no idea would impact my life so much.  But now I'm like a new dish detergent.  Got this product.  We want to bring it out to the market, hope it does well, but what demographic are we going for?  What's the image?  Does it make you feel fresh and clean, or is it a great stain remover?  Or does it do both?

Which are you?

I'm still figuring that out.  I think the key to my "brand" is that being an actor is a lot more important to me than being a star.  I haven't really had to compromise much so far, so I don't know why I would start now.  Like, people say I should do a TV show.  But any time you play the same character for more than three months, it's just about the money.

How did you market yourself when you moved to L.A.?

Last year, I sent out this postcard to every casting director, agency, production company.  On the front was a picture of my head I'd Photoshopped onto a waiter's platter with garnish.  It read:  "Catch of the day!  Today's hearty dish is Heather Donahue, a delightful catch shipped fresh from New York.  A meaty staple seasoned with earthy spices, making for bold, unexpected intensity.  This, plus a complex balance of tart and sweet clearly shows-dot dot dot-this dish brings a lot to the table!"  I actually got three responses from the card, which is stunning.   I look back at that now and I think, God bless that girl for her naivete.

You're hoping to play a hooker in a movie called Under the Hammock.  Is that a compromise?

No, it's actually pretty close to being an actress in L.A.  As an actress, you are sort of like an emotional whore.  Someone tells you to cry, you cry.  Is that so different from someone saying "Blow me" and you have to blow them?  It's easier to shut off giving somebody a blow job than it is giving everything you've got and dumping your soul onto celluloid.

Your 14-year-old sister wants to be an actress, and your 22-year-old brother wants to be a screenwrititer.  How did this happen?

We're working on being the Arquettes.  I'm the first one out; I'm Rosanna.  I think it comes out of my dad's being a musician when he was younger, and then he packed that dream away to support us.  Now he's a printer, and my mom's the office manager for our gynecologist.

I've heard you're allergic to latex.

Yes, and it's the reason I consider myself a serial monogamist.  I learned the hard way.  It was my first time.  That's unpleasant, man.  You go to the gynecologist-

Wait, isn't your mom the office manager for the gynecologist you go to?

Yeah, but we have such an open relationship.  I mean, she gave us condoms for our 16th birthday and said, "I hope you don't use them, but do if you need to, and I hope you'll tell us."  And now I tell her so much she's like, "God, I don't want to hear anything; stop telling me!"

-By David Handelman