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Q&A: Katherine Heigl Fills Us In on Her Girls, Work & More

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Katherine Heigl is an actress, animal rights activist, and mom. She has two new films coming out, Jenny’s Wedding and Jackie and Ryan in 2015, and she recently wrapped the first season of her NBC thriller “State of Affairs”. (Yes, all this on top of raising daughters Naleigh, 5, and Adalaide, 2… and caring for the family’s 36! pets on their Utah ranch.) Heigl, our March guest editor, recently took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with us.


You played a CIA analyst in “State of Affairs.” Describe what that was like — particularly in these challenging times — in three words.

KH:  Inspiring, eye-opening, and thrilling.

Why were you inspired to take on the role of Charleston Tucker?
KH:  Because of my producing partners, Rodney Farron and Ambassador Henry Crumpton. Rodney was the briefer to two presidents and Ambassador Crumpton was a CIA operative. Their stories and experiences are incredibly inspiring!

How did you prepare for the role?
KH:  I talked at length with both Rodney and Ambassador Crumpton. They are a wealth of information and I could not be more grateful for their advice and input!

Let’s talk about your girls. You adopted your older daughter, Naleigh, from Korea in 2009. Why Korea? 
KH:
 My older sister Meg was adopted from Korea. She is such an incredibly important part of my life that I wanted to honor her by continuing the tradition my parents started in my own life. I also wanted the family I started to resemble the amazing family I came from.

What was it like to meet Naleigh for the first time?
KH:  Powerful and terrifying!

You adopted your younger daughter, Adalaide, from Louisiana in 2012. Why did you choose to adopt closer to home the second time?
KH: The laws in Korea changed after Naleigh’s adoption and the new laws made it a much harder and longer process to be united with your child. Within a few weeks of looking into what it would take to adopt from this country I got a call from my lawyer about a woman due to give birth in a month. She was looking for a loving home for the baby. I hung up the phone and ran right out to [husband] Josh [Kelley’s] studio to tell him.

Was Josh surprised?
KH:  He said, “Katie you’re insane! You’re telling me that instead of adopting a 9-month-old in a year we’re going to have a newborn in a month?” I was just like “YUP!!!”

Can you describe the moment when you first met Adalaide?
KH:  It was astonishing and terrifying! Her arrival into our lives is such an incredible blessing and surrounded with so much grace. Both of my girls are a testament to the grace that’s all around every one of us.

Your girls have beautiful names. What inspired your choices?
KH: Naleigh’s given name is Nancy Leigh Mi-Eun Kelley. Nancy after my mother, Leigh after my sister’s middle name. Mi-Eun is part of the name they gave her in Korea. It means beautiful grace. I always wanted to name a daughter Grace, but once I married a Kelley the name Grace went right out the door! I got the name in there, just in another language! Adalaide’s given name is Adalaide Marie Hope Kelley. Adalaide is after my great grandmother. Marie is my middle name, and Hope is the name they gave her in the hospital. Names mean a tremendous amount to me and I wanted my girls’ names to be ripe with meaning and heritage.

How did you help Naleigh adjust to life as a big sister?
KH:  Honestly, we kinda just sprang it on her because of the sudden and surprising nature of Adalaide’s arrival!

How did she do?
KH:  She took to it immediately and is a loving, attentive, loyal, and protective big sister. Naleigh’s got such a good and big heart. I’m so moved and inspired by watching my girls together!

How have you bonded with your girls?
KH:  I love my own quiet time with the girls. I would rock them and sing them to sleep most nights when they were babies! I miss that!! Now that they’re a little older Naleigh loves to do her hair and makeup with me when I’m getting ready to go out or have an event. Clothes, shoes, hair, and makeup are Naleigh’s things…mine, too, if I’m being honest! Adalaide loves to sit in bed with Josh and me and watch movies. She’ll call out to us well after she should be asleep and we can’t stop ourselves from occasionally indulging her and pulling her into bed with us. She’s such a snuggly, cozy little thing and it’s kinda the only time I can get her to sit still enough to kiss on her!

Describe what it’s been like to raise daughters so far. 
KH: The most important thing I’ve ever done and will ever do. The hardest thing I’ve ever done and will ever do. The most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and will ever do!

You’re incredibly close to your sister Meg. How are you helping your girls to be close?
KH:  I’m nurturing their individuality and encouraging them to honor and respect each other’s space and unique personalities.

You’ve been candid about the challenges you’ve experienced as a working mom. How have you worked through your frustrations?
KH: I’ve forgiven myself for not doing everything perfectly. I’m also using the love and passion I have for my job as an example for my girls to find their own passions, as well as work that inspires them. Whether that’s a paying job away from home or being a wife and mother, it all matters. I just want to teach them to be true to themselves, their hearts, and their passions as I have learned to do.

Let’s switch gears. You’re incredibly passionate about rescuing dogs. How did that passion come about?
KH:  I’ve always been an animal person and grew up with two dogs, two cats, birds, rabbits, and hamsters. My mother became aware of the plight of companion animals in this country by chance in 2009 and it’s not in her nature to sit idly by if she thinks she can help. So the two of us made it our mission to make a difference. Our goal is to not only save as many pets as possible but to end the senseless killing of healthy, adoptable companion animals altogether. I know that with help we can and will solve this problem!

Helping animals is also part of the mission of the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, which you and your mom created in 2009 to honor your late brother. What’s your focus there these days?
KH:  Free spay/neuter days for those with pets they love but can’t afford to alter. Transport programs that move small adoptable pets from high-kill shelters in Los Angeles to no-kill shelters across the country, and free training programs to help pet owners keep their pets by teaching them some simple manners and making them more manageable to their owners.

When you finally get a break, how do you enjoy your “me” time?
KH:  I love to cook and entertain. I love movie nights with the girls. I love making a simple dinner for my family and relishing our time together. I love to knit and do DIY projects. I love to sew. I love to read, and I watch a movie or show a day! I don’t take my down time lightly! I milk it for all I can!!

Where do you and Josh like to go on date night?
KH:  Sushi Ike in LA.

What’s the best movie you’ve seen lately?
KH:  The Hundred-Foot Journey. It was amazing and inspiring!

And the best book you’ve read?
KH:  Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Any favorite TV shows?
KH:  “Mom”, “Vikings”, “Empire”, “Nashville”, “Parenthood”, “The Blacklist”…kinda a tough question since I have a lot of favorites!

What do you hope to do next?
KH:  Expand our JDHF programs, continue working on “State of Affairs,” write a lifestyle, entertaining, and recipe book, knit throw blankets for the girls’ beds, improve my horseback riding, produce and act in a movie that inspires and moves me….and on and on and on!

Photo: Getty