Heigl was born in Washington, D.C., in Columbia Hospital for Women.She is the youngest of four children of Nancy (née Engelhardt), a personnel manager, and Paul Heigl, a financial executive and accountant. Her father is of German (including Swiss-German) and Irish descent, and her mother is of German ancestry. Her siblings are Meg (adopted), Jason (deceased), and Holt. Heigl lived in Virginia and then Denver, before her family settled in Connecticut; there, they moved into a Victorian-style farmhouse in the town of New Canaan, where she spent most of her childhood. In 1986, her older brother Jason died of injuries suffered in a car accident, after being thrown from the back of a pickup truck while out for lunch with some of his high school classmates. His organs were donated by his family after death.Her brother's death led Heigl's parents to convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Heigl was reared in that faith (prior to that, her mother had been Lutheran and her father Catholic).
1986-1998 Early Work
When Heigl was nine, an aunt visiting the family decided to take a number of photographs of her. After returning to her home in New York, her aunt sent the photos to a number of modeling agencies, with the permission of Heigl's parents. Within a few weeks, she signed with Wilhelmina Models as a child model. Soon after signing with the agency, a client slated Heigl for use in a magazine advertisement where she made her debut. At the time, she was earning $75 an hour posing for Sears and Lord & Taylor catalogs. Heigl first appeared in her national television spot for Cheerios cereal.
After her film debut in That Night in 1992, Heigl played Christina Sebastian in Steven Soderbergh's Depression-era drama King of the Hill before being cast in her first leading role in the 1994 comedy My Father the Hero. During this time, Heigl continued to attend New Canaan High School, balancing her film and modeling work with her academic studies. Heigl dropped out of New Canaan High School after her sophomore year to pursue her career in Hollywood. In 1995, she starred in the Steven Seagal action thriller Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. Heigl portrayed a 16-year-old traveller on a train across a mountain pass to visit the grave of her deceased father with uncle Casey Ryback (Seagal), an ex-SEAL counter-terrorist expert. The main plotline has the train hijacked by mercenaries in Colorado, keeping her as a hostage. Much of her work in the film was opposite Morris Chestnut, Sandra Taylor and Everett McGill. Despite an increased focus on acting, she still modeled extensively, appearing regularly in magazines such as Seventeen. She landed the lead role in Disney's made-for-television film Wish Upon a Star in 1996, portraying two body-swapping characters along with Danielle Harris, the same year as Heigl's parents divorced and her mother was diagnosed with cancer. After her high school graduation in 1997, she moved into a four-bedroom house in Malibu Canyon, Californiawith her mother, who also became her manager. In 1998, she co-starred with Peter Fonda in a re-working of the classic Shakespearean play The Tempest, set during theAmerican Civil War and starred in the horror film Bride of Chucky.
1999-2004R Rise To Fame
In 1999, Heigl turned her attention to television when she accepted the role of Isabel Evans on the science fiction TV drama Roswell, a role that was expanded in the show's second and third seasons. Heigl had auditioned for all three of the show's female leads (the other two roles eventually went to Shiri Appleby and Majandra Delfino) before she was finally cast as Isabel, an alien human hybrid. Heigl was frequently featured in photo essays in magazines such as Life, TV Guide, and Teen as well as FHM. She appeared in the FHM and Maxim calendars, FHM's annual "100 Sexiest Women in the World", and was featured in the Girls of Maxim Gallery. In May 2006, Maxim awarded her #12 on their annual Hot 100 List as well as voted the 19th "Sexiest Woman in the World" by readers of FHM magazine. While Roswell was in production, Heigl worked on several films, including 100 Girls, an independent 2001 film, and Valentine, a horror film starring David Boreanaz and Denise Richards.
Heigl accepted a role in Ground Zero, a television thriller scheduled to be telecast that fall which was based on the bestselling James Mills novel The Seventh Power, in the spring of 2001. She co-starred as a brilliant and politically-concerned college student who helps to build a nuclear device to illustrate the need for a change in national priorities. The device ends up in the hands of a terrorist following betrayal by a fellow student. However, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the film was shelved when its plot was considered inappropriate. It reemerged in 2003 under the title Critical Assembly. After the attacks, Heigl recorded a public service announcement for the American Red Cross in an effort to help raise money for victims. In 2003, Heigl appeared in three television movies, including the horror genre Evil Never Dies, a modern-day variation on theFrankenstein story co-starring Thomas Gibson, Love Comes Softly for Hallmark Entertainment as Marty Claridge, a young, pregnant newlywed traveling west and reprised her role in the sequel Love's Enduring Promise the next year. Heigl played Isabella Linton in MTV's modern revamp of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. In October 2003, Heigl was cast opposite Johnny Knoxville in The Ringer, a Farrelly brothers comedy that was released in December 2005. Heigl starred as Romy in the 2005 television film Romy and Michele: In the Beginning, a prequel to the 1997 film Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.
2005-2010 Grey's Anatomy and transition to film
In 2005, Heigl was cast in what would become her most high-profile role to date, as medical intern Dr. Isobel "Izzie" Stevens on Grey's Anatomy, an ABC medical drama. The show, originally introduced as a mid-season replacement, became a huge ratings success and is still one of the highest-rated television series on broadcast television. The same year, Heigl landed the starring role in the independent film, Side Effects, a romantic comedy about marketing and the pharmaceutical industry, where she was also executive producer.
In late 2006, Heigl was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries, or Television Film for her work on Grey's Anatomy. Also in 2006, she filmed Knocked Up, a comedy from writer/director Judd Apatow, starring opposite Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, and Apatow's real-life wife, Leslie Mann. Upon its June 2007 theatrical release, the film received largely positive reviews from critics, and proved to be a box office success. The fees Heigl could command increased after the film's success. The movie grossed $148,761,765 in the U.S., for which she earned a salary of $300,000 USD. In a highly publicized Vanity Fair interview, Heigl admitted that though she enjoyed working with Apatow and Rogen when she starred in Knocked Up, she had a hard time enjoying the film itself. She called the movie "a little sexist", claiming that the film "paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys". In his review for The Guardian, humorist Joe Queenan called Knocked Up "the latest in a new genre of romantic comedies in which an unappealing hero gets together with a gorgeous, successful woman".
Heigl's comments spurred widespread reaction in the media, primarily consisting of personal attacks in which she was called "an ungrateful traitor", "hypocrite", and "assertive, impatient go-getter who quickly tired of waiting for her boyfriend to propose", in some cases deriding her religious beliefs and criticizing her private relationships. Heigl clarified her remarks to People magazine, stating that, "My motive was to encourage other women like myself to not take that element of the movie too seriously and to remember that it's a broad comedy", adding that, "Although I stand behind my opinion, I'm disheartened that it has become the focus of my experience with the movie". Despite her run of success, she also starred in the box office bomb Zyzzyx Road which despite being filmed in 2004, was not released until 2006. It has been cited as the lowest grossing film of all time. She has been on FHM's "100 Sexiest Women in the World" list twice as of 2007.
On September 16, 2007, Heigl won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Izzie Stevens. In her acceptance speech she acknowledged that even her mother did not believe she would win, and when her name was called, she had to be censored vocally by the telecast's producers, due to her saying "Shit!" when she reacted to the win. Earlier, she had corrected telecast announcer Rebecca Riedy, who had been given an incorrect phonetic spelling of Heigl's name, when she mispronounced her name as Hi-jell before the presentation of the award with Kyle Chandler for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. In January 2008 she starred in the film, 27 Dresses, for which she was paid $6 million USD, and appeared alongside James Marsden. Following the release of 27 Dresses, the New York Post expressed some disappointment with the mismatch of Heigl's talent with the "chick-flick" triviality of the film, suggesting that Heigl might be more compatible "with female directors such as Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) or Tamara Jenkins (The Savages)...". Heigl was announced the Most Desirable Woman of 2008, according to AskMen.com.
There was some speculation that Heigl might be leaving Grey's Anatomy after the end of the 2008–2009 season. This speculation revolved around her refusal to put her name in for Emmy consideration and the time she had devoted to producing a film version of Carolyn Jessop's book Escape. Grey's showrunner Shonda Rhimes said she was not insulted by Heigl's Emmy withdrawal, but also noted that Heigl's character Izzie had less to do during the season because Heigl asked for a light work schedule. However, despite Heigl's reported displeasure with the previous season as well as suggestions that her character had died, Heigl's return for the sixth season of Grey's was confirmed by ABC.
Heigl starred with Gerard Butler in The Ugly Truth, which opened on July 24, 2009. Upon release, the film was made on a budget of $38 million and earned $205 million at the worldwide box office. In June 2010, Heigl starred in the Lionsgate comedy-thriller Killers, with Ashton Kutcher and then starred in and produced the big-screen drama Life As We Know It, directed by Greg Berlanti, which revolved around a woman and a man whose respective best friends die in a car accident; following the tragedy, they are left to share in caring for the deceased's orphaned daughter. Heigl received $12 million for both films.
Speculation as to whether Heigl would leave Grey's Anatomy lingered throughout most of season six. However, on March 11, 2010, Heigl reportedly did not show up for work when she was supposed to, and she and Shonda Rhimes had apparently come to an agreement to release her from her contract immediately. Therefore, Heigl's last appearance on the January 21 episode of Grey's Anatomy was also her final appearance of that season and, thus far, her final appearance on the series. Heigl said that her departure was not about advancing her film career but that she wanted to focus more on her family.
2011–present: Recent film roles and return to television
In December 2011, Heigl appeared in the ensemble romantic comedy New Year's Eve, directed by Garry Marshall. Despite being a commercial success, grossing over $142 million worldwide, the film received generally negative reviews from critics. In 2012, she had the lead role in One for the Money. One For The Money is based on a series of novels written by Janet Evanovich in which the lead character is Stephanie Plum, a Bounty Hunter, working for a bonding company. The title of the movie is based on the first book in the series. The film was a box-office failure. It grossed just over $36 million worldwide, failing to recoup its production budget of $40 million. For her performance, Heigl received a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Actress.
In January 2012, Heigl stated in an interview that she has asked the producers of Grey's Anatomy if she could return to the show to wrap up Izzie's storyline: "I’ve told them I want to [return],” she said. “I really, really, really want to see where [Izzie] is. I just want to know what happened to her and where she went and what she’s doing now. My idea is that she actually like figures it out, and finds some success and does really well in a different hospital. She was always floundering you know, and so she was always one step behind the eight ball and I want to see that girl take some power back. She also went on to say that she regrets leaving the show: "Oh yeah, sometimes, yeah. You miss it. I miss my friends. It was a great work environment ... and it becomes a family. I spent six years together with these people every day ... you grow up together, in a way," and again commented on the possibility of Izzie returning to the show, "I always felt that if they wanted me to come back and sort of wrap up that storyline ... I want them to know that I'm down with it if they want me to, but I completely understand if it doesn't necessarily work ... They've got a lot of story lines going on there. In November 2012, Heigl was cast and voiced Andie in the animated film The Nut Job, which was released on January 17, 2014.
In February 2013, it was reported that Heigl had joined Ben Lewin's romantic drama A Moment to Remember. Filming has yet to take place. In April 2013, she appeared alongside Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon in The Big Wedding. In June 2013, Heigl began appearing in a television commercial for Vicks' ZzzQuil.