A trio of female TV veterans returns to the small screen this fall, as Katherine Heigl, Téa Leoni, and Debra Messing take charge in three new network series about powerful women flaunting some serious authority.
Bio caught up with the stars in Los Angeles, where we chatted about what they’ve been up to and what drew them back to TV.
Last Seen on TV: Grey’s Anatomy (2005-2010)
New Series: State of Affairs, airing Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC, beginning Nov. 17th
She Plays: Top CIA analyst Charleston “Charlie” Tucker, who’s a mess in her personal life, but has a high-ranking position briefing the President (Alfre Woodard) daily on terrorist threats and matters of international security in this espionage thriller. Think Scandal meets Homeland.
She’s Serving as a First-Time Executive Producer on the Show:
“I’m learning as I go,” Heigl told us. “It was funny because initially I joked about wanting to have some say over my wardrobe and my character’s dialogue, and suddenly I’m on calls for like budget and I’m going, no, this is not what I had in mind."
“But it’s been really empowering to be given a voice and to sort of be allowed in the grown-ups room,” Heigl, 35, added. “And to get to be a part of it in that way and voice an opinion and be listened to. It’s been really phenomenal.”
Leaving Los Angeles:
While she was never close to walking away from Hollywood forever, Heigl admits she needed to take a break and leave town after her film career got bumpy. Heigl has spent the last four years being with her family, living on her sprawling ranch in Utah with her husband Josh Kelley, 34, and their two adopted daughters, Naleigh, 5, and Adalaide, 2, along with an assortment of farm animals, including dogs, cats, horses, goats, and chickens.
Heigl also spent some time on the road touring with her musician husband, which she admits is less thrilling now that she’s a mother. “When I was young and didn’t have children, it was fun…for like three days,” Heigl laughed. “But you’re literally on a tour bus with like eight guys, who don’t necessarily feel like cleaning up after themselves or cleaning themselves. After about three days, I started cleaning the bus and buying cleaning products and then I was like, no, I don’t want to be your den mother.”
About Those Rumors of Heigl (and her manager/mother Nancy) Being Difficult to Work With…
“I can only say that I certainly don’t see myself as being difficult,” Heigl told TV critics in July. “I would never intend to be difficult. I don’t think my mother sees herself as being difficult. It’s most important to everybody to conduct themselves professionally and respectfully and kindly. So if I have ever disappointed somebody, it was never intentional.”
On Returning to TV:
“I’m not going to lie, I’m definitely nervous,” Heigl told us while chatting up a small group of reporters at an NBC cocktail party in Los Angeles. “But I’m probably a little more excited than nervous just because that’s the way the human brain has to function to get you through things that scare you. You have to get a little adrenaline shot of courage and the courage comes from my excitement. And I’m just really grateful for the opportunity, it’s a great opportunity.”
Last Seen on TV: The Naked Truth (1995-1998)
New Series: Madam Secretary, airing Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBS, beginning Sept. 21st
She Plays: Elizabeth McCord, the newly appointed Secretary of State, who battles for international diplomacy at work while juggling her domestic issues at home. Tim Daly costars as her husband and Bebe Neuwirth plays her Chief of Staff in the series, which is executive produced by Morgan Freeman.
Shades of Hillary Clinton?
Leoni says she drew inspiration from several powerful female political figures to shape her portrayal of the maverick McCord, particularly Madeleine Albright, the first woman to become the U.S. Secretary of State. "I think it’s her fierce diplomacy and wit, and I think it’s Hillary Clinton’s charm and dynamic, dynamic womanhood and wit, and I think it’s Condi’s [Condoleezza Rice] courage and intelligence and legs” that infuse her character," Leoni told a small group of reporters while promoting the show in Los Angeles.
She added, “I did have a coffee with Madeleine Albright and realized that I did have some unconscious tremendous forethought to name my daughter Madelaine after her.”
New Show Jitters:
“I’m scared to death,” Leoni told Bio of returning to TV. “The hours are a little daunting, and, of course, I’ve been through it with David [Duchovny] for years, and now David is doing his show, and he’s been very helpful talking to me about pacing myself and not getting too scared too quick.”
Her Kids Sent Her Back to Work:
“I love what I do and I do miss it, everything between rolling and cut,” said Leoni, who spent much of her hiatus raising her two children with Duchovny. "But I also have loved being at home with my kids. I can’t believe I have a 12-year-old son [Kyd Miller] and a 15-year-old daughter [Madelaine West] and neither one is a jerk. Maybe I just got lucky, but I have two really tremendous kids."
“And I asked my son, ‘This is going to be a little tricky. I’m not going to be around as much, you know to, take you to school and all that kind of thing. Are you cool with it?’ He said, ‘Yeah. I was getting kind of sick of you’…So I’m back.”
Last Seen on TV: Smash (2012), The Starter Wife (2008)
New Series: The Mysteries of Laura, airing Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC, beginning Sept. 17th
She Plays: Laura Diamond, a brilliant-but-frazzled NYPD homicide detective who’s trying to balance crime solving with her chaotic home life, fueled by her tyrant twin boys and her soon-to-be-ex-husband, played by Josh Lucas (The Firm, Sweet Home Alabama), who just became her boss. Based on the Spanish series of the same name.
She’s the Female Columbo:
Messing, whose sleuth sports the signature rumpled trench coat, told Bio: “She does have a Columbo-esque quality to her: She is unkempt, she doesn’t really care what she looks like, she doesn’t seem as if she’s brilliant and the smartest one in the room — but she is — and she finds really unique and clever ways to solve the mystery.”
What About Her Hunky Costar Josh Lucas?
“He’s not sore on the eyes, um, he’s lovely,” Messing told us. “I’ve been a fan. He’s a huge talent. But he’s also just a gentleman and we have so much in common; he’s a single parent, I’m a single parent, we both have boys, we both believe our children walk on water, so it’s good.”
What She Does in Her Downtime:
“I love procedural TV, I watch all of it, I always have,” said Messing to reporters. “I am an avid watcher of what was Court TV and is now truTV, because I am fascinated by the judicial system. Life is more interesting than art most of the time, and in my downtime, I watch 48 Hours and Dateline, and everything has to do with murder. I know that there must be something that I should explore about that with my therapist, but I’m like, ‘OK, do we have a murder on tonight?’”