Mrs. Soffel (1984)
Heather Graham made an inauspicious movie debut in this prison drama starring Mel Gibson and Diane Keaton. Keaton plays the titular wife of a harsh warden, who decides to help hunky prisoner Ed (Gibbo) and his brother Jack (Matthew Modine) escape.
Graham only had an uncredited role as a factory girl, but it wasn’t bad going for the then 14-year-old’s first film appearance, with the classy drama making for a dignified debut.
Free Spirit? There wasn’t much time to make an impact.
Growing Pains (1987)
Next up for Graham was a two-part appearance on this American sitcom, notable for giving a career boost to a young Leonardo DiCaprio. The show followed psychiatrist Dr Jason Seaver and his family, as his troubled teens tried to navigate the awkward path through adolescence.
The young actress was in a typical teenage boy baiting role as the lusted after high-school hottie. She wasn't the only fledgling star to appear on the show, with Brad Pitt and Matthew Perry also guesting.
Free Spirit? The show did at least find room for a bit of wink-wink humour, perhaps a reason why the show managed to last seven seasons.
Student Exchange (1987)
Graham’s ascent to success was a relatively fast one, so she didn’t have to spend a huge amount of time in this kind of early-career dross. This comedy starred Todd Field (future director of In the Bedroom and Little Children ) and Viveka Davis as two geeky high-schoolers who impersonate foreign exchange students to boost their cool credentials.
ER ’s Maura Tierney stars as the girlfriend of a jock who falls for the ‘visiting’ mademoiselle, but Graham barely gets a look in as her background friend.
Free Spirit? She doesn’t really do anything to grab the attention here.
License to Drive (1988)
There was a more prominent role for Graham in this teen hit starring Coreys Haim and Feldman. As is everything starring The Two Coreys, this one is very much of it’s 80s era.
Graham looks ridiculously young as the permed object of Les Anderson’s (Haim) affection: the aptly named Mercedes Lane. Les scores a date with her by taking his dad’s Cadillac without a license, but she quickly drinks herself into oblivion while Les’s night descends into chaos.
Free Spirit? She gets to show a naughtier side than most high-school girlfriend roles allow. Decent comedy chops, too.
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Gus Van Sant’s drug drama, based on the real-life experiences of novelist James Fogle, provided a major breakout role for Graham, earning her bags of indie cred.
The 70s-set story stars Matt Dillon as Bob Hughes, an addict living with fellow users (including Graham) in and around Portland, Oregon. The film takes a naturalistic, mostly non-judgemental look at the junkie lifestyle, and the difficulty of escaping it.
Free Spirit? This typified the ‘wayward innocent’ roles that would come to define Graham’s best performances, contrasting her angelic exterior with a troubled core.
I Love You to Death (1990)
Graham wasted no time capitalising on her burgeoning success with a role in this Lawrence Kasdan directed comedy drama. Hot off A Fish Called Wanda , Kevin Kline starred as Joey Boca, a womanizing pizza parlour owner whose crafty ways are discovered by his wife.
Rather than divorce her husband, she decides to put a hit on him, finding a couple of stoner hit-men via a co-worker. Worth catching for a glorious supporting cast including River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves and William Hurt.
Free Spirit? Graham doesn’t have the biggest role, but this signified her intention to work in quirky offbeat fare.
Twin Peaks (1991)
Graham furthered her cult respectability with a recurring role in the second season of David Lynch’s seminal TV series Twin Peaks . She played Annie Blackburn, a waitress in the RR diner.
Like most of the other inhabitants of the skewed Washington town, Annie’s perky exterior belied the darkness beneath. She has previously spent time in a convent after a suicide attempt, and she acts as an enigmatic draw for FBI agent Dale Cooper. Good luck ever getting out of the Black Lodge though…
Free Spirit? This is far from your ordinary soap…
Heather Graham’s run of interesting material couldn’t last forever, as she proved she wasn’t impervious to the power of hackneyed genre fare. John Travolta scored a Razzie nom for his role as a music teacher who shows some juvenile detainees the joys of rock and roll.
Graham starred in one of her more buttoned-down roles as the winsome daughter of the institution’s cruel warden. She catches the eye of inmate Jesse Tucker, who sets about seducing her in the hammiest way possible.
Free Spirit? Hardly, though she needn’t be totally ashamed: Gwyneth Paltrow also absorbs some of the embarrassment.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
Graham got back on track with a small role in this Twin Peaks spin-off movie, reprising her role as Annie Blackburn. It’s a necessarily small role, given the circumstances, as she appears in dream-form to warn Annie Palmer about her impending death.
There’s little here that’ll appeal to the casual bystander, as it’ll seem impenetrably obtuse to anyone unfamiliar with the series. That said, if you are unfamiliar with the series, we recommend you see to that with a box-set marathon sharpish.
Free Spirit? They don’t get much more satisfyingly leftfield than this…
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993)
Another oddity for Graham here, starring for Drugstore Cowboy director Gus Van Sant again (the two films are totally unrelated though). Uma Thurman stars as Sissy Hankshaw, a well-meaning hitchhiker born with freakishly large thumbs.
Again, Graham takes a back seat as ‘Cowgirl Heather’ a dweller on a communal ranch that Sissy is heading to. The film struggles to satisfactorily capture the counterculture source material, even with a voiceover from author Tom Robbins, but it's worth a look for the pantheon of stars (John Hurt, Keanu Reeves, River Phoenix) who turn up at various points of the journey.
Free Spirit? She’s still wandering off the beaten track.
Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
Continuing to build a solid, respectable back catalogue, Graham pops up in a support role in this intriguing thriller. The seedling of in-depth pub conversations everywhere, this based-on-fact film is grounded in the theory that everybody on the planet can be linked by a chain of up to six people.
Will Smith’s slick con-man takes advantage of that knowledge to ingratiate himself into the favour of an upper-crust family by claiming to be friends with their Ivy League children. Graham eschews the token hottie role to play a girl whose boyfriend is seduced by the trickster.
Free Spirit? Her movie choices defy expectations and her leading lady looks.
Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)
This star-studded period drama starred Jennifer Jason Leigh as iconic satirist Dorothy Parker, who was the focal point of literary gang the Algonquin Round Table (basically The Avengers of 1920s writers).
While the film offers an intriguing glimpse of a bygone era when writers were seemingly held in much higher regard, this rarely has the wit to be convincing. Robert Altman serves as producer, but the film would have benefited from his assured hand when it came to balancing the multitude of characters: as it is Graham is all but lost in the mix as one of many miscellaneous spouses of the main group.
Free Spirit? The move failed to live up to its offbeat promise.
The Outer Limits (1996)
Graham returned to TV to star in an episode of the new generation of The Outer Limits . ‘Resurrection’ saw her playing android Alicia on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Following a biological war, there are no humans left, and only a handful of androids exist.
Alicia and cohort Martin decide to recreate a human with DNA samples, in the hope that the new man can save the planet from the oppressive android overlords.
Free Spirit? Did you not hear the bit about the overthrowing of the overlords?
Another cult favourite on the CV, playing the third wheel in Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn’s bromance. Doug Liman directed this low-budget treat from Favreau’s script, which sees two struggling Hollywood hopefuls head to Vegas for a night of fun.
Vaughn’s Trent is the self-styled lothario, but it’s Favs’ nervy comedian who ends up scoring a date with Heather Graham’s laidback Lorraine after disposing of the bravado and bluster that’s failed the lads thus far in their lady-snaring escapades.
Free Spirit? From a production standpoint, the movie’s an underdog, and once again Graham’s playing against type as an atypical love interest.
Following Swingers , after which Graham could have rightfully exploded, she continued to put cred in the bank with interesting support roles, rather than cashing in. She had a small spot in Entertaining Angels , before taking a virtual cameo in Nowhere , the third entry in Gregg Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy (after Totally Fucked Up and The Doom Generation ).
Too shallow for some, but there’s an addictive energy running through this day in the life of ennui-crippled LA teens. Graham’s segment sees her sharing a destructive relationship with Ryan Phillippe.
Free Spirit? Hell yes, getting the Araki stamp on the CV scores points.
Two Girls and a Guy (1997)
Graham’s career was never controversy-shy, and this slight three-hander got all kinds of attention for a three-way sex scene (which was cut before release). The film also gets an extra dose of edge from the presence of Robert Downey Jr (before he was one of the planets most bankable stars).
Graham and Natasha Gregson Wagner play the girlfriends of RDJ’s two-timing actor, and they discover his duplicity when they rock up to his apartment at the same time. From there, the film plays out within his four walls...
Free Spirit? The theatrical approach made this a pretty refreshing tonic to the blander fare that was doing the rounds at the time.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic ensemble, set in the pre-home video world of 70s event porn, gave Graham the most iconic role of her career, as skin-flick starlet Rollergirl.
To be fair, PTA’s generous movie gives most of its vast cast the chance for career best performances. Graham’s gliding, perma-wheeled presence sticks in the memory not just because of the skates, but because once again she fuses confidence, naivety, wide-eyed innocence and natural sexiness to intoxicating effect.
Free Spirit? She skips class to shoot her movies (and in real life the film upset her strict Roman Catholic parents).
Scream 2 (1997)
Graham turned up briefly in Scream 2 … well, Stab more precisely, the film within a film that depicted the events of the first movie. She plays the screen version of Casey Becker, the Drew Barrymore character offed in the first film’s opening moments.
Not that you get to see a great deal of Stab though, as Wes Craven directs his attention towards movie-going couple Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett-Smith, who are the target of a copycat killer terrorizing the auditorium.
Free Spirit? With ‘Casey’ about to hop into the shower, there’s a nod towards her flesh-flashing proclivity.
Lost in Space (1998)
This big-budget adaptation of the campy sci-fi series was Graham’s first foray proper into Hollywood blockbuster territory (her previous big hits generally being indie breakouts). Sadly the slick-looking sci-fi failed to live up to the considerable pre-hype, wasting an impressive cast (plus Joey Tribbiani, sorry Matt LeBlanc).
The only small mercy this was granted was arriving during the stinking summer of ’98, during which its crapness was edged out by The Avengers and Godzilla .
Free Spirit? Graham played the bookish oldest Robinson child here, and the token love interest for LeBlanc’s doltish Don West.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
Graham bounced back the following summer with a genuine hit, playing Felicity Shagwell in the second outing for Mike Myers’ anachronous superspy, which was more successful (in terms of box office cash and the gag rate) than the original.
It helps that Powers has a decent foil in the form of Shagwell, banishing memories of Liz Hurley’s dry sidekick with her goofy charm, sex appeal and up-for-it attitude. The series’ highlight.
Free Spirit? She might be a CIA agent, but she still knows how to have a good time.
Things were looking good for Graham, with another role in a hit summer comedy (even if this didn’t quite have the impact of AP2 ). Steve Martin plays a bumbling producer Bobby Bowfinger, who’s desperate to get movie star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) attached to his latest picture.
When Kit’s not interested, Bowfinger decides to improvise, shooting the movie around him and hiring his estranged brother Jiff (also Murphy) to fill in the blanks. Graham’s not afraid to send herself up as a dumb, nudity-friendly starlet, and the film does score a few laughs, not least in the ending's faux-film send-up.
Free Spirit? This is the funny side of guerrilla film-making.
Say It Isnt So (2001)
Proving that Heather Graham wasn’t a comedy good luck charm, she starred in the dreadful Committed , before leading Say It Isn’t So .
Graham and Chris Klein are equally vapid as the young lovers who discover that they might be brother and sister after they’ve consummated their relationship. The film has nothing clever, incisive or even funny to say about the situation, resulting instead in a string of feckless gross-out sequences that do little more than destroy your human spirit. Sally Field and Richard Jenkins are among the others talent-wasters squandering their time here.
Free Spirit? Only if it’s quality she’s rebelling against...
Sidewalks of New York (2001)
Graham starred for (and with) her then-partner Ed Burns for this dramedy which checks into a romantic carousel in the Big Apple. Tommy (Burns) is tentatively dating teacher Maria (Rosario Dawson), and Annie (Graham) is stuck in a loveless marriage with philandering older gent Griffin (Stanley Tucci).
They eventually meet via a chain of mutual friends, with mockumentary talking heads punctuating the relationship shenanigans. It’s not totally charmless, but the script, which relies way too heavily on Woody Allen’s legacy, lacks depth.
Free Spirit? It punches above its weight considering the miniscule budget.
From Hell (2001)
This may be a comic-book movie, but it’s not in the usual mould. The Hughes brothers adapted Alan Moore’s lauded graphic novel which hypothesised a possible identity for Jack the Ripper.
Depp stars as good (but opium-dependant) copper Frederick Abberline, the man who takes it upon himself to investigate the grisly string of murders bloodying the streets of London’s East End. Graham undergoes a not entirely convincing transformation to play the red-headed cockney prostitute Abberline finds himself falling for during the investigation.
Free Spirit? The Hughes brothers (and Graham) make a decent fist of trying to do something a little unexpected and out of the ordinary.
Killing Me Softly (2002)
This laughably bad erotic thriller marked the beginning of a distinctly dodgy period for Graham. Coming in with an astonishing 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, it is jaw-droppingly dreadful, and hard to believe that it shares a director with Farewell My Concubine .
Alice (Graham) finds her staid lifestyle shaken up when she meets hunky mountaineer Adam (a slappable Joseph Fiennes), and dives into a relationship before realising he might have some murky secrets in his past.
Free Spirit? Well, there was no chance this would be a mainstream hit...
The Guru (2002)
Graham didn’t exactly stretch herself to play a good-natured porn star in this amiable Bollywood send-up. Jimi Mistry is Ramu, an Indian who moves to the US in the hope of finding fame and fortune, but ends up waiting tables and starring in an ethnic skin-flick with Sharrona (Graham).
A chance dinner party encounter sees him celebrated as a love guru, re-spinning Sharonna’s advice for the ignorant masses. Hardly a red-letter movie, but it’d take a pretty hard heart to hate it.
Free Spirit? At least it wasn’t another cookie cutter Brit-com.
Hope Springs (2003)
Colin Firth heads up this stale romcom. The now Oscar-winnning legend was stuck in the awkward post- Bridget Jones stage of his career when he plumped for this forgettable number.
He plays Colin, a newly-fianceeless fop struggling to get over his icy ex. He heads out to Hope, Vermont, for a break, and there he meets exuberant life-lusting nurse Mandy (Graham) who does a pretty good job of putting a smile back on his face, before the ex shows up for a bit of Firth action.
Free Spirit? This is textbook generic pap.
Arrested Development (2004)
With her movie career not looking the healthiest, Graham was wise enough to bag some memorable supporting roles on TV. First up, she guested on one episode of much-loved US sitcom, Arrested Development .
In ‘Shock and Aww’, Graham plays George Michael Bluth’s (Michael Cera) ethics teacher, Mrs Baerly. Unsurprisingly the nervous teen crushes on her big time, and so does his dad Michael (Jason Bateman), who attempts to woo her without his son finding out.
Free Spirit? Mitch Hurwitz’s show was a critical hit, but it never achieved the mainstream ratings it should have.
Following Arrested Development , Heather Graham had a recurring role in the fourth season of the superior medi-comedy show. She played Dr Molly Clock, who became Sacred Heart’s resident psychiatrist for a short while.
Her upbeat charms won over and irritated her colleagues in equal measure, and she also ended up in a short-lived relationship with J.D. (the series’ inexplicable lady-magnet). Her game comic buoyance perfectly suited the surreal series.
Free Spirit? She ruffled a few feathers at the hospital, but it was all in the pursuit of good.
This little-seen comedy starred Graham as wedding-phobic travel writer forced to run her father’s wedding magazine after he suffers a heart attack. After sharing her unwelcome views with the mag’s staff, she ends up lining up two potential suitors for herself.
Cake strictly rolls on the genre tracks, but it’s given a fair bit of pep from Graham’s likeable performance, and Sandra Oh provides pleasantly snarky support in an unchallenging ‘friend’ role.
Free Spirit? It’s generic fluff, but Graham’s character gives it some spirit…
Emilys Reasons Why Not (2006)
Graham’s attempt at fronting her own sitcom failed to take off despite a good deal of pre-release hype: the fact it was cancelled after only one episode was aired didn’t help matters.
In the show, which was adapted from a novel, Graham played Emily, a self-help author who (wait for it) could actually use some help with her own love life. From what was seen of the show, it’s been painted as an inferior Sex and the City knock-off.
Free Spirit? Her spirit looked like it was dampening a bit here.
After a low-profile run, Graham was back amongst the ranks of a high-profile ensemble in Emilio Estevez’s fictionalised account of what went down at LA’s Ambassador Hotel in the hours before Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Despite some heavy-handed modern-day allegorising, Estevez juggles the numerous story strands with a sure hand. Graham does get a little lost in the mix as the mistress of William H. Macy’s hotel manager.
Free Spirit? There’s a strong liberal undercurrent coursing through this one.
Gray Matters (2006)
This romcom has a brother and sister relationship at its core: that of inseparable siblings Gray (Graham) and Sam (Tom Cavanagh, J.D.’s brother on Scrubs ). After coming to the realisation that they’ve been spending too much time together, they decide to help each other out in the hunt for spouses.
Trouble is, Gray finds her brother a woman so damn perfect it make her realise that she’s gay. There’s none of the edge here that was evident in some of Graham’s earlier movies, as it skips down a well-worn path.
Free Spirit? She’s playing it so safe it’s a bit sterile here.
Miss Conception (2008)
Another quality drought had hit Graham here. Following Broken and Adrift in Manhattan (Seen them? Thought not), she had the indignity of starring in yet another romcom abomination.
As the awful pun of a title goes some way to indicating, this baby-bearing comedy sees Graham’s neurotic ninny desperate to conceive a child after discovering she’s only got 2 weeks left to do so. The dodgy English accents (from Graham and usually-reliable co-star Mia Kirshner) are only the surface of this misfire’s myriad problems.
Free Spirit? Rebellious in the sense that she’s destroying the good work she’s built up thus far.
Baby on Board (2009)
2009 was looking to be a shoddy year for Graham, with two more insipid romcoms. First up was this pregnancy comedy, in which she played a high-flying lawyer whose career goes into free fall when she discovers she’s up the duff.
The title of the next atrocity should have put you off from the outset: ExTerminators . This one sees her team up with Amber Heard and Stifler’s Mom Jennifer Coolidge to take revenge on the world’s bad boyfriends. Seriously.
Free Spirit? Things were starting to look bleak, until…
The Hangover (2009)
Todd Phillips’ comedy super-smash put Graham right back on the top of her game. Once again playing an oddly endearing woman in a licentious trade (here, a stripper). In fact, despite her rather startling presence (Stu’s married her and handed over his grandmother’s ‘Holocaust ring’), she turns out to be the only genuinely likeable character the stags meet on their adventure.
Up next… Sadly Graham’s not returning for The Hangover Part II , what with Stu going and getting engaged to Jamie Chung, but she will be seen in kiddie-book adap Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer . Sounds like an unfair trade to us.