"I'd never met Miguel Arteta, the director, before I did the film," she recalls. "But as I read the script I just saw Joan as a redhead, so I wore a red wig for my audition and he loved it. He thought it was so perfect and my character was really born that day."
Heche's character is one of three insurance salespeople -- the other two played by stage veterans John C. Reilly and Isaiah Whitlock, Jr. -- who end up befriending convention newcomer Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), a seriously repressed small-town claims representative. The threesome get Tim into a little bit of trouble, especially when his one-night stand with Joan -- who is married and a mother -- results in the break-up of his pre-engagement to his former seventh grade teacher (played by Sigourney Weaver). But ultimately, the trio help Tim move forward with his life.
"The movie is about good people," says Heche. "Miguel made sure we all found the heart in each of our characters. He just knows how to find the heart and the funny in sometimes painful situations." Indeed, Heche has great empathy for her character, even if her actions aren't always admirable. "It's a fine line to play Joan who could so easily be just another bimbo at a convention, but she's a warm human being who likes to break away from her 'regular' life at home once a year in Cedar Rapids," says the star. "She comes to play and she thinks she'll be playing with the new guy, Tim, but then as she gets to know him, they begin to develop a friendship instead. We wanted to make sure that the audience embraces her for who she is, not judges her for what she does."
Helms, Reilly, and Whitlock join a rather remarkable group of actors with whom Heche has worked with in her career, which began with her Emmy Award-winning work on the NBC daytime drama Another World. Over the past two decades, her co-stars have included Ed Harris, Johnny Depp, Treat Williams, and Neil Patrick Harris (who appeared opposite her in Broadway's Proof).
Heche is particularly fond of Alec Baldwin, who was her leading man in Twentieth Century. "Alec was sitting with one of the show's producers and he called me and he said, "I want you to come and do this with me, in fact if you don't, then I won't. Isn't that marvelous?" she recalls.
Her current favorite leading men are her companion, James Tupper, with whom she starred in ABC's Men in Trees, their son Atlas, and her older son Homer (whose father is her ex-husband, Corey Lafoon). "I decided to concentrate on acting when I had Homer. Practicality comes into play when you have children," she notes.
It's one reason she's returned to series television. In Hung, she plays Jessica, the beautiful and slightly confused ex-wife of Ray (played by Thomas Jane), who takes up male prostitution to supplement his meager income as a basketball coach. While Jessica has remarried, the pair is possibly on their way to reconciling.
"I haven't seen any of the new season's scripts yet, but everyone always asks if Ray and I get back together this season," she says. All I can say is they were high school sweethearts, you know Prom King and Queen, and I think they were made for each other. The fact is, it's never too late to change your life."