Heather Graham: “Women Are Told That There’s No Age We’re Supposed to Feel Good About Ourselves”

Heather Graham: “Women Are Told That There’s No Age We’re Supposed to Feel Good About Ourselves” featured image
Photographer: Stephanie Diani; Hair: Chris Naselli; Makeup: Nick Barose for Exclusive Artists using Dior Beauty; Stylist: Jared Depriest Gilbert

With an almost 40-year career in the industry, by all accounts, Heather Graham has “made it” in Hollywood.

But the 53-year-old might need a minute to convince her boyfriend of that.

“Thanks for an awesome photo shoot; I think that was the first time I sort of impressed my boyfriend—he thought I was a cool and famous actress for a few hours,” she tells me over the phone a few days after shooting our April cover with the delight of a first timer. “It’s weird, but I still think of myself as a kid from suburbia, so when I get into the clothes and the hair and makeup, and the camera starts going, I get excited.”

This spring, Graham stars in Amazon’s On a Wing and a Prayer opposite Dennis Quaid, as well as the Apple TV+ series Extrapolations with Matthew Rhys. She’s also currently dabbling in some directing and writing, which she says is something she’s wanted to do for a bit. But, for today, she’s chatting via a quiet spot she’s set up shop at while on vacation in sunny Costa Rica.

“There’s a lot going on, but I think I’m most excited to be in warm weather today,” she shares. “I’m pretty low-key, but I’m definitely one of those people who will yell at you if you put on the A.C. too low.”

Look: Dorothee Schumacher; Shoes: Alexandre Birman; Rings: The Vit, Bowen NYC, Ramona Albert; Earrings: SauleLabel

You have two big projects out this month. What are you most excited to share with audiences?

On a Wing and a Prayer is interesting because it’s a true-life story. I can relate to being in a situation where you feel completely hopeless and getting through it with the grace of whatever kind of spiritual help that you get; I think a lot of people can relate to that. The world can be dark, but this story has a happy ending. It’s kind of great sometimes to watch a movie that ends in an inspiring way. After watching all of the Academy screeners—a lot of those movies were super dark this year—I enjoyed making and watching this movie. It made me feel happy and uplifted.

It’s definitely a film that leaves us nervous flyers on the edge of our seats.

Oh, God. I know. I don’t have that fear, but my best friend is a very nervous flyer. Whenever we fly together, we hold hands and she starts to sweat. Her palm will start to really sweat and I feel terrible for her! I am one of those people who just tries not to think about it; I’m not saying I’ve never been scared on a plane, but I don’t have a huge fear of flying.

But we did do a bunch of interviews for the film and everyone asked, “Are you scared to fly after doing this movie?” Luckily, I’m not, but I probably would be if let myself think about it.

Jumpsuit: Rivet; Shoes: Birmann; Necklace: Martha Calvo; Bracelets: Ramona Albert; Rings: Ramona Albert

You also have your Apple TV+ show, which came out a few weeks back. Did you enjoy working on that project?

It’s a lot of really great actors; I had a great time working with Matthew Rhys, and, of course, to say that you’re on a show with Meryl Streep is pretty cool. I’ve known the creator, Scott Burns, for a long time and he’s such a smart person. He’s trying to make the world a better place by talking about the important issues. And he does his research!

On to the beauty questions…you must get told all the time that you really are aging backwards. What’s your secret?

Thank you so much. That’s really nice to hear. I think one of the main things is sleep. I try to get a lot of sleep. Beyond that, I think just being happy on the inside and whatever. I do all the self-help stuff: I meditate, I do yoga, I work through all the stuff in therapy. I do all the different kinds of sorting through my inner world to make myself feel happy on the inside. And it’s important to me to surround myself with loving people.

The older I get, the pickier I am about the energy I want around me. I want loving, supportive people by my side. When I was younger, I was always seeking out the difficult, dramatic, complicated people. At some point, I realized that is exhausting. Now, I try to have people that are supportive in my circle. Of course, you want someone to be honest and real with you, but at the same time, you just want to feel the loving, appreciative vibes. You have to be with the people that really celebrate you.

Jumpsuit: Safiyaa; Belt + Shoes: Michael Kors Collection; Necklace: Alexis Bittar; RIngs: The Vit, Ramona Albert; Cuff: Ramona Albert

I like that. I know that you turned 53 a couple of weeks back and I love the post that you shared on Instagram with the caption, “Happy, sassy, free.” Are you enjoying getting older?

I think, culturally, there is definitely a message out there that keeps telling us, “Women feel bad about yourself!” It seems like there’s no age where we’re really allowed to feel good about ourselves—except for maybe a very short window. The rest of the time we’re supposed to feel like, “I’m too young or I’m too old.” For me, I have to unplug from the culture, which is a patriarchal way of looking at things, and to affirm myself and be happy and grateful for what I do have.

But I do think it’s exciting that women are getting into more positions of power and starting to influence the culture. It’s cool that more women are heading up companies and that we’re green-lighting projects that have more female subject matter. I really want to make things that are empowering to women. I’ve gotten involved in more behind-the-scenes projects, and I feel strongly that what we watch does matter. If you’re watching stuff where it’s only always about men, and women don’t get to do that much, it’s disempowering on another level.

The older I get, the pickier I am about the energy I want around me.

In my personal day-to-day, I do affirmations. I have a good friend who taught me how to, basically, take your deepest fears, flip them, and then you say it’s already happening—or, you can talk about something that you want to have happen.

I have a list of affirmations…ones like, “I am lovable, I approve of myself. I am beautiful. I feel this is the best time of my life.” I read those every day, and it does make a difference. Instead of listening to all the negative people in the world that want to tell you that you should feel bad about yourself, it’s like being my own loving parent to my inner child. You just have to tell yourself, “You’re great.” Whenever something happens and I get triggered or if I feel bad, it’s like I have this muscle inside myself that’s always able to say, “You’re wonderful.” The more I affirm myself, the more love I have to give.

As a kid, I always thought it was selfish to take good care of yourself and to really love yourself. I definitely struggled with having any sense of self-esteem as a younger person. As an adult, I’ve made an effort to work on that—it’s one of the things I’ve worked the hardest on.

Dress: Zimmermann; Shoes: Alexandre Birman; Rings: Ramona Albert, Bowen NYC; Ring: Acchitto

That’s pretty amazing. And a great message for all of us.

Of course, getting older is a little bit scary—I won’t lie! At the same time, I feel like I’ve never been happier, weirdly. I do feel that I have more self-esteem now.

That’s awesome. I know you’ve had a ton of iconic roles. Is there anything that sticks out to you that was super fun glam-wise?

Just popping off the top of my head, I think of Austin Powers. Those wigs! That was fun. I am really lucky; I have to say, as a kid growing up, I did not have good style. I had no style! The idea that a professional hair, makeup and styling team can help me become more glamorous, is pretty amazing. I don’t think I would have ever figured any of this out without some help. I’m very grateful that this is my job.

What would you be doing if this wasn’t your job?

I love psychology. I could see a world where I would be a therapist. I think I had a fantasy about being a doctor at one point. I love reading fiction, so I can also see myself wanting to write books.

You’ve also had a number of sexual roles and you’ve always been pretty open about the conversation. Do you think the conversation is getting better as time goes on, in terms of talking about sexuality and sexual wellness?

I think it’s good that people are becoming more aware and more involved. I think it still is a very sexist world, though. I was watching the Pamela Anderson documentary the other night, and it is really interesting how negatively she was judged for being a sexual woman who had sex with her husband. And that tape was stolen! If her husband and she wanted to videotape themselves, who cares? Why was she judged so horribly, and he wasn’t?

It does make me angry when I see a double standard. I think, as women, we should be allowed to enjoy our sexuality in whatever way we want—however we want. If we want to be sexy, and if we want to wear sexy clothes, great. If you don’t, great. I think women have to deal with such harsh judgment. Social media and young girls…supposedly, the number of suicides have risen since young girls have to put themselves on social media and they’re getting judged.

For me, the biggest thing is detaching from what other people think about you and just feeling good about yourself regardless—whether or not your face or body looks as perfect as you want. I don’t know a single woman who has never had any insecurities about how she looks. I think it’s just, sadly, programmed into women. So it’s our job to deprogram that programming and just decide every day that you look great.

What’s next for you?

Well, I’m in Costa Rica right now. I love being on a beach, I love hot weather. My happiest place is wherever I don’t have to put on a jacket because it’s so hot outside. I definitely get into arguments sometimes with other people who want it to be colder with the air conditioning and things like that, but I’m very excited to wear shorts, to be in the hot weather. I love when all the trees are green, and I’m going to direct a movie. I’m directing another movie that I wrote, which I’m very excited about, and I would like to get involved in more things behind the camera. I am really digging it; I love the idea of getting to tell stories that mean something to me.

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