Directing a movie about women’s woes, Heather Graham vows to keep it funny, sexy

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Heather Graham poses for a portrait during amfAR Milano 2016 at La Permanente on September 24, 2016 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for amfAR)

It’s been 21 years since Rollergirl hung up the skates.

By the time Heather Graham skated across the screen and into pop culture lore in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful “Boogie Nights” (1997), the Milwaukee-born actress had been working for more than a decade, with roles on TV (“Growing Pains,” “Twin Peaks”) and in films such as “Drugstore Cowboy” and “Six Degrees of Separation.”

Graham (who owns those famous skates and for a time kept them in a display case in her home) has often been cast as the bombshell femme fatale, but she’s also been a comedy gamer in the likes of “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” and “Bowfinger.”

At 48, Graham is making her triple-threat debut as the writer, director and star of “Half Magic” (opening Friday on demand and at the Pickwick in Park Ridge), a cheerfully raunchy Hollywood satire in which she plays Honey, an aspiring screenwriter. She’s the assistant and sort of-girlfriend to a sexist, self-absorbed leading man (hilariously played by Chris D’Elia), whose catalog of work includes such titles as “Bros Before Hos,” “The Traumatizer” and “Ultra Violent.”

“Why does the woman who enjoys sex always have to die in horror films?” asks Honey in a pitch meeting. “Maybe she could fight back. … Nobody kills male sluts in movies.”

In a telephone interview, I told Graham I was gonna take a wild leap and guess “Half Magic” was based in part on her own experiences with sexism and stereotypes in Hollywood.

“Yes, for sure,” she said. “I actually started writing this about seven years ago. …I went through a breakup and I was really sad, and I wanted to [explore that]. … I started to write about bad relationships and how sexist I thought Hollywood was, and how I had struggled for years to make movies about women.”

In “Half Magic,” Graham’s character becomes friends with a successful fashion designer (Angela Kinsey from “The Office”) and a New Age spiritual healer type (Stephanie Beatriz, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”). They lean on one another as they experience personal and professional peaks and valleys.

Heather Graham (left) wrote, directed and stars in “Half Magic,” with Stephanie Beatriz and Angela Kinsey. | MOMENTUM PICTURES

Heather Graham (left) wrote, directed and stars in “Half Magic,” with Stephanie Beatriz and Angela Kinsey. | MOMENTUM PICTURES

Said Graham: “Before I started writing this script, I spent about eight years trying to produce movies that I would act in, stories that I thought were inspiring and about female empowerment … and I kept hearing, ‘Nobody cares about women’s stories. If you want to get a movie made, write about a man.’ … It was so frustrating. So I decided to write my own script.”

Although “Half Magic” is mostly broad satire and was written long before the dawn of the #MeToo movement, Graham recognizes the timeliness of a movie holding up a mirror to some of the most deplorable aspects of the industry. (Last November, Graham wrote a guest piece for Variety in which she recounted a meeting with Harvey Weinstein in the early 2000s and said Weinstein implied if she had sex with him, she could choose from the pile of scripts on his desk.)

“I feel like someone up there is watching out for me,” she said. “When I first started work on this, I was afraid people wouldn’t want to [deal with] the subject matter, so I tried to make it as comedic and sexy as I could — but in the [current environment] it feels as if everyone IS ready to deal with this subject matter, which is amazing.”

Directing herself was equal parts terrifying and liberating, said Graham.

“On one hand it’s like, ‘Oh my God, this is so scary, because I care so much about this story and elements of it are based on my own life,’ but on the other hand it’s so much more fun, just talking to you about this is fulfilling because it’s more than just a job I was hired to do.”

In Variety last November, Graham wrote, “While I still do feel guilty for not speaking up all those years ago, I’m glad for this moment of reckoning. To the countless other women who have experienced the gray areas: I believe you.”

Graham told me when she wrote those words, “I just thought, ‘OK, I’ll come out and tell my story, and hopefully I’ll feel better about myself, and hopefully the other women who were coming forward would feel [supported].’ But I had no idea there would be so many stories about [Weinstein and other men in Hollywood].

“These types of things have been happening to women everywhere for so many generations. It’s great that we finally feel open to talk about them.”

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