How producer-turned-director Denise Di Novi helped Katherine Heigl escape rom-com perfection in ‘Unforgettable’

Denise Di Novi has had one of the most eclectic producing careers in Hollywood, which is immediately apparent as you step into her Santa Monica office, tastefully adorned with memorabilia from the movies she’s produced.

Atop one shelf, Michael Keaton’s Batman glove casually greets visitors while a mind-controlled penguin commando from Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns” stands sentry.

Near the prop penguin that fanboys would kill to own, a placard commemorates 1998’s “Practical Magic,” one of the first films the producer made after setting up her own shingle on the Warner Bros. lot she’s now called home for 20 years.

Across the room hangs one of Di Novi’s favorite keepsakes: An expressive collection of doll faces used to bring Sally to life in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Heigl, in a separate interview a few days later, flashes a knowing smile and quips, “I have had opportunities throughout my career to play darker characters — it’s just that nobody ever saw them.”

She echoes Di Novi’s assessment of “Unforgettable”s desperate, deranged housewife. “It was really important that Tessa have some vulnerability and that as an audience you get to see that, and maybe sympathize with her a little.”

Heigl laughs, imagining how she’d handle a similar situation: “I hope I wouldn’t make the same choices that Tessa makes.”

“I think we’ll know that we’re successful when the dark side of being female is just as OK as playing a feminist hero,” Di Novi says. “

The messaging simmering beneath “Unforgettable’s” thriller trappings is just as important to Di Novi as providing for her audience pure, unadulterated entertainment value. As Tessa and Julia tangle for increasingly risky stakes, the film scripted by Christina Hodson and David Leslie Johnson deconstructs the crazy-making pursuit of feminine perfection that fuels both women.

“Because of our social conditioning our currency is, are we desired by men? Are we desirable?” Di Novi explains, decrying the “tyranny of perfectionism” that female viewers in particular relate to. “That’s what little girls learn: Are you pretty, are you sexy, are you attractive — what happens when you really buy into that?”

Dawson’s Julia “seems like the opposite,” adds Di Novi. “But she’s given up her career, given up her friends and given up her life, because she thought she found the perfect man who desired her. She loses herself and allows this other woman to gaslight her because she puts all of her identity into this relationship as well.”

“Will a guy see all that in the movie?” she says, laughing. “I don’t know.”

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