Just when she thought it was forgotten for good, there it was again, that infamous photo of Heather Donahue from the closing shots of her 1999 horror megahit The Blair Witch Project (read Gary Thompson's review of the film).
"The image of my snot-nosed face is just indelible," the Upper Darby native said in a phone interview. Donahue doesn't act anymore. For awhile, she was growing weed.
"I wasn't involved in the new film at all," Donahue, 41, said to be crystal clear. "But I really loved watching it. I love a good jump scare. I just thought it was tons of fun."
Despite her place high in the horror pantheon, Donahue admits she's not one for scare flicks. "I really don't watch 'em. I get freaked out pretty easily by horror movies. I'm more of a comedy junkie."
The reason for her antipathy to horror is simple. As she explained in Growgirl: The Blossoming of an Unlikely Outlaw, her 2011 memoir about living on a marijuana farm, Donahue hates anxiety. And horror, as every fan knows, works by evoking angst.
"Look, I don't even like controlled anxiety. I want to keep anxiety out of m life entirely," she says. "You can keep your anxiety. Go see horror films and give it an outlet. I don't want any part of it."
Guess it's easy to see why marijuana appealed to Donahue. Once she left acting, she carved out a life for herself on a pot farm in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada between San Francisco, Calif., and Lake Tahoe.
It all goes back to that photo.
Donahue graduated from the University of the Arts on Broad Street in 1995 and after a year in regional theater, she moved to New York to pursue stage work and devote herself to her first love, improvisational comedy.
"I founded an improv group in New York called Red Shag but I also did the acting thing and I kept going to auditions," she said. "When I saw this casting call for [The Blair Witch Project], the selling point was that the entire thing would be completely improvised."
The film's success -- it made $248.6 million at the box office -- was a mixed blessing.
"Sure it go my name out there, but the image everyone had of me was from that snot-nosed picture. It's not the best way to land a romantic comedy to be seen as the most [unsexy] woman ever."
She did manage to land a few parts, using her pay from each gig to travel around the world. "I'd do some terrible movie in Bulgaria and then I'd travel all over the Balkans. My curiosity kept me going and after a while I basically got to see the world," she said.
One day Donahue found herself talking pot with a grower she met at a meditation retreat. It wasn't long after California's Proposition 215 had passed in 1996 which decriminalized the medical use of marijuana and the idea of growing weed for the sick appealed to Donahue.
The job took her to the West Coast where she's been ever since. While Donahue visits family in the Philly area regularly, she says she adores the laid back life out West. Today, she's grateful her notoriety from Blair Witch forced her out of acting – and its attendant anxieties.
"I've taken such a crazy path to my life here," said Donahue. "I mean, that's the funny thing about Blair Witch. If that movie hadn't happened, I'd still be plugging away today trying to get guest roles. I'm so glad that life ended."
Running a farm was a blast. At least for a while. "I had 27 chickens, a puppy [named Vito] and a garage full of ganja," said Donahue, who says she remains happily unmarried.
But pot growing was filled with its own kind of anxiety.
"It's an incredibly sexist business, there's really only guys in it," she said. "And historically it's been a pretty dangerous business."
Donahue eased out of the business "very soon after the book came out. … I wasn't going to write about being a pot farmer and advertise myself as a target!"
The book gave her the confidence to return to her first love, writing.
And the pot farm gave her a subject to continue exploring as in her work.
Thus came about The High Country, a TV pilot about the grow business that Donahue wrote and shot last summer.
The pilot has made the rounds in Hollywood for a year and Donahue is close to closing a deal for a first season. She can't discuss the details until the deal has gone through. Donahue said part of her production deal is that the show be shot in her community and use locals for its crew.