One to Grow On
Blair Witch Project star moves to nearby foothills, cultivates weed, finishes memoir
Heather Donahue’s used to being known as “that girl from The Blair Witch Project”; the 1999 horror film launched her acting career, after all. But the movie—in which she played a doomed hiker named, not coincidentally, Heather Donahue—redefined her identity to a fault. So in 2009, Donahue started over by moving with Judah, her pot-growing boyfriend, to “Nuggettown,” a small mountain town somewhere northeast of Sacramento. She and the boyfriend didn’t last long, but for the next year, Donahue rented a house and farmed her own marijuana plants. In a new book, Growgirl: How MyLife After The Blair Witch Project Went to Pot, Donahue discusses country life, tending to her “girls,” and the difference between growing pot and becoming a pot wife.
Hi, how are you today?
I’m really good (laughs).
Yeah, it’s so nice to be able to talk about something you really love. When I was an actress, I’d have to talk about something I didn’t really [care about]. Once, when I was [promoting] the movie Boys and Girls, and it was like, “Oh yeah, you should really watch this movie. You should totally fritter away your time on this piece of shit.”
Well, with that in mind, let’s talk about the book. It’s not what I expected.
(Laughs.) I can imagine—you really shouldn’t let the cover fool you, [although] I know it’s something I wouldn’t pick up at the bookstore—it looks like just another celebrity memoir—and I’m not even a celebrity.
And it’s not really a typical memoir.
Right, it’s just about one year of my life—there’s something to be said for burrowing into a very specific topic. The more I dug into writing about this, the more it really resonated with my life. The title Growgirl is about my time growing pot, but it’s also about growing up late in life.
How did you decide to quit acting and become a pot farmer? Were you feeling lost?
I wasn’t feeling lost; I was feeling incredibly certain that it was time to move on. This was the beginning of taking my story back. I had no idea what I was doing, but it felt right.
Did you have regrets about The Blair Witch Project?
The only regret I ever had was using my full name [in the film]. Still to this day, people confuse me with the character I played. Today, I had a Facebook post where someone asked me if I was the same person [from the film], because I was supposed to be dead. It’s like—if you’re posting this on Facebook, then surely you have Google. People just assumed we weren’t actors.
The experience of making that film was fantastic, though—there was such a sense of play. Still, I would’ve had a better career if it’d only made $7 million instead of $250 million.
Because you wouldn’t have been so defined by the role?
Because it wouldn’t have been such a tattoo on my face.
OK, so back to the topic of removing that tattoo from your face.
It was so liberating, so great in Nuggettown—there I was just the girl who was friends with the waitress. That was my new identity.
They didn’t know you as “that girl from The Blair Witch Project”?
They did, but they got over it real fast.
Where is Nuggettown—I know for legal reasons you can’t say exactly, but can you provide a clue as to how close it is to Sacramento?
Let’s just say that the SN&R is in all the coffee shops there.
Got it. OK, moving on: So, as you said, it was liberating.
It was a stunning change, and I loved it. It was a chance to expand my life, to not feel so clenched living in [Los Angeles] … or by comparing myself to other people or my career to my friends’ careers.
Why did you decide to grow pot yourself instead of just moving in with your boyfriend and helping him?
Because I didn’t see any 40-year-old pot wives, and there were no other jobs—there were very few employment options. … [So] I learned how to do it myself; that’s just inherent to me. I err toward independence, which has been known to bite me in the ass. In some ways, I do wish I’d stayed with Judah and just been his pot wife. But that wouldn’t have worked out, anyway, because we broke up six weeks [after I moved].
What is the pot-wife culture like?
It’s a Little House on the Prairie throwback where the women do all the cleaning, they tend the gardens and cook the meals and take care of their boyfriends’ kids from previous relationships.
What did you like about doing it for yourself?
I loved the solitude of it. I loved living in the forest. I loved digging, feeding the chickens. I loved it all—except for the paranoia. I really loved tending to the girls, I truly loved nurturing them. I wasn’t prepared for how satisfying and challenging it would be, and just how much of me it would require to use my problem-solving skills and tap into my ability to remain calm in the face of chaos.
What do you miss about it?
The wide-open days, the sense of community, the simplicity of it, the slowness … the way everything got amplified in that stillness.
Was it lonely?
It was—but I could always call up a friend and meet them in town for a beer. I had the car. But, then again, if I hadn’t been that isolated, then I wouldn’t have internalized the lessons that I learned that year. Sometimes I’d get so scared, so completely overwhelmed, but because I had that solitude and peace, I was able to sit with the fear until it hit a critical mass and imploded on itself and passed. I learned to manage my emotions, no matter what happened. That’s what allowed me to write the book—I had to weigh the fear with what I feel is a necessary conversation about cannabis.
Do you believe pot should be legalized?
Prohibition has caused way more problems than it’s solved, [but] my concern with broad legalization is that there’s been this marijuana middle class, and I would hate to see that taken way from the people who are building it. It’s the only industry thriving in this economy. If broad-spectrum legalization allowed regulation, then corporations could come in and essentially make people sharecroppers—well, we need to find a way that’s fair.
Was it profitable for you?
I had a roof over my head, and I ate sushi. You’re not blowing it up, and it’s not crazy, but I was able to live in a beautiful place and find time to write.
At what point did you decide to write this particular book?
(Laughs.) Once I had a failed draft of the city-life/country-girl novel done that I originally thought I was writing.
I’m working on a young-adult novel right now. I have two nonfiction books that I want to write as well.
In Growgirl you wonder, “Who gets to age 35 without a career?” How old are you now, and do you still feel as though you don’t have a career?
I’m 38, and I have a book, and I hope to someday have another book, and I hope that will one day equal a career. I’m not sure if right now it feels like anything more than a completed project, but then again, I’m not really sure I need that continuity. I’m OK with that, because it keeps me open to whatever is next.