Two years ago, Katherine Heigl shot a little politically incorrect comedy film with Johnny Knoxville. In the time it took “The Ringer” to make it to the big screen (it took in $8.4 million in its first four days in release), Heigl shot a pilot for an ABC medical drama, watched the network hold the show until midseason and then saw “Grey’s Anatomy” explode as one of television’s biggest hits.

“It feels like forever ago,” Heigl laughs now. “My life was very different then. It’s hard to even fathom it.”

Every week, nearly 18 million people watch “Grey’s Anatomy,” a huge audience that’s only partially attributable to its “Desperate Housewives” Sunday lead-in.

“I enjoy the show so much,” says Heigl, who plays model-turned-doc Izzie Stevens. “I love television. I watch pretty much everything and I have at least two or three TiVoed programs a night. This is a show that appeals to all the sensibilities in me. If I weren’t on it, I’d watch it.”

The show has transformed its formerly low-profile cast into media celebrities, a status that brings both magazine covers and oodles of free stuff. Although Heigl has had her share of big screen exposure (“My Father the Hero”) and niche small screen success (“Roswell”), she’s still amazed by the impact a network smash can have.

“You know, you read about Lindsay Lohan and all the free stuff celebrities get, but you don’t really understand that until it starts showing up in boxes at your house and you’re like, “Why are they sending me this stuff? Are they gonna want it back?”‘ she says.

Heigl is now discovering that somewhat disgusting reality of Hollywood – the minute you can start affording the spa treatments, designer clothing and high-tech gadgets, companies start throwing them at you for free.

“When I really needed that extra help, I couldn’t get it, I couldn’t get hired to save my life,” she sighs. “Now, they’re throwing stuff at you and none of it is without a price. My initial instinct was just to take it all, wear it all and mention it all – since I was getting it, cool. But then you start to realize, too, that I was turning myself into a commodity. I understand that I am, to a certain degree, but I don’t have to overindulge that.”

The Christmas season comes as the “Grey’s” cast is in the middle of shooting what could be the show’s most important episode ever. ABC has given the drama that most-coveted of slots, the post-Super Bowl hour. Naturally, Heigl can’t say a darned thing about the episode except for to tease that there may be too much plot to be contained in the standard broadcast 43 minutes.

“It’s a big episode,” Heigl says, saying nothing. “It’s got a lot going on and it’s got a lot … I don’t know how to say it without giving it away. I can’t say it, but it’s going to be an exciting episode and we’re really thrilled about it.”

She continues, “I think right now, all the actors are like, “You have to do this without commercials. You have to air the whole thing. You can’t cut anything. It’s too amazing.’ I think it would awesome if they got a sponsor so that there would be no commercials but it’s the Super Bowl, so there’s no way.”

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