Heather Donahue, later known as Rei Hance, is a writer and businesswoman but is best remembered as a former actress, specifically for her role in the 1999 horror film, The Blair Witch Project.
Due to her changing her name, she will be referred to as Rei Hance.
She was born December 22nd, 1973, in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. Her parents were Joan and James Donahue; Joan was an office manager, and James was a printer.
She attended Upper Darby High School, graduating in 1991. Hance (Donahue) later graduated from the University of the Arts (Philadelphia) in 1995 with a BFA in theater.
Rei Hance’s entirety of her acting career is under her birth name, Heather Donahue. To discuss her acting career, her birth name will be used.
The Blair Witch Project
Donahue’s first role was The Blair Witch Project, a 1999 horror film that went on to find commercial and pop culture success.
The Blair Witch Project was a micro-budget independent film directed and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez.
The movie would also help to supercharge the popularity of “found footage” horror.
Donahue had first discovered the role through an ad in an acting magazine. The posting intrigued her because, as someone interested in improvisation, the ad was for an entirely improvised feature.
The audition process would take over a year and involve nearly 2000 actresses.
The project was very low-budget, including transportation on a bus to Burkettsville, Maryland, for the location shoot.
The situation was also so unusual that Donahue brought a knife with her as friends and family were concerned that the film was going to be a “snuff film.”
The improvised nature of the film also resulted in Donahue helping shape the story and lore of the film.
The original intent from directors Myrick and Sanchez was to shoot 20 minutes of the film’s characters and make the rest of the movie a sort of pseudo-documentary about a fictionalized local legend.
Still, the collaborative process quickly reshaped the focus of the film.
Reception of the film
The authenticity presented by the film even extended to the actors staying out of the public eye for a year.
This meant that for marketing purposes, Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard had to go dark and could not build on the success of their appearances in the film due to a contract.
Donahue even revealed that her mother received sympathy cards because audiences thought these actors were dead or missing.
As big as the film was, however, there were problems. Heather Donahue and her fellow actors did not receive adequate payment for their work despite how much collaboration there was on the project.
The film is estimated to have had a budget of $60k to $75k but would make millions – nearly $250 million. The actors were paid only $1,000 daily for an eight-day shoot.
During the film’s release, there was some blowback by audiences and critics about her character in the movie that has since shifted, recognizing that her performance was quite impressive – especially her iconic monologue when the character Heather knows she is going to die.
Donahue was awarded a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress in 1999, but in the years since, this has largely been deemed a poor decision.
What did she do after The Blair Witch Project?
Following The Blair Witch Project and going public, Donahue would land several roles in film and television series.
Her credits include the romantic comedy Boys and Girls (2000) and a 2001 episode of The Outer Limits.
In 2002 she appeared in the alien abduction mini-series Taken, and in 2003 she appeared in an episode of the FBI drama Without a Trace.
Among her final roles was an appearance in the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode “Charlie Wants an Abortion” in 2005.
Her last acting credit would be The Morgue, a 2008 direct-to-video horror film.
Why did Heather Donahue change her name to Rei Hance?
Part of her name change was due to the necessity of her real name being used for The Blair Witch Project – she would ultimately say that using her real name for that movie was the biggest regret of her life.
What is she doing now?
In 2008 Rei Hance (still going by the name of Heather Donahue) retired from acting and turned her attention to work as a medical marijuana grower.
She leveraged that into a publishing deal and released the book GrowGirl in 2012 through Gotham Books. GrowGirl was an autobiographical exploration of her life as a marijuana farmer following her career in film stalling.
She also attempted to develop a sitcom based on the book titled The High Country, but that didn’t pan out.
She continues to write, having released several books, including Oracle of Emergence: An Evolutionary I Ching.