Holly Hunter’s career is so vast and sprawling that chances are even her biggest fans have turned a blind eye to one or two of her greatest roles. Love “The Piano” and “Raising Arizona” but have never seen an episode of “Saving Grace”? Did you forget she did voice work in “The Incredibles”? Don’t worry, with Holly Hunter, these things happen to the best of us.
Luckily, the award-winning actress recently had an hour to speak at the Hamptons International Film Festival, wherein she handily reminded us of all the (many) highlights of her career. She was at the festival promoting her latest turn in “Strange Weather,” the newest Katherine Diekmann-directed indie that deals with the struggle of profound loss in a trying time, a theme especially prevalent throughout the films at HIFF.
Here are four takeaways from Hunter’s talk.
Transitioning Back to Film Was Difficult
The film industry is hard enough for talented women looking for leading roles when you are young, and Hunter has been around long enough to know this and has had to deal with the harshness of aging in Hollywood firsthand.
“There were so many lead roles available when I was in my thirties,” Hunter told moderator Thelma Adams. “Once I hit 45, there was a real downturn. But I got an incredibly provocative, delicious lead role in a television series called ‘Saving Grace’ and I loved the character. I was in love with the continuity of her really being able to carry a storyline, like you get to do with a lead.”
She continued, “Then it ended and I was thrust back into the reality of feature films, which was a harsh one for me. It was hard to understand that the lead role I just did for four years had ended and that I was back in to playing wives and older moms and supporting parts.”
She Isn’t Afraid of Tough Roles
‘“Strange Weather” is the story of a mother dealing with the suicide of her son seven years after the fact. It is a film entirely about coping with grief, which after so many years of sad cinema is still partially controversial.
“It’s a tough conversation to have with your community,” Hunter said. “They don’t want to deal with it. They don’t want to deal with the awkwardness. I play a character who is having a very tough time having this conversation with herself about the death of her son. I think it’s an imperative conversation in society. Everyone wants to have it because we all deal with it.”
Hunter added, “It’s great to go to the cinema and have a conversation about something that is almost taboo. Suicide is a little more difficult for people to talk about.”
Her Professional Ties Run Deep
Both Frances McDormand and Hunter owe quite a bit of their early success to the Coen brothers, with McDormand starring in their debut “Blood Simple” and Hunter showing the world what she was capable of in the off-kilter sensibilities of their next film “Raising Arizona.” Hunter told the Hamptons crowd that this was very coincidental and that luck, love and a need for affordable lodging has more to do with meeting the right people than we may think.
“I came to New York and had a boyfriend and he had a best friend,” she explained. “We were living together and went up to Yale to see his friend, and his girlfriend was [Frances] McDormand.”
“We were living in the North Bronx, so Fran moved up to the North Bronx and we had a community up there,” she continued. “Fran broke up and she moved in with me and then she met Joel Coen when we lived in Manhattan. He had made ‘Blood Simple’ and they had offered me the role but I said, ‘Why don’t you see my roommate?’”
She Never Let Her Physicality Limit Her
Hunter is very cognizant of the fact that she is, in her own words, “too small and too short.” But since her experience being cast in James L. Brooks’ “Broadcast News,” she long ago realized this does not have to be a limiting factor while choosing roles.
“Jim was casting this movie and this part was un-cast and he said ‘I want to see the masses,’” Hunter recalled. “So my agent said, ‘Let’s get Holly in there.’” At the time, Hunter was facing some serious challenges in getting the roles she wanted. “My physicality was holding me back,” she said. “I’m too small and too short. I thought that was odd, that should be a non-issue to me. With ‘Broadcast News’ it became a non-issue, and with ‘The Piano’ it became a non-issue. Both parts were written for more statuesque women. It was nice to change people’s minds about that because that’s neither here nor there.”