By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire September 10, 2012 at 8:59AM
At Sundance this January, Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt courted the most attention she's received in over a decade for her brave and baring turn as a sex surrogate in "The Sessions" (then titled "The Surrogate").
The film, inspired by a true story, centers on Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), a Berkeley author confined to an iron lung due to childhood polio. At 38, O'Brien, who can't move any of his limbs but is not impotent, decides he wants to finally lose his virginity. Enter Hunt as Cheryl Cohen Green, a sex surrogate, who O'Brien calls on to aid him in the process.
[This interview originally ran during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Fox Searchlight opens "The Sessions" this Friday.]
Written and directed by Ben Lewin, himself a polio survivor, "The Sessions" is remarkbaly hearfelt drama that affords Hunt her best on screen role in ages; one that's been courting a lot of awards buzz since first debuting in Park City. Indiewire caught up with Hunt in Toronto, where "The Sessions" is screening (it opens October 26 via Fox Searchlight), to find out whether she had any reservations about the nudity required on her part for the film, what she makes of the Oscar hype, and if she sees this as comeback.
Now I'm well aware that you've remained creatively active since your last big hit "What Women Want," by acting on stage, writing and directing your first feautre film, "Then She Found Me," and appearing in a handful of features. But for some reason I still want to say welcome back. Is that wrong?
No. It's not my favorite thing to hear, but it's okay. I know what I've been doing. I've written two movies and directed one. I've acted in two plays and four movies. I made an entire human being. So I know I've had a very full life [laughs].
Some combination of not being handed the right part, and wanting to really turn all my attention to things that are quiet and maternal in my home -- really not wanting to let that part of my life pass me by. It's sort of what happens. It doesn't mean that I didn't have moments where I was like, oh God I blew it, I let it all go.
But the truth is I wanted to have my daughter for so long. It's not the kind of thing you can visit, motherhood. Especially in the early years. Now she's eight, and I'm still not going to go anywhere. It's a big deal that I'm going to be gone to promote this movie. There's three days here and then there's one stretch that's eight days, which I haven't done. It's very healing to me to be a very present mother. I hope that it's also good for her [laughs]. But it's definitely good for me.
Did you see this film as a comeback vehicle, back when you signed on?
No, I just loved it and I hadn't read anything like it. That's rare. And I hadn't ever read a part like this. I was very happy to be chosen.
A girlfriend of mine was the one to tell me about the movie. My agent had me meet the director. That was probably the only thing that would have stopped me from saying yes -- if I had any feeling from the director that was anything other than purely interested in what he wrote about. As an actress who's sometimes asked to be in sexual situations, you can feel really quickly if there's anything subtlety creepy going on. I just found a nice guy who was wanting to tell a unique story. With that and John attached, I was pretty excited.
Watching the film, the nudity and sex scenes seem like a non-issue. Yet despite that, the film generated a lot of press at Sundance because of those very factors.
Initially when I signed on I got tunnel vision -- like, I want this part. If you stop to think, "I'm scared about the nudity, I'm scared to play this part" -- there are a lot of reasons to say no. But I know a good story when I read it.
Any hesitation I had about the nudity, I think what I thought was it's getting late. You know what I mean? It's getting too late in my life to care about the small things. It's getting too late to not be brave, to not live my life fully, to not try to be an artist. Trivial things like how nice your hotel room is, or if you have to be naked for a while, they fade away.