Nationality: American. Born: Conyers, Georgia, 20 March (or 2 February) 1958. Education: Attended Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, B.F.A., 1980. Family: Married the cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, 1995. Career: Moved to New York immediately after graduating, worked as waitress and temporary secretary to support herself while acting part-time; 1981—Harvey Weinstein gave her her first film role in The Burning ; appeared in off-Broadway play Battery ; 1982—auditioned for Beth Henley's The Wake of Jamey Foster , and the playwright was suitably impressed with Hunter's reading, which led to a lead role in Crimes of the Heart . Awards: Best Actress, New York and Los Angeles Film Critics, Berlin Film Festival, and best actress honors from National Board of Review, for Broadcast News , 1987; Best Actress in a made-for-TV movie Emmy Award, for Roe vs. Wade , 1989; Best Actress in a made-for-TV movie Emmy Award, for The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom , 1993; Best Actress Academy Award, Best Actress Golden Globe Award, and Best Actress, Cannes Film Festival, for The Piano , 1993. Agent: Steven Dontanville, ICM, 8942 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, U.S.A.
Films as Actress:
The Burning (Maylam) (bit role as Sophie)
Svengali (Harvey—for TV) (as Leslie); An Uncommon Love (Steven Hilliard Stern—for TV) (as Karen)
With Intent to Kill ( Urge to Kill ) (Robe—for TV) (as Wynn Nolen); Swing Shift (Jonathan Demme) (as Jeannie Sherman)
Raising Arizona (Coen) (as Edwina); A Gathering of Old Men ( Murder on the Bayou ) (Schlöndorff—for TV) (as Candy Marshall); Broadcast News (James L. Brooks) (as Jane Craig)
End of the Line (Russell) (as Charlotte Haney)
Miss Firecracker (Schlamme) (as Carnelle Scott); Animal Behavior (Jenny Bowen) (as Coral Grable); Roe vs. Wade (Hoblit—for TV) (as Ellen Russell/"Roe"); Always (Spielberg) (as Dorinda Durston)
Once Around (Hallström) (as Renata Bella)
Crazy in Love (Coolidge—for TV) (as Georgie Symonds)
The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (Ritchie—for TV) (as Wanda Holloway); The Firm (Pollack) (as Tammy Hemphill); The Piano (Campion) (as Ada McGrath)
Copycat (Amiel) (as Detective M. J. Monahan); Home for the Holidays (Jodie Foster) (as Claudia Larson)
Crash (Cronenberg) (Helen Remington)
A Life Less Ordinary (Boyle) (as O'Reilly)
Living Out Loud (LaGravenese) (as Judith Mohr)
Woman Wanted (Kiefer Sutherland) (as Emma Riley); Jesus' Son (Maclean) (as Mira)
Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her (Garcia) (as Rebecca); Timecode (Figgis) (a Executive); O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Coen) (as Penny); Harlan County War (Bill—for TV) (as Ruby Kincaid)
By HUNTER: articles—
Interview in Time (New York), 21 December 1987.
Interview in Newsweek (New York), 28 December 1987.
"Hunter Season," in Advocate (Los Angeles), no. 634, 1993.
Interview with Jodie Foster, in Interview (New York), November 1995.
"Hunter and the Game," interview with Tom Charity, in Time Out (London), 24 April 1996.
"I Was Surprised By the Controversy, But Has Crash Done Me Any Harm? No." interview in Radio Times (London), 2 August 1997.
On HUNTER: articles—
Pooley, Eric, "Hey, Man, It's Holly Hunter: The Relentless March of Broadcast News 's Star," in New York , 14 December 1987.
Handelman, David, "Three Men and a Lady," in Rolling Stone (New York), 28 January 1988.
Mathews, Jack, "No Southern Comfort," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1989.
Weinraub, Bernard, "Miss Firecracker's Career Is Glowing Again, and It's Brighter Than Ever," in New York Times , 1 July 1993.
Baldinger, Scott, "Fringe Chick," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), October 1993.
Kroll, Jack, "The Return of Holly's Comet," in Newsweek (New York), 15 November 1993.
Current Biography 1994 , New York, 1994.
Elia, Maurice, "Holly Hunter: tout est dans l'expression," in Séquences (Montreal), April 1994.
* * *
Despite appearing in a mere 20-odd films (both made-for-television and features), Holly Hunter has proven herself as one of the most versatile actors working today. Her penchant for screwy characterizations, from the beauty queen wannabe in The Miss Firecracker Contest to an overly neurotic workaholic in Broadcast News to a mute pianist in The Piano , has allowed Hunter to leave an indelible mark on the cinema of the past two decades.
Hunter's acting began on the stage, where, after moving to New York City in 1980, she landed work with noted playwright Beth Henley in such plays as Crimes of the Heart and The Miss Firecracker Contest . Her break into film came when director Jonathan Demme saw her perform and cast her in Swing Shift in 1983. Sadly, the film suffered a bad edit job, but Hunter's turn as a war-widow was spirited, and rightly attracted critical attention.
Several appearances in feature and made-for-television movies later, Hunter starred in Raising Arizona , which remains one of her finest moments and one of the defining of her career. The film was made by the maverick filmmaking team of Joel and Ethan Coen, and their decidedly offbeat, obtuse style is a perfect match for the wildly eccentric characterizations Hunter does best. Hunter played a cop who marries a convict on parole (Nicolas Cage), a man she had booked many times for robbing convenience stores. What is intriguing about watching Hunter in Arizona is her keen ability to take this weird, rather grating character—one which most actors would play flat—and flesh her out to full dimension.
In 1986, Hunter was cast at the last minute as an overly neurotic news program producer in Broadcast News , James L. Brooks's acerbic take on television infotainment. If the character was not quite as eccentric as the one in Raising Arizona , it did not matter; Hunter brought such boundless energy to the role as to virtually steal the film from its considerable remaining cast, copping several awards as well as an Oscar nomination. Adding to what could be called an Eccentricity Portfolio was her surprise supporting role in The Firm , in which she played a rather tarty secretary, picking up another Oscar nomination.
But the biggest and most delightful surprise in Hunter's career came with the 1993 film The Piano , directed by New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion. As with Broadcast News , Hunter was not initially seen as a logical choice for the film's lead (at first glance, The Piano would more easily be associated with the oeuvre of Meryl Streep). But Hunter exhibits a graceful, elegant power in the film. Playing a mute woman who expresses herself through her piano playing, Hunter was apparently drawn to the role in part because of the film's challenging gender dynamic. Contrary to typical cinematic female roles, Hunter's character is driven primarily by sexual interests, while the two men in the film (Harvey Keitel and Sam Neill) desperately want commitment. Hunter's strengths here are inarguable; she gives the lead in The Piano a captivating depth which perfectly matches the profoundly moving tone of the film.
While working on a wide range of feature film characterizations, also of note is Hunter's formal versatility. In addition to her considerable stage work, she has done several made-for-television movies. Hunter won an Emmy Award for Roe vs. Wade (1989), in which she played the woman best known as Jane Roe, who with the aid of feminist lawyers, challenged state law on abortion rights and won the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteeing a woman's right to abortion. Echoing some of the career choices of Jane Fonda, Hunter cited her conviction in the role as married to her offscreen activist work (Hunter sits on the board of directors of the California Abortion Rights Action League). Another Emmy came with The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993), in which Hunter plays (with relish) a grotesque southern maternal figure, eager to help her cheerleader daughter claw her way to the top at any cost. Again, Hunter's instinct here appears perfect; the film itself, made for cable television, is a hilarious satire of the based-on-a-true-story made-for-television movie.
While Hunter has a penchant for the offbeat, her talents are not as well served by more conventional films. Her weakest performances have come in her efforts at more normal characterizations, in such films as Always , Once Around , and Home for the Holidays . In Always , Hunter seems constrained by the film's simplistic, romantic premise. In Once Around and Home for the Holidays , the audience's offscreen knowledge of Hunter, and the baggage she carries with her from previous films, makes her portrayal of a woman in dire need of a man ring false. Hunter is clearly best suited to highly unusual, quirky characters.