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I haven’t been to Holly Hunter’s house and, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I probably never will, but meeting her in a New York hotel room gave me a tantalizing idea of what kind of host she’d be.

As I wait outside a suite at the Four Seasons, I can hear the Oscar-winning actor conduct some last-minute feng shui with a publicist, doubling up as furniture re-arranger. When I enter, she’s up on her feet awaiting my arrival and quickly explaining that she wanted us both on the sofa together as the previous set-up was far too much like an “interrogation”. We sit and she’s offering to serve me tea before talking through why it’s so much better in the UK (“All I drink is tea but in a way, we just don’t know how to do it”) and offering up career-based empathy (“It’s got to be a weird job when you have to have to talk about movies that you don’t like”). Needless to say, most interviews don’t tend to start with such informal warmth.

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Maybe it’s just pure southern hospitality or it could be the result of a recent career boost that’s lifted the 59-year-old actor out of smaller, often thankless roles, and back into the spotlight. Last year she made an impression, against all odds, in box office behemoth Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (arguably her most widely seen performance to date), she received raves at last year’s Toronto film festival for Netflix indie Strange Weather, cropped up playing Natalie Portman’s mother in Terrence Malick’s music drama Song to Song and her upcoming slate includes a buzzy HBO drama and a much-anticipated Pixar sequel.

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But we’re here to talk about The Big Sick, a charming Judd Apatow-produced romantic comedy that recounts the real life courtship between standup comic turned Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani, playing himself, and his now wife Emily V Gordon, played by Zoe Kazan. As the title suggests, it’s a love story with a twist, the “sick” referring to a coma that Emily found herself in after the couple broke up. Hunter plays her mother with enough comic gusto to spark early whispers of awards attention.

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“It goes to this really private and intimate place because Kumail and Emily meant it,” she tells me, tea in hand. “That’s one of the reasons I was attracted to it because it had an authenticity, it had even more than an authenticity, it has an inside track that I felt was compelling.”

It’s a rom-com as well as a family drama as well as the story of a comedian trying to get his career started as well as a delicately drawn portrait of Muslim life in America, the latter element arriving at a particularly necessary time. “That is an unintended, unsought after byproduct of the movie,” Hunter says. “I don’t think they were going for that at all but it is, for us, a crucial thing. For us as an audience, boy do we need to hear that.”

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Actors gotta act. Everything is not going to be the nectar of the gods

Holly Hunter

The film also serves as a valid reminder of Hunter’s scene-stealing skills, curiously absent in recent years. She broke out in the late 80s with the one-two punch of Raising Arizona and an Oscar-nominated turn in Broadcast News but such high-profile roles still weren’t enough to guarantee her more work.

“I remember that when I was in my 30s, a hot age for an actress, lots of offers were coming in but nothing was great and I didn’t work for 18 months,” she tells me. “It was at a really fruitful age and I wanted to work. There was nothing coming down the pipeline that I thought was good and then I got The Piano. I have never been an easy fit. I’m a leading lady character actor, I don’t fit in one slot simply. I’ve always been used to a certain amount of struggle and that prepared me wonderfully for a mature age.”

An Oscar win for her role as a mute pianist arrived in the same year as a nomination for starring alongside Tom Cruise in The Firm and for a while, the industry was kind and Hunter appeared in serial killer thriller Copycat, Thanksgiving comedy Home for the Holidays and worked with Danny Boyle in A Life Less Ordinary and David Cronenberg in Crash. But by the beginning of the following decade, things started to change.

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“I’m working on 40 years of being an actress and of course I’m proud of that,” she tells me. “But also with that has come the price to be paid for being a female in the movie industry. It’s a hard tightrope to navigate and then to be an older woman, it has its own very special challenges. But I’ve worked even when people didn’t know that I was working. Sometimes it’s very difficult to do a movie that’s good and then have that movie make it to the light of day.”

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Holly Hunter in Copycat. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/WARNER BROS

It’s also meant that some of Hunter’s later choices haven’t always been the slam-dunks she might have hoped for. “Sometimes I take a movie that I know is not great, it’s not great on the page but I need to work,” she says. “Sometimes I need to make the money, I need dough. I want to work and so I’ll take something that is compromised in some arena. But it’s like, actors gotta act. It’s the same way in any profession. Everything is not going to be the nectar of the gods.”

In 2007 she pre-empted other female actors of her age by making the move to television at a time when it was far less common. In Saving Grace, she starred as a dysfunctional detective aided by an angel to mend her destructive ways and for three seasons, she was consistently working, no mean feat for a woman in Hollywood in her late 40s.

“I got seduced into thinking ‘hey this is my career, this is my life’ and once that ended, I was in cold water again where I was like ‘ohhh yeah, oh right, I’m playing the mom again,’” she says. “But I’m talking about a not very well-written mom, sometime who shows up occasionally and is supportive of something. I’ve been reawakened a few times as to the limitations of aging as a woman in the film industry.”

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There’s a self-confessed “counter-intuitive” decision-making process that’s led Hunter down some unexpected routes (she tells me after Broadcast News she ignored advice and picked a TV movie because she wanted to) but it’s also led her here to a place where she’s excited to be working again as she enters her 60s.

Hunter’s sudden visibility is indicative of an industry that’s finally, slowly broadening its sights and allowing multi-faceted older women the opportunities they deserve. She’s currently in the middle of reprising her role as Elastigirl in The Incredibles 2 and Oscar-winning American Beauty screenwriter Alan Ball has cast her as the matriarch in HBO’s multiracial family drama Here, Now alongside Tim Robbins. “Alan doesn’t write anybody that’s not real,” she says, excitedly teasing the show. “Every character that Alan writes feels like the lead and when that character is on screen, this series is about that person.”

It’s been a tough route in an unforgiving industry but Hunter avoids any form of victimhood, even when it comes to the difficult feedback she’s faced throughout her career from casting directors (she’s previously stated that her short stature was often preventative).

“Every actor gets it,” she says. “Even Brad Pitt I’m sure gets ‘Oh he’s too good looking for this’ and Brad is like ‘I can take it down’ so yeah, I’m no exception.”

Source : https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jun/23/holly-hunter-the-big-sick-interview-age-women-hollywood

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