Saving Grace's Wild Woman

Holly Hunter talks about playing the toughest, lustiest cop on TV.

By Amy Wallace
Holly Hunter wears an Emporio Armani dress and Neil Lane earrings.
Photograph: Photo by: Matthew Rolston

Holly Hunter is talking about sex, and who wouldn’t want to listen? During her nearly three-decade career, after all, the Academy Award–winning actress has often plumbed the murky depths of the erotic. In 1987, playing the neurotic and conflicted producer in Broadcast News, Hunter moaned, “I am beginning to repel people I’m trying to seduce!” Six years later, as The Piano’s mute and unhappy bride, she made a tiny hole in her dirty black stocking more alluring than any Victoria’s Secret teddy—and won an Oscar for her work. In 2003, playing an emotionally insecure mom in the coming-of-age film Thirteen, Hunter emerged from a shower completely nude. (To do otherwise, she says, would have been to break a cardinal rule: Never step out of character while the cameras are rolling.)
But as Hunter’s TNT series Saving Grace begins its third season on June 16, the 51-year-old star isn’t just naked (a lot). Her character, Oklahoma City major crimes detective Grace Hanadarko, is lusty. Hungry. Foulmouthed. “Feral,” as Hunter puts it. Oh, and she’s got a guardian angel—the kind who sometimes flashes big white wings and has a direct line to God. Grace is complicated, to say the least. Which is why playing her demands a lot more from Hunter than merely stripping off her clothes.
“There was an episode last season where I was tied up for the entire first act,” Hunter says, laughing as she describes the scene: Grace, buck naked and handcuffed, facedown, to her fourposter by a frisky one-night stand, gets stranded for hours after her new lover flees the house. The situation was at once steamy and hilarious.
“It was just such a gas,” she says, recalling how—before his abrupt exit—her paramour signs his name on her butt with red lipstick. Usually on TV, she adds, such a story line would resolve with a tasteful fade-out, if it got filmed at all. On Saving Grace, however, the camera lingered. And Hunter couldn’t have been happier.
“That’s something that I love—the iconic female in the act of surrender,” she says, sipping a cup of tea in a corner booth at Art’s, an old-school San Fernando Valley deli favored by Hollywood’s creative set. As she sees it, surrender is part of sex “for any female, unless you are a dominatrix. What’s interesting is to see someone go, god, I want to go off the cliff. Grace says yes to situations that are not about being a control freak. It’s the primitive versus the civilized. The raw versus the polished.”
As Hunter talks, her slim shoulders get narrower, making her seem even tinier than her five feet two inches. But the way her brown eyes flash gives her a forcefulness that transcends size. “Grace loves dealing with chaos,” she continues. “She thrives on it. There’s an enjoyment of walking into the center of maelstroms."
As for Hunter . . . “How do I feel about chaos?” she says, her mouth going a little crooked as she repeats my question. “Well, you know, I’ve got plenty.” Her famous Georgia twang gets almost growly, and when she laughs, it’s a low, mischievous chuckle. “I’m at home in it. I could weep with how at home I am in it.”

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