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

She declines to get more specific, but some of the tumult may arise from relocating the family—her partner, actor Gordon MacDonald (The Thin Red Line, The Brave One), and their three-year-old twins—from New York to Los Angeles for six months of the year while she works on Saving Grace. Add to that a rigorous production schedule, made all the more so by Hunter’s unflagging devotion to all aspects of the show, from casting to wardrobe to sitting in the editing room. During the months of filming, Hunter—who is an executive producer of Saving Grace as well as its star—typically works 16-hour days, as many as six days a week.
“She really is doing a huge job,” says Laura San Giacomo, who plays Rhetta, the OCPD criminalist and Grace’s best friend. “She’s like Atlas with the world on her shoulders—but dressed really cool.”
Nancy Miller, the creator of Saving Grace, notes that “Holly’s contributions are in every frame of our show. There is no shallow end of the pool for her. She dives into the very bottom and then digs through it in order to get to the truth of this moment, this scene, this emotion.”
One way Hunter likes to go deep is in “tone meetings,” where she, Miller and other members of the team convene to “go through the script line by line,” Hunter says. “We talk about everything: What are we going for? What’s the super-objective? Maybe it’s to forgive, or to surrender. It’s fascinating what we discover in these epic tone meetings. Our longest was 13 hours— we just extended it to the next day.”
Hunter’s attention to detail is legendary. For example, in the second season, it was her idea to try some braiding in Grace’s hair, adding a hint of Medusa to her character’s usual tight-blue-jeaned promiscuity. “I saw Grace in the act of braiding,” she says. “It’s a very old female gesture, an ancient decorative ritual.” Miller liked the concept and pretty soon, after contributions from Hunter’s hairdresser and the show’s costume designer, “I was discussing a case with feathers and 15 pairs of earrings in my hair. I love that; that’s my adventure.”
The youngest of seven children, Hunter was born in Conyers, Georgia, outside Atlanta. She loved growing up on a 250-acre farm (and regularly visits family still living there), but she has made no secret of the fact that her desire to essentially pretend for a living began with her feeling separate and apart from her roots. Her parents encouraged her penchant for performing, enrolling her in piano lessons. (Years later she would do her own playing in The Piano.) She appeared onstage for the first time in a fifth grade production, portraying Helen Keller, and in high school she got hooked on musicals. When it came time for college, she left the South, attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and majoring in drama. “I carry my Southernness with me,” she told the New York Times in 1993. “God knows, it’s a great place to come from. It’s also a place I had to get away from. It is just an endless world for me, so much culture and eccentricity.”

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