Hardwicke is also impressed with Hunter’s “childlike nature. She’s never lost touch with being a kid, being crazy and having fun.” The actress had a great rapport with her teenage costars (Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed), encouraging them but also learning from them, Hardwicke adds. “She wasn’t a mom yet; I had no idea that she was even planning to be a mom, really. Except for one time somebody asked her that question: ‘How can you play a mother when you’re not one?’ and she said, ‘Well, I might be.’ ” At the time, Hunter was recently divorced from Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, a relationship she does not discuss; she became involved with MacDonald and three years later, at the age of 47, she gave birth to their twins.
“I could never have had the career I’ve had if I were starting out now,” Hunter says. “Never, ever. Those movies I made would not be made or financed. Those scripts would not be nurtured. It’s a much narrower environment; that’s what I’m seeing.”
We are talking about how so many women over the age of 40—Glenn Close, Kyra Sedgwick, Mary-Louise Parker—have found success on the smaller screen. When I bring it up, Hunter crows, “Oh, the old-women-in-Hollywood thing! Bring out the old broads!” But she acknowledges that because teenagers make up the biggest audience for movies on opening weekend, mature actors—men too, but especially women, who are less likely to be cast as romantic leads in films—see their big-screen options dwindling. “TV is serving a broader audience, because it’s a different experience. And I’m totally a beneficiary of that,” says Hunter, who has often noted that she was never a box office name because her taste in projects is too odd.
Madigan explains the preponderance of women in meaty TV roles this way: “They’re not getting offers for features I mean, do you want to sugarcoat it? Or the offers they’re getting are crappy offers. Thank goodness for cable.”
Along with more and better roles, a TV series offers actors one thing a movie does not: the chance to develop a character over time, to understand his or her psyche more completely. “I feel that Grace is filled with a certain amount of rage,” Hunter says, “and I didn’t know that when we started out.” In many ways, Hunter’s first foray into episodic television has been an adventure in shaking off expectations—about what it is to be a woman, what it is to get older, what it is to have faith (and lose it), what it is to be in charge (and yet to yearn, sometimes, to surrender). To hear her talk about Saving Grace is to realize that TV has given Hunter something that for years was associated more with film: creative freedom.
“My idea of entertainment is also a lot about provocation,” Hunter says. “We live in highly moralistic times, and I revel in the glory of Grace—somebody who’s exercising an elemental muscle that is not politically correct. Grace feels like a release culturally for me, and I want to express that!”
Speaking of exercise and muscle, let’s get superficial for a moment. Hunter, in person, appears just as sinewy and strong as she does on TV. But I have to ask: Does she ever fret about how her body looks in nude scenes? Does she work out harder beforehand? These questions dissolve her into giggles, and she rolls back in the restaurant booth, simulating the moves she does with her Pilates instructor Jillian Hessel, and squeals with mock desperation, “More weight, Jillian! Add some springs!”
Joking aside, however, Hunter is much less concerned about how her butt looks than with how life’s big issues are reflected in the flawed woman she now portrays. “Grace has made a lot of errors—some that she’s paid dearly for,” she says. “The struggle of how to forgive one’s self, how to forgive other people, how to ask for forgiveness—these are things I can certainly relate to. That remains an active, volcanic process that we all—that I—go through.
Saving Grace's Wild Woman
Holly Hunter talks about playing the toughest, lustiest cop on TV.
By Amy Wallace