"Acting, for me, is the last vestige of doing something that I would like to feel really naïve about."
Holly Hunter was born in Conyers, Georgia on March 20th, 1958, the daughter of Charles Edwin Hunter, a part-time sporting goods manufacturer's representative and part-time farmer with 250 acres, and Opal Marguerite Catledge, a homemaker. The youngest of seven children, Holly was encouraged by her parents to pursue her acting talent at an early age, and she landed her first gig as Helen Keller in a fifth-grade play.
After a comfortable small-town upbringing, Holly ventured north for some serious acting training. She found it at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University under Jorge Guerra, and then hopped over to New York City to try to live the dream. Serendipity was on her side when the young talent found herself stuck in a stalled elevator with playwright Beth Henley. The chance meeting led to collaborations between the two women -- first the stage production of The Miss Firecracker Contest, then with Hunter's 1982 Broadway debut, Crimes of the Heart. Meanwhile, Hunter had made her onscreen debut in the 1981 slasher flick The Burning, a film notable for two things: its sheer unwatchability, and its casting of a young, not so stocky or bald Jason Alexander.
Hunter worked in a couple of TV movies and had her role reduced in the Goldie Hawn vehicle Swing Shift (1984) before attracting attention as the lovesick, maternal police officer Ed in the Coen brothers' Raising Arizona (1987), a part the quirky pair wrote specifically for her. She had an even meatier role, turned down by Debra Winger, as an ambitious TV news producer in James L. Brooks' Broadcast News (1987), where her portrayal of a successful workaholic earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Since those two career-making roles, Hunter has never disappointed, time and again demonstrating her ability to command the screen as a lead. She was Richard Dreyfuss' star-crossed lover in Steven Spielberg's Always (1989), and then reteamed with Dreyfuss two years later as a plain-Jane type who falls in love with a fast-talking salesman in Once Around.
Hunter has also mined the TV movie genre successfully, appearing in Crazy in Love (1992), and winning Emmys for her memorable performances in Roe vs. Wade (1989) and The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993).
She followed the latter up with roles in two films with more manageable titles: as Gary Busey's sexy secretary in The Firm and as the repressed, mute, 19th century emigrant entangled in a treacherous affair with Harvey Keitel in Jane Campion's The Piano (both 1993). Maybe it was her maiden stage experience as Helen Keller a quarter century earlier that helped her find the expressiveness that won her a Best Actress Oscar and many other awards for The Piano.
Unfortunately, over the next couple of years, Hunter found herself starring in vehicles that ranged from underrated to abysmal, with Jodie Foster's failed directorial debut Home for the Holidays at one end of the spectrum and the thriller Copycat (both 1995) at the other.
Her work in David Cronenberg's Crash (1996) did win her strong notices, but it was swallowed by the controversies of depraved sexuality surrounding the film. Always up for more, Hunter rebounded in 1998 with her portrayal of a recently divorced New Yorker in Living Out Loud, in which she sold audiences on the idea of falling for Danny DeVito.
In 1995, Hunter married acclaimed cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, but divorced at the beginning of the new century. Role-wise, she passed over the part of God in Dogma, leaving it for Alanis Morissette's bland treatment, and also nixed Helen Hunt's Oscar-winning performance in 1997's As Good As it Gets.
Instead, Hunter hailed in the new millennium with a memorable performance as Penny in the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). The talented actress took top billing in that same year's television production Harlan County War, a powerful account of labor struggles among Kentucky coalminers.
In 2003, Hunter drew favorable reviews for her role in the otherwise critically maligned redemption drama Levity, with Billy Bob Thornton and Morgan Freeman. And she has a major role as the worried mother of a downward-spiraling adolescent in the critically-acclaimed Thirteen, which Hunter also executive produced. In 2004 she could be heard in Disney's The Incredibles as the voice of Helen aka Elastigirl.
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