In the eyes of many, Helen Hunt peaked with her role in the film “As Good As It Gets.” However, the 59-year-old actress and filmmaker is far from ordinary. As I chat with her on Zoom, she sits casually on her bed, wearing glasses and munching on dinner. She jokes about the countless pictures of her in khaki pants and yoga mats, realizing that those snapshots mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Hunt is currently in London, preparing for her starring role in the play “Eureka Day” at the Old Vic. Although written before the pandemic, the play explores themes of misinformation, entrenched beliefs, and the challenges of uniting a community amidst a vaccine controversy.
Nurturing a Love for Theatre
Hunt’s passion for theatre began at a young age when she attended productions with her father, an acting coach and theatre director. She vividly remembers seeing the original production of “Godspell” in a church basement and immediately falling in love with the art form. She didn’t know if she wanted to act, sing, or direct; all she wanted was to be part of the magic inside a theater.
Her father passed away in 2016, but his love for theatre lives on in Hunt. Every time she watches a play, she thinks of him, remembering his excitement as the lights dimmed. She cherishes those memories and continues to find solace and inspiration in the world of theatre.
From TV Success to Iconic Film Roles
While theatre holds a special place in her heart, it was a television show that catapulted Hunt’s career. “Mad About You,” a sitcom about a newlywed couple in New York City, premiered in 1992 when television was still considered inferior to film. However, the landscape was changing, and shows like “Seinfeld,” “Frasier,” and “Friends” were proving that TV could be both critically acclaimed and commercially successful.
Suddenly, opportunities expanded for Hunt. She recalls receiving a call to star in the giant action movie “Twister” and later being sought after for her role in “As Good As It Gets.” The film not only earned her an Academy Award but also brought her into the orbit of Hollywood legend, Jack Nicholson.
Jack Nicholson: An Acting-Class Guy
Contrary to expectations, Hunt found Nicholson to be a detail-oriented and dedicated actor. He approached his craft with the same seriousness she did, asking the same questions about their characters’ history and dynamics. She felt like she was with a friend in an acting class rather than an iconic movie star.
Hunt’s decision to prioritize a fulfilling personal life over the trappings of movie star fame has been immensely rewarding. While it may have affected her opportunities in the industry, she cherishes her role as a parent and friend above all else.
The Challenges of Balancing Career and Family
After a successful run in 2000 with four films, including “Cast Away” and “What Women Want,” Hunt consciously took a step back from the spotlight. She wrote, directed, and starred in two movies and became a mother to her daughter, Makena Lei, in 2004. When people questioned her absence from the screen, she simply shrugged it off. For her, the fulfilling experience of motherhood and creative projects was more than enough.
Hunt’s journey as a director was not without its challenges. Her first film, “Then She Found Me,” took ten years to make. Even after its completion, she faced setbacks, such as the film’s distributor going bankrupt. But she persevered, raising funds for her next film, the surfing drama “Ride,” released in 2014.
Speaking Out and Encountering Resistance
Hunt’s willingness to voice her ideas and take risks extends beyond her own projects. She opens up about a concept for a sequel to “Twister,” which would feature an all-Black and brown cast of storm chasers. Despite the relevant subject matter amid the racial reckoning in the United States, Hunt, alongside collaborators Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, struggled to even secure a meeting to discuss the idea. It was a sobering moment that highlighted the ongoing challenges faced by underrepresented voices in Hollywood.
While progress has been made with movements like #MeToo, Hunt acknowledges that change takes time. She appreciates the growing number of individuals willing to speak up about uncomfortable experiences, despite the impatience of some who expect instant transformation.
Embracing a Life Well-Lived
Helen Hunt continues to navigate her career and personal life on her own terms, avoiding the trappings of celebrity and embracing a sense of normalcy. She cherishes her time in the theater, her role as a mother, and the opportunity to pursue projects that truly resonate with her. In a world obsessed with fame and flashiness, Hunt finds contentment in living a life that aligns with her values.
You can catch Helen Hunt in “Eureka Day” at the Old Vic in London from September 6th to October 31st. Join her on stage and witness her talent and passion firsthand.