Ever since she first rose to prominence in the ’80s, Holly Hunter has been one of our favorite actresses. Whether she’s starring in a workplace rom-com like Broadcast News or a historical drama like The Piano (for which she won a Best Actress Oscar), Hunter is an eternally compelling performer. She has a fascinating variety of roles in her filmography, and at 65, she’s still working steadily in both film and TV. Here’s a look back at her 40-year career, from her small-town Southern origins to her multiple award nominations and risk-taking roles.
How Holly Hunter got her start
Holly Hunter grew up far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. She was raised on a farm in Conyers, Georgia, and was the youngest of seven children. In an interview with The Guardian, she described how the hustle and bustle of being raised in a large Southern family was “participatory,” with “no shyness.”
This background primed her to be a performer, and she played a number of musical instruments as a child. Her musical talent served her well, as she’d go on to do her own piano-playing in the acclaimed film The Piano — a particularly noteworthy achievement given that her character in the movie doesn’t speak, and rather communicates through music.
Hunter began acting in school plays as a teenager, and moved to New York City to pursue acting after college. Her roommate was another soon-to-be star and fellow future Oscar-winner, Frances McDormand, making for a truly talented household. Soon Hunter would land her debut role, in the 1981 horror movie The Burning.
Later in the decade, Hunter became a star, and 1987 was a particularly good year for her, as it gave her two of her most iconic roles, with Raising Arizona and Broadcast News. In Raising Arizona, she starred alongside Nicolas Cage as his police officer wife, while in Broadcast News she played a smart, but stressed TV news producer opposite William Hurt and Albert Brooks. She would end the ’80s working with none other than Steven Spielberg, starring in the ’40s-set fantasy Always.
Holly Hunter’s signature style
Hunter’s petite stature and Southern accent could have held her back in Hollywood, but due to her strength as a performer these things became her signatures, leading to a variety of juicy roles. She’s never been one to hide her accent, and recalled to Entertainment Weekly that her part in Broadcast News was rewritten to incorporate her background.
As she put it, “There is prejudice against people from the South, that they are ignorant or lack education. So it was so fantastic to play a Southerner who was intellectual and lightning fast and actually was the smartest person in the room.”
In her long career, she’s played women from just about every Southern state, and she’s always brought a refreshing specificity and lack of cliché to these parts. In addition to her Oscar win for The Piano, she’s also been nominated for Broadcast News, The Firm and Thirteen. All four of these films are very different — an artsy period piece, a sharp comedy, a blockbuster legal thriller and a dark coming-of-age story, respectively — but what they have in common are powerhouse performances that keep us glued to the screen.
Hunter became well-known for her voiceover work as Elastigirl in The Incredibles — yep, she can even play a cartoon superhero! In an NPR interview, Hunter admitted that she often struggled to find work because “I’ve always kind of drifted between being a character actress and being a leading lady.” But this struggle has also ultimately been a source of strength, as it’s allowed her to take on roles in a more diverse array of roles, leading to a filmography that’s far more interesting than most.
What has Holly Hunter doing now?
Hunter’s last movie role was in Incredibles 2 in 2018. While she’s overdue for a return to the big screen, she’s still been keeping busy. In 2019, she guest-starred on the buzzy drama Succession as a media CEO, and most recently she had a lead role as the deputy mayor of LA in Mr. Mayor, a sitcom created by Tina Fey and starring Ted Danson.
In a CBS interview, Hunter shared her philosophy on the roles she’s played: “Even very ordinary people, upon closer examination, can often look extraordinary,” she said. “And I’ve played a lot of everyday kind of people who normally might not have a lens trained on them.”
We hope to see her play more of these everyday yet extraordinary types very soon.
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