Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
Mad About You, As Good As It Gets, Twister
Currently Known For:
Actress, Director and Screenwriter
1990s - Present
June 15, 1963
Mad About You, As Good As It Gets, Twister
“It’s getting too late in my life to care about the small things. It’s getting too late to not be brave, to not live my life fully, to not try to be an artist. Trivial things like how nice your hotel room is, or if you have to be naked for a while, they fade away.” First launching her career as a child actress in the 1970s with credits on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bionic Woman, Helen Hunt has spent the last four decades proving her talents as one of Hollywood’s most gifted actresses. Hunt made the transition from child actress to leading lady look effortless throughout the 1970s and 1980s before finding lasting fame in the 1990s when she joined Paul Reiser on the popular sitcom, Mad About You.
Earning her first Emmy Award on Mad About You (1992-1999), Hunt tackled even bigger roles on the silver screen. She starred in Twister (1996) and earned an Oscar for Best Actress for her 1997 performance opposite Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. She joined Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000), Mel Gibson in What Women Want (2000), and Haley Joel Osment in Pay It Forward (2000). In 2007, she made her directorial debut in Then She Found Me and made a grand return to the spotlight in the 2012 film, The Sessions, which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Most recently, she starred opposite Luke Wilson in Ride (2015) and has directed several episodes of House of Lies and This is Us. So, what’s Hunt’s secret to aging gracefully in Hollywood and why does she love working behind the scenes more than in front of the camera? Let’s find out!Early Life and Career
“I’ve always had to force myself to make friends and speak to people. My parents were quiet, and it took me a while to get used to the fact that people talk about their feelings, their problems.” Helen Elizabeth Hunt was born on June 15, 1963, in Culver City, California where her father, Gordon Hunt, was a voice coach and a film, voice and stage director while her mother, Jane Elizabeth, was a photographer. With her father’s ties to the entertainment industry, Hunt was three years old when the family left sunny California and settled down in New York City. Once in the Big Apple, Hunt’s father took a job as a theatre director and often brought his young daughter to work with him, which fueled her passion for performing at an early age.
Hunt took ballet lessons as a child and dreamed of becoming a dancer before discovering her talent for acting, which her parents supported. “I think [my mom] wanted me to be happy and healthy and get good grades, and making sure I exercised wasn’t an issue because I was dancing. I don’t know that I would say she was strict. I was a pretty good kid.” All she wanted was to perform. “I didn’t care whether I was a professional dancer or an actress. I just had so much fun doing it, you know?” she said. “It was the same thing with acting classes when I was young. I wasn’t doing it so I could be on a TV show or be in a movie. I just liked it. It was never a premeditated thing.”
Hunt’s passion for performing took on a new level in 1973 when she snagged her first television role at the age of 10 in the television film Pioneer Woman. She appeared in several episodes of Amy Prentiss in 1974 and spent the next six years making the rounds on television with appearances in popular series like The Swiss Family Robinson, The Mary Tyler More Show, The Bionic Woman, Family, and The Fitzpatricks. Hunt effortlessly made the transition into more adult roles in the early 1980s especially after she starred as a PCP junkie in the television film Desperate Lives. Shortly after, she thought she caught a huge break when she filmed the pilot for It Takes Two on ABC but the sitcom was canceled after its first season. From there, she joined Mickey Rooney in Bill: On His Own (1983) and Tim Thomerson in Trancers (1985).
Landing a recurring role as Clancy Williams on St. Elsewhere in the mid-1980s, Hunt’s career gained even more traction over the next few years. She joined Sarah Jessica Parker and Shannen Doherty in Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985), Kathleen Turner in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Matthew Broderick in Project X (1987), Mark Harmon and Jodie Foster in Stealing Home (1988), and Patrick Swayze and Liam Neeson in Next of Kin (1989). By the end of the decade, Hunt was well known in the industry and on the brink of even bigger stardom in the next decade!Catching Her Big Breaks: From Leading Lady to Director
“I don’t wish I started earlier, but I was never a child star. I was in school every year and had normal friends and I loved it and here I am, so I can’t say that I wish I hadn’t done it...” In 1992, things drastically improved for Hunt when she auditioned for and won the role of Jamie Buchman opposite Paul Reiser in the NBC sitcom Mad About You. Thanks to Hunt’s natural charm and Reiser’s quirkiness, the show was a massive success and won numerous awards—four Golden Globe Awards and 12 Primetime Emmy Awards—over its seven-season run from 1992 to 1999.
With Mad About You putting Hunt on the map and earning her four Primetime Emmy Awards as well as top-billing as the first actor to ever be paid $1 million per episode during the show’s final season, Hunt took her talents to the silver screen amid her television success. In 1996, she joined Bill Paxton in the box office hit Twister and earned even more praise the following year when she starred opposite Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. After wrapping up Mad About You in 1999, Hunt turned her attention to theater and starred as Viola in the Lincoln Center’s production of Twelfth Night.
Hunt reemerged as a leading lady in 2000 with a grand return to the silver screen. She starred alongside Richard Gere in Dr. T & the Women, with Keven Spacey and Haley Joel Osment in Pay It Forward, with Mel Gibson in What Women Want, and with Tom Hanks in Cast Away. In 2003, she returned to Broadway in Life x 3 and surprised fans again in 2006 when she joined Demi Moore, William H. Macy, Sharon Stone, and Anthony Hopkins in Bobby. The following year, she made her directorial debut in Then She Found Me, a role that bared it all with Hunt starring in several nude scenes.
“A girlfriend of mine was the one to tell me about the movie,” Hunt said of the project. “My agent had me meet with the director. That was probably the only thing that would have stopped me from saying yes—if I had any feeling from the director that was anything other than pure interest in what he wrote about. As an actress who’s sometimes asked to be in sexual situations, you can feel really quickly if there’s anything subtlety creepy going on. I just found a nice guy who was wanting to tell a unique story…”
Then She Found Me marked a new chapter in Hunt’s career as she embraced her age and her natural beauty in the film. “Initially when I signed on I got tunnel vision—like, I want this part,” Hunt said. “If you stop and think, ‘I’m scared about the nudity, I’m scared to play this part,’ there are a lot of reasons to say no. But I know a good story when I read it. Any hesitation I had about the nudity, I think what I thought was it’s getting late. You know what I mean? It’s getting too late in my life to care about the small things. It’s getting too late to not be brave, to not live my life fully, to not try to be an artist. Trivial things like how nice your hotel room is, or if you have to be naked for a while, they fade away.”
Following her success in Then She Found Me, Hunt stepped back out of the spotlight to focus on smaller projects. During this time, she wrote two films, acted in several plays and welcomed her daughter, Makena Lei Gordon Carnahan, into the world with her partner—producer, writer, and director Matthew Carnahan. “Some combination of not being handed the right part and wanting to really turn all my attention to things that are quiet and maternal in my home—really not wanting to let that part of my life pass me by. It’s sort of what happens. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t have moments where I was like, ‘Oh God, I blew it. I let it all go,” Hunt said of her time away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. “But the truth is, I wanted to have my daughter for so long. It’s not the kind of thing you can visit, motherhood. Especially in the early years.”
Hunt embraced her role as a mother and became even more selective with her projects. In 2012, she made a jaw-dropping comeback to the silver screen as a sex surrogate in The Sessions, which earned her an Academy Award nomination. “I wanted to be in a movie that was about daring to be sexually happy,” Hunt said of the film that was a surprise hit at the Sundance Film Festival. “There were 1,300 people in the theater who knew nothing—who were suddenly laughing so loud that you couldn’t hear the next line. And then they were crying so loud that you couldn’t hear the last line. It was like being at a wild bacchanal. It was a trip,” she said of the premiere.
Hunt raised the bar again in 2014 when she wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Ride, a coming-of-age film for both a mother and son. As a mother herself, Hunt wrote the film with the hopes of challenging the norms of parenthood. “When you become a mother and father, you better get out the surfboard or the boogie board or the roller skates or whatever it is and play along with your children,” she said. “Because if you don’t, you get into this polarized thing where the kid is in charge of playing and you are in charge of timekeeping and yes-ing and no-ing that makes for not-so-good relationships.”
Once again, Ride was incredibly well-received as Hunt discovered her true passion for directing. “I love directing, it’s probably closer to my personality,” she said. “You’re sitting here like this, solving problems. You’re not naked in front of a bunch of strangers pouring your heart out. You know what I mean? So even though I enjoy acting, it’s kind of nice to go to work and keep your clothes on.”Life Today
“I was not planning to act, certainly not in movies…” Hunt hasn’t directed a film since Ride but she’s slowly making her way back to film with credits in I Love You, Daddy (2017), The Miracle Season (2018), Candy Jar (2018) and The Night Clerk (filming). Beyond that, she’s happy to focus on her life at home as a mother to 14-year-old Makena. “I feel lucky that so far she’s really being a kid,” Hunt said of her daughter. “She’s painting. She’s learning the piano. She’s playing, she’s sewing, she’s reading. If I had to choose, I would choose what’s happening, so I’m grateful so far.”
Beyond raising her daughter and looking for her next major role, the 55-year-old Hunt is part of a writing group that keeps her creative juices flowing and encourages her to keep pushing forward. She’s also recently hinted of a possible Mad About You reboot that fans certainly hope works out. “It’s not for sure yet, I hope it is,” Hunt recently said. “I will say, Paul Reiser is in my kitchen a good amount because we’re talking about how to make it and not wreck it, because we’re proud of what we did… so, I hope so.” We hope so, too!