INTERVIEW: A reason not to hate Georgia: Kind words with Holly Hunter

I’ve never liked Georgia. Maybe it’s the memory of the sticky summer heat, beads of sweat clinging to my body. Maybe its some perverse sense of Northern pride but whenever I think of Georgia, two things come to mind – confederate flags and the Georgian belles who have decided I’d make a better friend than boyfriend. How could you turn down a young stud from Frederick, Md.? It must have been my Yankee roots, that’s the only explanation.

Needless to say, sitting in a plush hotel room waiting for Georgia native Holly Hunter, I feared my flaring neurosis. I tried to shake my bias, but all I could think of was the article I read before leaving the house, about how Hunter once judged a national poultry contest. I knew kids in my town that owned chickens. They used to beat me up on the bus. Memories of pseudo-Southern rednecks, wallet pictures of dead deer and the family tractor filled my head.

After two minutes with Hunter I realized a few important points, 1) I’m a bigot and hopelessly emo to boot and 2) Maryland kids are way bigger hicks than people from Georgia.

Southern drawl and all, Hunter proved to be devastatingly intelligent. She is short, sweet and wholesome in her beauty. She is calculating in her career and sincere in her artistic intentions. As she herself explained, her mission is to find dynamics within a medium overwrought with flat characters.

“I like movies that explore the underbelly of someone, the secret life of someone,” Hunter said. “Those movies are rarely written, (those) that explore a certain kind of darkness, what’s not out in the sunlight, what’s underneath.”

Hunter’s 1993 performance in The Piano, an Oscar-winning portrayal of a mute mother in search of sexual awakening, made big waves in Hollywood for its intrigue. You may also know her from films such as The Firm, Raising Arizona and the Cohen Brother’s recent success O Brother Where Art Thou. Hunter is understandably proud of these films. She’s also proud of the roles she’s turned down.

“A couple of days ago I got an offer for a movie,” Hunter said, commenting on the kinds of roles she is sometimes asked to play. “They offered me the role of ‘mom.’ She didn’t even have a name. That’s to be avoided.”

As she admits, Hunter is a bit picky when reading scripts. The actress reportedly turned down roles in recent Blockbusters including As Good as It Gets and Dogma. Some might say she lacks an eye for box-office potential, but, Hunter explained, she’s looking for more than notoriety.

“My experience is vast and indescribable in a way,” Hunter said. “It feels massive to me the older I get. There’s no more black and white. I like movies that explore the gray, the questions, the doubts, the lack of certainty. I like women that reflect that.”

Hunter’s most recent character does just this. She plays a middle-aged mother, Adele Easley, a woman confronted with feelings of longing for her brother’s murderer. Ed Solomon wrote and directed the film, Levity. A noted comic writer, Solomon penned such films as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Men in Black.

“In some ways its an advantage. You can go right to the source. The guy’s there,” Hunter said.

Hunter admitted acting under a director who wrote the character can be difficult.

“Always, the thing that’s in between you and the writer is how the writer imagined it,” she said, speaking about the difficulty of maintaining her personal vision. “Ed was able to put that aside.”

Levity pairs Hunter with popular Hollywood personality Billy Bob Thornton. In describing her co-star, Hunter impressed the dualistic nature of his personality.

“He’s kind of laid back in a strange way,” Hunter said. “Maybe in a way that you wouldn’t imagine. Hanging out with Billy Bob, he’s got some great anecdotes.”

But is he really that intense in person?

“The intensity that he’s got on screen, it’s not the same,” Hunter said. “He’s very funny. He’s very chatty.”

Hunter said her choice to do Levity had a lot to do with its independent nature. For her, it was one of the first truly interesting scripts she’s read in a long time, a fact she said is something of a problem in modern day Hollywood.

“Thirty years is not that much time to have something redefine itself,” she said, describing what she sees as a shift towards artistically detached filmmaking. “Our culture has done that. There’s a lack of ambition in terms of exploring what makes us human.”

Hunter cites the 1970s as a turning point in American cinema. It was during that time, she said, that Hollywood became inextricably bound to the pursuit of profit. The problem really has more to do with American culture than corporate greed, she explained.

“One of the things that makes it difficult is the money thing, the fact that we are more after money than we’ve ever been,” Hunter said.

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