“Acting is a tremendously insecurity-making profession. I always feel insecure and I always feel confident. They’re slammed up against each other and it’s a constant balancing act.” – Holly Hunter
One actress who can speak with the most credibility about constantly surprising audiences is Oscar-winner Holly Hunter. Hunter’s career on film and television has been marked by a variety of roles in both critically-acclaimed productions and popular hits. In an interview with Vulture, Hunter reveals that this type of varied career is exactly what an actor craves — and how that hasn’t changed since her earliest days pursuing acting.
Hunter was bit by the acting bug relatively early when it ave her the opportunity to play a variety of different characters. She explains, “When I was in fifth grade, I did a scene from The Miracle Worker. I played Helen Keller and I was like, ‘Oh, this is it.’ She throws this huge tantrum and tears the room apart. Then I started doing plays in high school, which I loved. It felt very free playing a grandmother when I was 13. Or a dog. [Laughs.] Oddly, my parents were very encouraging. From fifth grade on, I’d been looking for a way to express myself creatively, starting with singing and playing the piano. Then I found acting and it was like a personal jackpot.”
That interest led to Hunter wanting to attend Carnegie Mellon to pursue acting… though her high school guidance counselor felt the school was out of her reach. She recalls, “I went to my high-school counselor and asked, ‘How can I get into Carnegie Mellon University?’ And he was like, ‘You can’t!’ He was only thinking about SAT scores — I was an average student — but unbeknownst to him, Carnegie was a conservatory. You didn’t have to have fabulous grades unless you were applying as an engineer. If you applied as an actor, all you had to do was audition. So I went to Pittsburgh with my father and did a two-day audition process and I got in.”
That early victory put Hunter in a unique state of mind — while she had confidence in herself because of that success, she also had the typical doubts of an actress. She explains, “When I got to New York, I felt, ‘I am entitled to walk into these rooms. I’m entitled to audition. I’m entitled to ask for stuff.’ Acting is a tremendously insecurity-making profession. I always feel insecure and I always feel confident. They’re slammed up against each other and it’s a constant balancing act.”
Creating characters still draws Hunter to acting. For example, though Hunter’s character in The Big Sick was based on a real person, Hunter isn’t of the mind that she needed to try to meet and emulate the real woman to play her. After admitting that she never met the real-life person that the character was based on, she explains, “The most heavily fictionalized part in the film was the mother character. I never even had a phone conversation with her because I just wanted to make her up, which is what actors normally do. We’re generally not playing real people.”
To elaborate, Hunter notes that even successful actors find themselves in a constant state of transience. She explains, “An actor’s career is in a constant state of metamorphosis. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in two months. Where will I be?” For example, few would have expected Hunter to star in a movie produced by Judd Apatow at her stage of her career. She points out, “I love there’s a part of my life that’s uncertain and unknown. There’s a part of that that I resent, but I’ve learned to live with it. More than anything, I wanna keep it real. I wanna keep my face real. This is hard, particularly for actresses as they get older. I want people to understand my face. I don’t wanna do stuff to my face where people don’t recognize me anymore. ‘I think that’s Holly Hunter?’ [Laughs.] It’s a constant negotiation for actresses — you wanna be photographable, but you also wanna get older because that’s real. I don’t want anyone to ever wonder who I am.”