By chance, Holly Hunter once got stuck in an elevator with playwright Beth Henley for ten minutes. This encounter led to her being cast in Henley's Broadway play ‘Crimes of the Heart’ and Off-Broadway's ‘The Miss Firecracker Contest’.
In 1981, she debuted in films with the horror movie ‘The Burning’, directed by Tony Maylam. It was based on an original story by Maylam, Harvey Weinstein, and Brad Grey.
She moved to Los Angeles in 1982 and was featured in some TV movies. In 1984, she appeared in a supporting role in ‘Swing Shift, a romantic war film directed by Jonathan Demme.
In 1987, she got her first big break in the Coen brothers' hit film ‘Raising Arizona’. She appeared as Edwina ‘Ed’ McDunnough, a character which the Coens had written especially for Holly Hunter. The crime comedy film was directed by Joel Coen and also starred Nicolas Cage. Besides acting, Hunter also sang a traditional murder ballad, ‘Down in the Willow Garden’.
She was cast in the 1987 Academy Award-nominated film ‘Broadcast News’, in which she played a television news producer, who, despite being highly artistic, is prone to frequent emotional breakdowns.
In 1989, she earned the Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding lead actress in the TV movie ‘Roe vs. Wade’, directed by Gregory Hoblit. It was based on the famous 1973 United States Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
In 1993, she worked in two award-winning films—‘The Firm’ and ‘The Piano’. Her performances in both the films were critically acclaimed and she earned two Academy Awards nominations the same year. Her portrayal of a mute woman in Jane Campion's ‘The Piano’ ultimately won her an Oscar.
Also in 1993, she won the Primetime Emmy Award and the Cable ACE Award for her performance in the comedy television film ‘The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom’, directed by Michael Ritchie and produced by HBO.
After the massive success of ‘The Piano’, Holly Hunter went through a lean phase in the 1990s, with a string of box office flops.
Continue Reading Below
In 1995, she was featured in two films, the comedy ‘Home for the Holidays’, co-produced and directed by Jodie Foster, and the psychological thriller ‘Copycat’, directed by Jon Amiel. In 1997, she appeared in ‘A Life Less Ordinary’, which was directed by Danny Boyle and starred Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, and Delroy Lindo.
Her portrayal of a divorced woman in ‘Living Out Loud’ (1998), which also starred Danny DeVito and Queen Latifah, was appreciated. She received several award nominations for her performance, including the Chicago Film Critics Association Award and the Satellite Award.
In 2000, she did a supporting role in ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ a crime comedy film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Critics appreciated her performance and she received a Satellite Award nomination. In the same year, she was cast in the TV movie, ‘Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her’, directed by Rodrigo García. She was nominated for an Emmy Award in the supporting actress category.
In 2001, she earned a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for her role in the ABC docudrama ‘Billie Beat Bobby’. It was based on the 1973 ‘The Battle of the Sexes’ tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
Her next big success was the 2003 film ‘Thirteen’, an independent film directed by Catherine Hardwicke and co-starring Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed. Holly Hunter bagged several award nominations, including the ones for the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, and Golden Globe Award, and won the Leopard Award for Best Actress.
In 2004, she was cast in ‘The Incredibles’, a computer-animated superhero film, written and directed by Brad Bird, and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
In 2005, she starred in ‘Nine Lives’, written and directed by Rodrigo García. It consisted of nine stories about nine different women. She bagged the Bronze Leopard Award for best actress for this role.
From 2007-10, she starred in the TNT drama series ‘Saving Grace’. She also served as the executive producer of the series. She not only received rave reviews for her acting, but also two Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, a Golden Globe Award nomination, and an Emmy Award nomination.
In 2013, she appeared in the mystery drama television series ‘Top of the Lake’, and won the Equity Award. Directed by Campion and Garth Davis, it ran into two seasons.
In 2016, she played Senator Finch in ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’. This superhero film featured the DC Comics characters Batman and Superman, and was directed by Zack Snyder. The film won numerous award nominations.
In 2017, her role in the film ‘The Big Sick’ earned her many award nominations. The romantic comedy film was directed by Michael Showalter, and starred Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, and Adeel Akhtar in addition to Hunter.
The film ‘Broadcast News’ made Holly Hunter a critically acclaimed star. The film is about three people who work in television news. Holly played Jane Craig, a talented yet neurotic producer. Critics lauded her performance and she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress.
The film ‘The Firm’ is a legal thriller directed by Sydney Pollack. Starring Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Gene Hackman besides Holly Hunter, it was based on the novel of the same name by author John Grisham. Her performance was critically acclaimed. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
‘The Piano’, written and directed by Jane Campion, has been the best film in her career so far. It also starred Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, and Anna Paquin. Holly Hunter played her own piano pieces in the film and its soundtrack album became a best-selling one. The film was a success, both critically and commercially, and it earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won several other awards for this role.