Holly Hunter Stars in 'Saving Grace'

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Holly Hunter at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in 2006. Credit: Harry DiOrio/Getty Images for USTA. i

Holly Hunter Harry DiOrio/Getty Images for USTA hide caption

toggle caption Harry DiOrio/Getty Images for USTA
Holly Hunter at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in 2006. Credit: Harry DiOrio/Getty Images for USTA.

Actress Holly Hunter arrives at the opening ceremony for the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York in August 2006.

Harry DiOrio/Getty Images for USTA

Actress Holly Hunter talks about starring in a new cable television series, Saving Grace, which runs Monday nights on TNT. Hunter also looks back on her Oscar-winning film career.


Right now, Holly Hunter on her new television show "Saving Grace." She plays a smart, skeptical Oklahoma City cop who also drinks too much. She's having an affair with a married colleague, and thinks she's losing her mind because she thinks she saw an angel. One morning, she walks into her kitchen to find that that tobacco-chewing angel named Earl cooking her breakfast.

(Soundbite of TV show "Saving Grace")

Ms. HOLLY HUNTER (Actress): (As Grace Hanadarko) So, you just show up whenever you feel like it?

Mr. LEON RIPPY (Actor): (As Earl) Oh, pretty much.

Ms. HUNTER: (As Grace) Then what?

Mr. RIPPY: (As Earl) Well then, I get to know you better, figure out how I can help you.

Ms. HUNTER: (As Grace) And I got no choice?

Mr. RIPPY: (As Earl) Well, you have a choice - on that lonely road. Not if you kill the man, not if you ask for God's help.

Ms. HUNTER: (As Grace) I'm not going to church.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIPPY: (As Earl) Who says anything about church? You can go to temple, go to a mosque. Get rest, go sit in the bang(ph) tree. It will get you closer to God. Are you hungry?

Ms. HUNTER: (As Grace) No. Where are your wings?

Mr. RIPPY: (As Earl) Oh. Don't like them out around the stove.

Ms. HUNTER: (As Grace) Old times, they popped up when we were outside. For all I know, some kid with a remote control was sitting across the street…

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Holly Hunter as Detective Grace Hanadarko and Leon Rippy as the angel Earl. If you have questions for Holly Hunter about "Saving Grace," her decision to do a television show, or her career as an actor, our phone number is 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is

Holly Hunter joins us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Ms. HUNTER: Nice to be here.

CONAN: And this is clearly a show about redemption.

Ms. HUNTER: Well, it's a show about many things, redemption being one.

CONAN: And the character, what appealed to you about her? Her dark side or her aspirations to be better or both?

Ms. HUNTER: I think, you know, it feels like it's a thorough examination, you know, of an uncensored life. And I haven't read that very much especially in the last few years. So when this came to me, I was kind of shocked by the depth of the examination of this woman.

And I - you know, for me personally, it was her dark side, the darkness of her that was very attractive, because so often that's not examined about a person. So often, the situation that a person is in is the thing that is the darkness. But in this case, you're talking about the woman herself.

CONAN: And it's also - you would think meeting an angel - at least in terms of television programs, meeting an angel, being embraced by those wings would instantly transform someone. In fact, well, Grace's hardly instantly transformed.

Ms. HUNTER: Right, right. Well, you know, change comes hard…

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. HUNTER: …but I think that the show is not so much. It really truly is -it's just the uncensored look. It may not be entirely about change as much as it is about the exploration into the soul of this woman.

CONAN: And as recently as last Monday night, the most recent episode I saw, she's still making some terrible choices.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HUNTER: It depends on how you look at it, really. I kind of tend to - when I'm playing her, I tend to really not judge her. I think of her as having a tremendous vitality, you know? And she lives forcefully. And I think that that is a true nature of people. The forcefulness of life is where vitality kind of intersects.

And I think she's very comfortable at that intersection. And of course, that's, you know, part of the unknown, and the unknown can lead to incredible destruction. But I always think it's fascinating in fiction to follow somebody who's going into the unknown. I mean, I think that we're really, really attracted to that because people kind of don't want to go into the unknown. It's a scary place, so we turn to fiction to take us there, to see, you know, what can happen on the other side. And Grace is absolutely a woman who is - who does not live a life based on anxiety. I think she lives a life based on opportunity.

CONAN: And you are an actress who's known to like to take risks. I think that you might - you two might have that in common.

Ms. HUNTER: Well, I don't know. I mean, I love fiction, you know? I find it fascinating. So when film really does go into fictional places, that's the most exciting for me. And when the fiction is about the person rather than about the place, that's even more exciting.

CONAN: One of the risks you take in this is Grace's actions have consequences, even to the point of she's been out all night drinking. You sometimes look like hell the next morning.

Ms. HUNTER: That's right. That's right.

CONAN: A lot of actresses would not have appreciated that. Their hair would have all been in place.

Ms. HUNTER: Well, I don't know. The depiction of reality in those particular situations pays back a lot of dividends to me. I mean, it's the reality of it. The consequences are real. And, you know, she's a real woman but she's also kind of an iconic woman, too. I mean, she's not totally based in reality, but I think, to see the consequences of actions is - it's interesting.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. It certainly is. She's also a cop, and a good one, but these are not necessarily the cases you might see on "Law & Order" or "CSI."

Ms. HUNTER: Well, I think, you know, that her being a cop is also an extension of her exploration of her own darkness, you know? I mean, cops, you know, let's just say examine the backside of life, you know? They examine crime. That's what they're interested in. And Grace is kind of interested in the backside of life from, you know, from all aspects. And I think, you know, I love that. I love that. But she's a great cop, I think, because she does understand the darkness of people. And that forcefulness also means destructiveness and death. And she's very much at home in that kind of chaotic world of being a cop, and so it's just an extension of who she is, really.

CONAN: She's also in Oklahoma City, which - every police officer there, every fire officer there is affected - and this comes across very genuinely by the events at the Murrah Building, the horrible explosion there in Oklahoma City.

Ms. HUNTER: Yes.

CONAN: But by extension, all of us see that as an analogy to 9/11.

Ms. HUNTER: Absolutely. I mean, it's been a great opportunity, you know? And I think Oklahoma City gives us great opportunities to explore a place of tragedy that certainly kind of got lost a bit with the impact of September the 11th, you know, just how globally affected people were by what happened in New York City. But, you know, it was - it had a tremendous impact on our society, our culture, what happened in Oklahoma City. And certainly, locally, it was so impactful to that community of people.

CONAN: And let's get some callers in on this conversation. Our guest, of course, Holly Hunter, she stars as "Saving Grace." You can reach us by calling 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK and the e-mail address is Let's begin with Jennifer(ph), Jennifer calling us from Grand Rapids in Michigan.

JENNIFER (Caller): Hi, there. How are you?

CONAN: Very well. Thanks.

JENNIFER: My question is a little more extensive(ph). I've watched you in so many different parts where, to be honest, at times, you make me very uncomfortable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JENNIFER: Your sexuality and the way you can handle women, that put lot of us off of a bit. And we don't quite how to handle some of these women that have had these edges to them such as 13 or, you know, and this. And I wonder how do you get to that place, that sexuality that you can - still comfortable in those rough pages of dialogues?

Ms. HUNTER: Well, that's a very interesting - it's a very interesting question actually because I think that there are many, many different kinds of entertainment. And some entertainment is to comfort, you know, to bring kind of a feeling of familiarity. And then, some entertainment is to entertain and ask questions, but not necessarily, you know, provide comfort.

I mean, I think that "Saving Grace" is pretty funny. I think that the show and the woman have a pretty great sense of humor. But I would say that the orientation of the show is to pose some questions that - and at the same time, I think Grace herself - and by extension, because Grace is kind of me. She's coming through me. I'm kind of her conduit. I want to be comfortable in whatever situations that I'm in as that character.

So it's been always an interesting thing to me to explore sexuality on film because we don't get a chance to. And a lot of our lives is consumed with sex either with fantasies or with frustrations or the dream of sex or getting married or, you know, finding a life partner or having an incredible fantasy life. Our lives are really wound up with sex, and so it's great to get a chance to express something about that through a character.

JENNIFER: Well, I'm so impressed with your show, I must tell you.

Ms. HUNTER: Oh, great.

JENNIFER: And I'm always so impressed with you. You made me feel good to be 40 and up, I tell you. You look great. Thank you.

Ms. HUNTER: That's fantastic. Yeah, that's great.

CONAN: Yeah. You do look great. Do you work out every day?

Ms. HUNTER: I - you know, I have to get on a treadmill before I work just to feel alive, you know, just to feel kind of okay, so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HUNTER: But listen, man, I'm no feigned. I probably have to thank my mother and my father.

CONAN: We're talking with Holly Hunter. She stars as "Saving Grace" on TBS. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Tony(ph). Tony is with us from Syracuse, New York.

TONY (Caller): Hi, Holly. It's great to be on the line with you guys.

Ms. HUNTER: Hi, Tony.

TONY: I just wanted to say that I really, really enjoy your performances in this tense that when I watch you perform, I can lose sight of the fact that it's Holly Hunter there and then totally immerse in the character…

Ms. HUNTER: Oh, that's…

TONY: …as opposed to a lot of other actress who you're, like, okay, well, I know - and I'm not picking out this person in particular - but, okay, well, I know that's Keanu Reeves up there, you know what I mean? I lose sight of the fact that it's Holly Hunter up there.

Ms. HUNTER: Well, I love that. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for…

TONY: And I'm…

CONAN: Go ahead Tony.

TONY: I was going to say, unfortunately, I don't get your new show because I don't have full cable.

Ms. HUNTER: Oh, damn.

TONY: Yeah, well, it's just poor reception. I'll get it when it's on in DVDs.

Ms. HUNTER: That's good.

TONY: All right.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Tony.

Ms. HUNTER: I hope you enjoy it.

CONAN: I just realized that I made a mistake. Of course, your show is on TNT and not TBS. But that brings to mind, you were in the course of doing publicity for this program. The subject of a now, I guess, notorious interview on "ABC News Now," where a tyro interviewer asked - stumbled through an interview plagued by technical problems and other things. What was it like to be in that situation?

Ms. HUNTER: Well, you know, I did a lot of interviews that day. And I was kind of concerned about that interviewer. I had some concern for her. And I thought, well, maybe she's going to be replaced with - maybe she's a producer and she's going to be replaced her end of it because it was satellite. I wasn't actually in the room with her.

I thought maybe she would be replaced with an actual anchorperson, but then I - I was told that - and then I discovered that she actually was the anchorperson. So I don't know man. I mean, it's - that's kind of unfortunate for her that it got out on YouTube and is being played relentlessly.

CONAN: Hmm. Yeah, unfortunate. You're also a producer of "Saving Grace," not the executive producer, but a producer. What does that enable you to do? What kind of choices do you get to make?

Ms. HUNTER: Well, a lot, you know? It enables me to be kind of an integral part of casting and editing and choice of directors and music selection. You name it, really.

CONAN: And does working in series television, does that keep you in one place or does it make your life a little bit more stable than a life acting on stage or acting in movies?

Ms. HUNTER: That's a hard question because - I would say, you know, this is by far and may - by far and away, the most complex job that I've ever had because of the producership. It's not just the acting, although, I've produced before. But producing for this - the opportunities that have been afforded have been incredibly exciting and enticing, especially to be in the editing room. And so much happens there. So much is really defined with an episode in the editing row - in the editing room. So that's - it's a very time-consuming…

CONAN: Yeah. I was going to say it doesn't sound like it's in shorter a day.

Ms. HUNTER: Yes, a bunch of hats and it's - so it's a time-consuming thing, but it has been very, very exciting. I've learned tremendous amounts, so, you know, I got to say I really like it.

CONAN: We'll try to squeeze in one last caller. Patty, we just have a minute and a half for you, I'm afraid. Patty.

PATTY: Hello?

CONAN: Patty, quickly, if you would.

PATTY: Yes, I'm here.

CONAN: Go - and if you would, go quickly please.

PATTY: Yes, I was just wondering, Holly, if your choice to play Grace had anything to do with your own spirituality and whether you believe in angels.

Ms. HUNTER: I don't believe in angels and I'm not a religious person.

PATTY: Okay.

Ms. HUNTER: The institutions don't really appeal to me. But I think the show is really more about a kind of spiritual question than it is a religious question, although, Grace has her own problems and challenges against, you know, Catholicism because she's a lapsed Catholic. But me, myself, no.

PATTY: No, okay, well, I'm so glad you're doing it. I enjoy your program so much.

Ms. HUNTER: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks, Patty.

PATTY: Thank you.

CONAN: And, Holly Hunter, thanks very much for your time today. Good luck with the program.

Ms. HUNTER: Thanks very much.

CONAN: Holly Hunter is an Academy Award-winning actor. She stars in the new TV series "Saving Grace," which airs Monday nights on TNT. She joined us today from our studios in Culver City, California. Ira Flatow is here tomorrow with SCIENCE FRIDAY. We'll talk to you again on Monday on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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