Helen Hunt, Throwing Herself into Her Latest Role She's been acting for nearly 40 years; now she's taking a stab at directing, producing and writing. And she's doing all that — as well as acting — in one film: Then She Found Me. She tells NPR why.
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Helen Hunt, Throwing Herself into Her Latest Role

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Helen Hunt, Throwing Herself into Her Latest Role

Helen Hunt, Throwing Herself into Her Latest Role

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You probably know Helen Hunt from her many acting roles, "Mad About You," "Twister," "As Good As It Gets." The Academy Award winning actress has been on screens, big and small for decades.

Now, she's stepping behind the camera to produce, direct and to write. The movie is called "Then She Found Me." And despite the low budget, Hunt put together an impressive cast - Matthew Broderick, Colin Firth, Bette Midler -even Salman Rushdie in a cameo as a gynecologist.

In the film, Hunt plays April, a rather prickly and devoutly religious school teacher whose life has turned upside down when she buries her adoptive mother, discovers she's pregnant, loses her husband, and is found by her birth mother, an over-the-top TV host played by Bette Midler.

(Soundbite from movie "Then She Found Me")

Ms. HELEN HUNT (Actor): (as April Epner) I'm wondering how you can be certain you're actually my mother?

BETTE MIDLER (Actor): (As Bernice Graves) Are you married?

Ms. HUNT: (as April Epner) I have…

Ms. MIDLER: (As Bernice Graves) I mean, do you have anyone, someone who takes you in his arms or her arms, But, God knows, I only want you to be happy, someone who holds you in the night when you're afraid.

Ms. HUNT: (as April Epner) You didn't answer my...

Ms. MIDLER: (As Bernice Graves) Oh, it doesn't matter. Some of the richest periods of my life came when I was between love affairs.

NORRIS: Hunt says she started her battle to make the movie when she read Elinor Lipman's novel nearly a decade ago.

Ms. HUNT: And it was just a new idea. A grown woman whose birth mother finds her and they forge a relationship - that was just something I hadn't thought of before, and it's rare when you're thinking about being in a movie that - to hear a new idea.

And there was a very faithful, well-done adaptation that I tried to get made as an actress, and I wasn't able to get it picked up by anybody. And I rewrote it a little bit, and I started to draw from my own life, frankly. I was wanting a baby, myself, very much, and this was a mother-daughter story where what the protagonist wanted in the novel is a sort of subtle, internal thing, and it occurred to me this woman should want a baby.

And then I read an essay by a writer named James Hillman called "Betrayal," which made a big impression on me. And once I latched on to this idea that the movie would be about betrayal, a comedy about this horrendous subject called betrayal - betrayal by God in the case of this character that I play - I started to feel a sense of authorship of the movie.

And then, all of the elements fell into place. I was able to get rid of beautiful characters in the book and replace them from characters from my imagination. It all sort of came together then and I was able to write a final draft that I could really believe in.

NORRIS: You know, I read that in this long period of adapting the novel for the screen that you actually created not just new situations, but characters that were small versions of yourself throughout the script. Where do we see those aspects of your personality in the film?

Ms. HUNT: Everywhere. Someone asked me if it was autobiographical and the answer - the true answer is that it's 100 percent autobiographical underneath. So what these characters go through, and who they are, isn't me on the surface, but underneath, to be honest, it's all me. It's a pretty intimate look at some deep part of my brain, for better or worse.

NORRIS: You know, you described this as a very personal project. Was this a cathartic project for you?

Ms. HUNT: God, if so, I'm not sure exactly when the catharsis happened. Maybe this it. I'm on NPR, this could be the moment. All I can say is that it meant a lot to me and it would've had to or I would have given up, you know. I just spent not only tons of time writing it, but then years hearing no from every studio in town or out of town.

We love it but we don't know how to sell it. We love it but is it a comedy or a drama? We love it but is it a big movie or a little movie? We don't love it also happened, and then I was lucky enough that, you know, one company said here's a small but steadfast check that you can count on, go make your movie.

NORRIS: I want to talk you about a particular scene. There's a point where April, her shoulders are fully squared by the end of this film. She's had a series of bad things happen to her, and she's, you know, trying to take control of a situation. She's sitting on a couch in Bernice's - in her birth mother's dressing room - this beautiful dressing room with a lovely sofa and matching curtains.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: And she's confronting her, and she gives her an ultimatum. And Bernice is standing there with her pants half on.

(Soundbite of movie, "Then She Found Me")

MS. HUNT: (As April Epner) I'm here.

Ms. MIDLER: (As Bernice Graves) Huh?

MS. HUNT: (As April Epner) Sorry.

Ms. MIDLER: (As Bernice Graves) I'm… Jesus.

MS. HUNT: (As April Epner) I want you to make it up to me. This is for me, you understand? Not for you, for me. I think I will be happier in the long run if you try to make it up to me.

Ms. MIDLER: (As Bernice Graves) Okay.

MS. HUNT: (As April Epner) I want you to buy me a baby.

Ms. HUNT: You know, the sort of ride that my character takes in the movie is that she's - someone gave me the image that she's like a turtle who keeps being turned on her back by this woman. And has to, kind of, write herself over and over. And by the end she has snapped. And Bette's character has betrayed her over and over and over, and she finally comes back to say if we're going to have any relationship it's going to be on these terms.

NORRIS: The pants half down...

Ms. HUNT: And the pants - and that's just to be stupid and funny.

NORRIS: Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HUNT: There's no deeper meaning. It's like deep, deep, deep, shtick -that's the movie.

NORRIS: And of course she end the scenes, can I put my pant's back on?

Ms. HUNT: Yeah. Yeah.

NORRIS: You know, this is one of a number of fertility flicks that have come out recently. "Knocked Up," "Smart People," "Juno," what's going on in Hollywood?

Ms. HUNT: I mean to me the idea that making a movie, or a set of movies about motherhood is like this novelty is absurd, it's like it all starts with mothering. Good mothering with a capital M, whether that comes from your birth mother, your adoptive mother, your father, a friend, yourself. It's the first topic and I can't think of one more interesting or important. So, it's not a surprise to me.

NORRIS: Right on.

Ms. HUNT: Hmm, right on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Helen Hunt, thanks so much for talking to us.

Ms. HUNT: Thank you.

NORRIS: All the best to you.

Ms. HUNT: Thanks.

NORRIS: That's Helen Hunt. She makes her film directorial debut in "Then She Found Me." The movie debuts next week, but you can get a sneak peak at our Web site, npr.org/movies.

(Soundbite of music)

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