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Actress Holly Hunter Discusses Her Approach To Her Supermom Role


When Holly Hunter first voiced the character of Elastigirl, aka the mom in the Incredibles, she was not a parent. She joined the club a few years later. When I asked her if she approached the role differently this time around, she said, not really.

HOLLY HUNTER: You know, from the beginning of my career I've been playing mothers - "Raising Arizona," a woman who wants to be a mother so badly that she engages in kidnapping. That was the first major role that I had. And from there, "The Piano," motherhood figured mightily into who she was.

CORNISH: Right. In "Broadcast News" I guess she mothers her co-workers (laughter).

HUNTER: Yeah, although they might argue about that. But anyway...


HUNTER: ...You know, a controversial kind of mothering technique. For me, acting has largely been an act of imagination from the beginning. And as long as it's on the page, it can be on the stage. But motherhood has been woven throughout.

CORNISH: The metaphor in this film is that this mom is pulled in too many directions. Unlike the rest of us who don't have the power of elasticity (laughter), she has to take on work but also still feel pulled in the direction of home. And I want to play a clip where she gets a new assignment. And part of this assignment is a really cool new motorcycle. And here's how that scene plays out.


HUNTER: (As Helen Parr) A new Elasticycle.

CRAIG T NELSON: (As Bob Parr) Elasticycle? I didn't know you had a bike.

HUNTER: (As Helen Parr) Hey, I had a mohawk. There's a lot about me you don't know.

NELSON: (As Bob Parr) You had a mohawk?

HUNTER: (As Helen Parr) You didn't miss anything. Oh, yeah, this one's electric.

NELSON: (As Bob Parr) What's that mean?

HUNTER: (As Helen Parr) Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Oh. Means it's torque-y (ph).

CORNISH: It's such a light and lovely moment, and a reminder that before you're a mother you're a person.


CORNISH: Sometimes you have to remind people of that.

HUNTER: Well, you know, it's so interesting what this movie embraces. And one of the things is youth. I think that this particular moment that you just played is almost like an adolescent recall for her. It's like a throwback to when she was a teenager and had a mohawk. And I think that whenever I'm around people who are in their 20s and I'm working with them, I'm so reminded of and so inspired by their ability to adapt and their ability to be flexible and just roll with it, which is I think something that acting always calls on from me.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) We'll have to stop it from...

HUNTER: (As Helen Parr) Bob, the monorail.

CORNISH: This is different doing acting for an animated role, right? It's just you in I guess a sound booth much like one I'm in with director Brad Bird voicing these scenes, right?

HUNTER: Well, it's actually really different than I would have imagined. First off, I initially thought that I would be acting with my fellow actors. But I am with Brad. He's very funny, so it felt more like we were hanging out.


BRAD BIRD: Like a fake good laugh, though.

HUNTER: (Laughter).

BIRD: Little more obnoxious, like, very funny.

HUNTER: (Laughter).

I think, you know, that for me my voice, it's been kind of a wonderful instrument over the years. I felt very fortunate as an actor.

CORNISH: Fortunate in what way?

HUNTER: I guess the opportunities that I've gotten. Over a relatively long period of time, I've remained hungry as an actor. That's something that I've just responded really well to, the opportunities that I've been given.

CORNISH: Back when you spoke to NPR during your TV series "Saving Grace," you did talk about the difficulties after that role, that things did not seem to come your way despite all the accolades for it. And how did that kind of shift and change over the years?

HUNTER: Well, I think, you know, the statistics bare all women's feelings out in that there is less opportunity for us. And there remains less opportunity in the math of Hollywood. I definitely felt that after a role that had nothing to do with her age, nothing to do with her lack of sexuality. I just thought that that was an incredible boundaryless character that I got to stretch out in over the course of "Saving Grace." And when I got back to the feature film world, there was so little opportunity that I was really kind of stunned. I was looking to take a slight break but not exactly a hiatus.

CORNISH: Right (laughter).

HUNTER: So I also think that work has never been easy for me to find in my entire career because I've always kind of drifted between being a character actress and being a leading lady.

CORNISH: What makes a leading lady, do you think? Like, how do people think about that in their minds?

HUNTER: Well, I think, you know, that beauty has something to do with it. Those are the people who we tend to embrace as movie stars. Second to that movie stardom, then you get leading ladies. I think that my fit into that, it hasn't been a mainstream kind of thing that I've offered. And at the same time, I've been able to carve my own niche out of the culture.

CORNISH: (Laughter) Well, Holly Hunter, thank you so much for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

HUNTER: Audie, thank you.


CORNISH: Actress Holly Hunter - you can hear her in the "Incredibles 2," which opens today.