Holly Hunter on Frequently Playing Moms and Why She Won't Do Sequels

Maarten de Boer/Contour/Getty Images
Holly Hunter

The 'Big Sick' actress, who'll be honored with the career achievement award at the Palm Springs Film Festival on Jan. 2, also reflects on her decades-spanning career and first big break in 1987's 'Raising Arizona.'

From Raising Arizona to her Oscar-winning turn in The Piano to the animated film The Incredibles to her latest, the Amazon romantic dramedy The Big Sick, Holly Hunter has offered audiences interpretations of complicated, independent and all-around memorable mothers. The 59-year-old Georgia-born actress (herself a mother of two) will be honored Jan. 2 with the career achievement award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival's annual star-studded awards gala, which kicks off the 14-day desert oasis event. Ahead of the honor, Hunter, who just nabbed a SAG Award nom for her role in Big Sick, talked to THR about her decades-spanning career, what she still hopes to tackle and what a baby blanket can do for a performance.

What do you consider to be your "big break"?

My big break, probably, obviously, was Raising Arizona. Meeting Joel and Ethan [Coen] in the early '80s was big. But before that, I met a casting director named Joy Todd at the beginning of my career, and she let me meet people I would not have met otherwise. She aggressively set the ball rolling. She just went, "I am going to help this girl." She was a real advocate, especially for a 21-year-old just starting out.

If you could, would you revisit any of your films for a sequel?

The movies I have made, I've always felt they should be ended. If they do go on, I want it to only be in my mind. I don't want it to be expressed on film. In a way, I think that is what television is for.

Is there a genre you haven't tackled yet that would interest you?

I want to play something in a more classical vein, something not contemporary. To do a period piece and move into another era would be really fun.

After actresses hit a certain age, they are often relegated to mother-type roles. Do you see this changing as female-fronted stories are championed more?

I have always played mothers, like in Raising Arizona and Thirteen and The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. This is nothing new for me. Because women can bear children, that is going to be an incredibly potent fictional runway. It's one of the things that makes us different from men, and the power of that is galvanizing and should not be diminished. Having said that, it was a fabulous thing to play a role for four seasons on [TNT series] Saving Grace, where motherhood was not even mentioned. Having children was not a part of the landscape of the character at all, and that was liberating.

How is Beth, your character in Big Sick, different from your other mom roles?

One of the things I loved expressing in The Big Sick — which is the exact opposite of what I just said I loved reveling in in Saving Grace — was that sense of stability. I got to express emotional stability with a partner, with Ray Romano. It was also a wonderful opportunity to express a partnership with a daughter that was based on real, mutual affection.

How did you establish your mother-daughter relationship with Zoe Kazan?

I wanted that relationship to be something you could see. I brought in a baby blanket from my own children to put on her hospital bed. I wanted us to wear the same necklaces. I wanted to wear her sweater when I was in her apartment, and I wanted to be mending a sweater of hers when we meet me in the hospital. Even though [the audience] might not fully notice these things, I hoped they would have a cumulative, subconscious effect.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.