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Oscar Winner Helen Hunt Honored At Miami FF

When you’re an A-list actress who has already won an Oscar, several Golden Globes and multiple Emmys, what do you do as an encore? Direct your own feature film, natch. Well that is what Helen Hunt has done and the prolific screen, television and stage actress will present her feature debut THEN SHE FOUND ME tonight at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.

Acting is part of Ms. Hunt’s DNA. She was born in 1963 in Culver City, California, the daughter of Jane Elizabeth Novis, a photographer, and Gordon Hunt, a film director and acting coach. She began her working career in the 1970s as a child actress, with early appearances on such iconic television series as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bionic Woman, The Facts of Life and The Swiss Family Robinson. She branched into movies-of-the-week, getting her first big notices in 1982 in an after-school special called DESPERATE LIVES, as a young woman who jumps out of a window while high on PCP. She made her feature film debut in a low-budget sci-fi film TRANCERS (1985), which actually spawned five successful sequels. While she had a recurring role on the hit television series ST. ELSEWHERE, she began to beef up her film resume, appearing in such films as GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN (1986), PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986), MILES FROM HOME (opposite Richard Gere, 1987), the Sundance Film Festival indie THE WATERDANCE (1992) and the political satire BOB ROBERTS (1992). That same year, she accepted a role that would seal her fame and popularity----that of the witty wife and partner to Paul Reiser in the television hit MAD ABOUT YOU (1992-1999). Over the course of that series’ eight years on the air, Ms. Hunt was nominated eight times for an Emmy (winning four), six times for the Golden Globe (winning three), as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award in 1995.

The popularity of the series opened doors in Hollywood too. After starring opposite Nicholas Cage is the remake of the 1940s crime classic KISS OF DEATH (1995), she became big box office with the 1996 blockbuster TWISTER. The following year, she got offered the role that would win her the highest accolades in the film world. Director James L. Brooks cast Hunt as a world-weary and somewhat abrasive waitress who tangles with the obsessive-compulsive Jack Nicholson in AS GOOD AS IT GETS (1997). The film became a huge hit and was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, winning statuettes for Hunt and Nicholson.

After winning the Oscar, the scripts came fast and furious, but Ms. Hunt took time off from movie work and focused on the stage, starring as Viola in Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT at Lincoln Center in New York City. She didn’t return to the big screen until almost three years later, but made strong impressions in such films as DR. T AND THE WOMEN (directed by Robert Altman and again opposite Richard Gere); PAY IT FORWARD (with Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment); WHAT WOMEN WANT (opposite Mel Gibson); Woody Allen’s THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION; and CASTAWAY (in a small but pivotal role in a film toplined by Tom Hanks). In 2003, she returned to Broadway in Yasmina Reza's LIFE X 3. She followed this up with A GOOD WOMAN (2005), a costume comedy based on an Oscar Wilde play and a supporting role in the historic pastiche BOBBY (2006).

During this period, she was looking for the right script for her directing debut. She had read a novel by Elinor Lipman about a New York schoolteacher who hits a midlife crisis. She decided to adapt the novel into a screenplay, collaborating with veteran scribes Alice Arlen (Oscar nominee, SILKWOOD) and Victor Levin (who had written many of the script from her series MAD ABOUT YOU). She turned to indie producer Christine Vachon (BOY’S DON’T CRY, FAR FROM HEAVEN) and the result is THEN SHE FOUND ME (which screens tonight as a Gusman Gala). She cast herself in the lead, playing a woman who must adapt to life’s ups and downs, when, in quick succession, her husband leaves, her adoptive mother dies and her real one, an eccentric talk show host, materializes and turns her life upside down as she begins a courtship with the father of one of her students. The winning cast also includes Matthew Broderick, Colin Firth and the diva to end all divas, Bette Midler. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and recently won the Audience Award at the Palm Springs Film Festival. It will open in theaters in May via specialty distributor ThinkFilm.

So, with acting awards and now a directing debut under her belt, what does the talented Ms. Hunt do for an encore? Stay tuned.

Sandy Mandelberger, Miami FF Editor on


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