The "Saving Grace" star talks about her racy role as Det. Grace Hanadarko.
Eyebrows rose all over Hollywood when Oscar winner Holly Hunter signed on to star in the TNT drama series "Saving Grace." Why would the star of The Piano, Broadcast News and Thirteen take on the weekly grind of TV in yet another police procedural series? Well, this is no ordinary cop show, and Grace has more complicated issues than an astrophysics library's magazine rack.
She's smart and good at her job, but Detective Grace Hanadarko is also a hard-drinking, hard-living woman who has an honest-to-God guardian angel (Leon Rippy) and an active sex life—she has lots of rowdy romps with her married partner (Kenny Johnson). Hunter couldn't resist playing such a juicy character and detailed why during a visit to the "Grace" set midway through filming its second season, which premieres July 12.
"It's a dream come true to play somebody who doesn't have normal limitations. She doesn't censor her own needs, her own desires. I find it refreshing to have that to express," says Hunter. "In American movies nobody's talking about a woman's sexuality. You've got to search a little bit to find a good example. And in the pilot alone there were two very intimate examples of this woman's sex life. I have an appetite for it because there's so little exploration of that. There's some real intimacy to it and I love that."
She has her theories about Ham, Grace's partner at work and in bed. "I feel like Ham really gets Grace, on many different levels. I think that there's a reason why they're partners," Hunter believes. "The partnership is multi-layered. Their ability to read each other is very acute. Their ability to trust each other is also pretty unlimited. Obviously both are required for an exceptional partnership."
His marriage, of course, conveniently allows Grace to retain her independence. "There is a certain inherent desire for a man to be the answer to all of women's dilemmas, and in Grace's case I don't think that's the deal," Hunter opines.
"I think their sexual hook-up is kind of effortless," she continues. "It completely feeds into the professional partnership, and I don't think that it impedes it. It enhances it. The professional partnership is fed, fully, by the sexual hookup. They use it in their work, and that's an original thing. There are destructive elements to it, in that Ham is a married man, but there are many things about it that are kind of magical. Both characters are really volatile," Hunter notes "and that's constructive and destructive at the same time. Because they're both volatile people, that's attractive."
Another reason Hunter loves her job is that unlike in movies, where—Sex and the City aside—ingénues generally rule, cable television offers more opportunities for older actresses. At 50, "I feel as alive now if not more than any other point in my life," she declares. "Creatively, I didn't feel like I reached my zenith at 30. I keep living and wanting to express stuff."
Co-star Johnson calls Hunter ageless, and she feels the same about her TV alter ego. "Sometimes I play Grace like a 50 year-old woman. Sometimes I feel like she's 30. Sometimes she and Ham are like a couple of 13 year olds together. That adolescent behavior is even more explored in the second season," she notes. "It's very dramatically rich that way."
With its police procedural elements and emotionally heavy drama, "Saving Grace" can be both physically and psychologically taxing for Hunter, who says it requires "a mental agility that I have to rise to every day. I feel the pleasure of that, and the pressure of that. My mind has to be quick. At times I feel like my energy is boundless. But sometimes it's a little bit like running a triathlon."
How does she keep her stamina up? "There's maintenance that I do, but it's fairly minimal because the schedule is kind of wild. I spend way more time on the mental than I do the physical," she admits. But she doesn't give any details on how exactly she manages to balance her busy career with her private life. Hunter is steadfastly determined to keep all details of her personal life off the record, and won't discuss real-life relationships or her kids, twins born in 2006.
Clearly one of those actors who subscribes to the belief that all you need to know about her is up there on the screen, Hunter instead pours all her efforts into making the ornery, profane, refreshingly libidinous Grace a complex, deliciously flawed, real human being.
"It's a very complicated show, It operates in so many different emotional territories," she says, taking care to emphasize that playing Grace is fun, too. "The second season really explores how we have fun. Just when you think they've done it all..." she trails off with a laugh.
"It was a tough horse to learn how to ride last year," she adds. "Now we're riding. And it feels good."