Helen Hunt knows the world probably will never be as mad about her as it was once.
After all, it has been a decade since she won an Oscar for As Good as it Gets. And while such hits as Twister and Cast Away made her one of Hollywood’s most sought-after performers, more recently she has all but dropped out of the public eye. Her last starring role in a hit movie was in 2000’s What Women Want. Even now — as she re-emerges as star and director of Then She Found Me — she is keenly aware of the fickle, fleeting nature of celebrity.
The hiatus, she tells Sun Media following her movie’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, “was definitely not a calculation. It is a concern and there’s nothing I can do about it because I love being with my daughter.”
Makena Lei is Hunt’s 3-year-old child with screenwriter Matthew Carnahan. It’s Hunt’s second marriage, following her split from actor Hank Azaria.
“There were no big, beautiful juicy parts I was turning down,” Hunt says of her time off. “They were medium ones — ones that were not terrible, but also ones that couldn’t make me get in the car in the morning. I don’t want to be picky, but I just am. And now I have this incredibly fulfiling reason not to go to work.”
So, while battling the odd “anxiety attack” about not acting enough, Hunt hunkered down to adapt Then She Found Me, based on the novel by Elinor Lipman about a 39-year-old woman coping with a faltering marriage, her desire for children and the unexpected arrival of her biological mother (Bette Midler). Co-starring Colin Firth and Matthew Broderick, the movie was snapped up by ThinkFilm and Canadian distributor TVA Films following its Toronto debut. It was a new experience for Hunt, who came to Canada not knowing if she could secure a deal to release it.
“I had no idea what to expect. They told me it would probably happen (the night of the premiere) or not at all … Apparently there were two cases of presidents of studios being BlackBerryed to come into the movie to try to buy it. Things don’t happen that way in my career. Things usually take a long time and are an incredible struggle.”
Which isn’t to suggest getting Then She Found Me off the ground was elementary — Hunt had been trying to make the film for 10 years. At one point, she “put (the script) away for a couple of years. Then big things happened in my life and some big things happened in my imagination and I started to get the pieces together.”
The cast, she says, coalesced “one by one. I’ve known Matthew all my adult life and Colin seemed perfect for it.”
After exploring the idea of casting a lesser-known-actress as her mother, she approached Midler “because I realized I needed someone who’s a big star because this character thinks she’s as famous as Bette Midler.”
With Then She Found Me now safely bound for a theatrical release, Hunt is mulling acting offers as well as penning another script for herself. And at age 44, she has long since come to terms with her own measure of fame. Recalling the late 1990s, she says it was “scary because you think you’ve put something in motion that you can never take back. But that does change. Nothing stays that white-hot centre of attention for very long and now (fame is) an utterly manageable part of my life.”