BootLeg Betty

“I Wanted Her Bette Midler-ness”

The Canadian Press
Helen Hunt heading in a new direction with ‘Then She Found Me’
April 23 2008

TORONTO — Helen Hunt’s fingerprints are all over “Then She Found Me” – after all, she directed, starred in and co-wrote the film – but the Oscar-winning actress apparently had little control over the eclectic guest list at the recent New York City premiere.

Along with the movie’s stars, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick and Colin Firth, and other celebs such as comedian Jerry Seinfeld and feminist guru Gloria Steinem, there were a few attendees Hunt wasn’t expecting.

“(Record mogul) Russell Simmons pulled up. I saw him poke his head out of the car. I thought ‘Is he just deciding? Is this a movie he wants to see? What’s happening?”‘ Hunt says in a telephone interview from New York.

“Bernadette Peters was there. I have no idea why. I was so happy.”

Hunt, who starred in the long-running TV comedy “Mad About You” and snagged a best-actress Academy Award in 1998 for “As Good As It Gets,” has reason to celebrate.

“Then She Found Me,” which marks her directorial debut, is getting good advance buzz. Its release (the film opens April 25 in Toronto and Vancouver, May 2 in Montreal and May 9 in other Canadian cities) is the culmination of a journey that began a decade ago, when Hunt read the novel by Elinor Lipman on which the film is based.

“Adapting a beautiful novel is much harder than adapting a flawed novel because you’re very loathe to change anything,” says Hunt, 44.

“But over a long, slow period of time, I finally came to what might be missing from the book in order to turn it into a movie. … It really is a collaboration between Elinor’s beautiful book and a lot of things in my own life and my own imagination.”

Although fans of the novel will notice significant changes in the film version, the adaptation process appears to have been remarkably smooth, with the onscreen product drawing praise from no less an authority than Lipman herself.

The film stars Hunt as April Epner, a dowdy elementary school teacher desperate to have a baby whose life is turned upside down when she’s unceremoniously dumped by her new husband (Broderick) and tracked down by her birth mother, a flamboyant TV talk-show host (Midler).

It’s an unusually restrained performance by Midler, whose character alternately charms and bitterly disappoints April as the pair form a halting friendship over the course of the film.

“She’s a smart enough actress to understand that I wanted her ‘Bette Midler-ness’ and at the same time I wanted her to be in this very realistic, flying low-to-the-ground, independent movie,” Hunt says of working with Midler. “She’s a smartie. She didn’t need all that much help from me.”

The idea of what it means to be a mother, and the notion of desperately wanting a baby, was rich territory for Hunt, who has a three-year-old daughter with screenwriter-producer Matthew Carnahan.

“These characters’ desire to have a baby, certainly, was born out of my desire to have a baby,” she says. “If you’re a woman, and you want that, you want that probably more than you’ve ever wanted anything, so it was a very fertile – no pun intended – thing to write about.”

Hunt was delighted by the reaction “Then She Found Me” received last September at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it earned a distribution deal.

Now that her cinematic baby is about to be received by the public, the newbie director hints that she’d like to do it all over again – one day.

She’s already written another script with a part for herself and says she’d be willing to direct it, adding a caution: “This week, I’m not ready to go shoot it.”

Still, the all-encompassing role of writer/actor/director was clearly a journey Hunt enjoyed.

“The downside is it’s a huge creative experience, and the upside is it’s a huge creative experience,” she says.

“Luckily it’s not a thing you can do often. It takes a long time to write (films) and a long time to get them financed, but I do also notice how rewarding it was to be really the guy who – for better or worse – made the decisions.”

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