“Pay it Forward”: Helen Hunt Interview

NEW YORK, Oct. 19, 2000 Helen Hunt’s performance in Pay It Forward may be garnering a second round of Oscar talk, but the actress, who co-stars alongside fellow honorees Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment, only saw the part as part of a larger picture.

“I thought it was a love story about these three people,” says the actress, who plays Osment’s aggressive, alcoholic mother and falls in love with her son’s teacher (Spacey). “If there’s a message, it’s that the unlovable and unattractive parts of ourselves should be embraced. The only real currency between people is what happens when they’re not cool. And I hope people feel OK about not being cool.”

Hunt has been riding high since starring in the hit television series Mad About You for seven seasons. She ended her time producing episodes and receiving a million-dollar-a-week salary with co-star Paul Reiser.

Then she struck box-office gold with Twister, an adventure film that placed a woman at the center of the action. But it was her performance as a blue-collar waitress and single mother who finds romance with an odd-ball writer (Jack Nicholson) in As Good as it Gets that won her an Academy
Award in 1998.

“It was a dream come true. You can’t not have that dream if you’re an
actor,” says Hunt about her Oscar win. “You have five seconds to enjoy it and then you remember who you didn’t thank.”

The daughter of acting coach Gordon Hunt, Helen had started her career at the age of 12. After a string of supporting roles in movies like Miles From Home and The Waterdance, Hunt has begun to map out her own unique territory in film. She can currently be seen as the frosty golf pro that seduces Richard Gere in Dr. T and the Women. At Christmas, she’ll play Tom Hanks’ girlfriend in Cast Away and Mel Gibson‘s love interest in What Women Want. And she’s due to begin shooting the next Woody Allen film.

Hunt‘s career is hot, but America’s Sweetheart, as Nicholson calls her,
finds that life isn’t exactly perfect. Her marriage to actor Hank Azaria
evaporated this summer after only a year and made her a star in another venue — the tabloids.

“I usually don’t read things written about me and I certainly don’t read things if they are inappropriate,” she says.

But Hunt openly admits that she’s finding it difficult to deal with the intense spotlight of fame.

“I think that all of us are 5-year-olds and we don’t want to be embarrassed in the schoolyard,” she says. “I’ve gone through things in my life. People say it must be so hard to do it in the public eye, but the truth is, when
you go through hard things, it’s just hard.”

But has her personal life settled down?

“You know, the only shot I have of that happening is to not talk about it,” Hunt answers. “So I pass on the question.”

-Veronica Mixon