Holly Hunter

Thirteen

Interviewed by Alana Lee

“I try not to think at all when the director says 'Action' ”

Who could forget Holly Hunter's turn as the mildly psychotic Ed McDonagh in the Coen brothers' Raising Arizona? It certainly made an impression with the Hollywood bigwigs who cast her as a nutty newshound in romantic comedy Broadcast News. But it wasn't until Jane Campion's The Piano that Hunter really hit it big, winning an Oscar for Best Actress in 1994. In years since she's played a hardboiled cop in Copycat, and a hardnosed lawyer in Moonlight Mile. Now she's playing a soft-touch as the mother of a rebellious 13-year-old in Catherine Hardwicke's gritty drama Thirteen.

Does the finished movie strongly reflect the script that you originally fell in love with?

Oddly enough it does. The feeling that the movie evokes is exactly what the script evoked as well. It has a sense of emergency, and on the page it had that same kind of urgent, uncensored, very detailed description going on. What I try to do when I act is think a lot, an awful lot, before I show up on the set. And then I try not to think at all when the director says 'Action'. I really want to just obey my own impulses when the camera's rolling. I think the script has that non-judgmental vision that is still intact when you see the movie.

There is a depth and sophistication to the screenplay, isn't there?

I was particularly drawn to the fact that the movie doesn't stand in judgment on any of its characters - even my character's boyfriend, played by Jeremy Sisto. You kind of like the guy even though he's very damaged and broken, and a practising addict. You see that he has an ability and a desire to love, and I think that's true of all the characters. It makes it difficult to categorise these people. And you can more or less see yourself in each of the characters situations.

Nikki Reed (who plays Evie) wrote the script from her own experiences. Did you notice any affect that starring in the film may have had on her?

One of the things that happened during the shoot was that Nikki was absolutely forced to see her mother in this whole other light. Nikki's mom is a great woman, very alive and very free. So all these people on the film, who Nikki admired and respected and was working with, were people who greatly admired her mother. People really dug hanging out with her. It was a very unusual perspective for Nikki to see her Mom in. We talked a little bit about that when we were shooting.

Could you draw on moments of rebellion in your own teenage years?

Adolescence is a startling time for any kid. I was no different. But my more experimental years happened later. When I was a teenager I was involved with music, I played brass instruments in the band and had six hours each day of extra curricular activities involving that. I actually believe that that is the major contributor to me not rebelling. But I'm not inherently a rebel though.

Does the film make you feel glad not to be 13-year-old anymore?

I would love to be 13. If you're 13, that means you're alive. I could never stand in judgment of what time it is that I'm alive.

But the pressures on teenagers are greater now, aren't they?

I think this rite of passage has always been something worth remarking on in an artful way. People have been commenting on it and arguing about it, and trying to describe it, and trying to unveil the mysteries of this rite of passage forever. Different cultures ritualise it, but we don't really have that any more. We just know it as adolescence, a time of tremendous upheaval in all sorts of different ways.