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The Jealous Kind : HOLLY HUNTER SINKS HER SKILLS INTO A CHARACTER 'CRAZY IN LOVE'

August 09, 1992|CHRIS WILLMAN | Chris Willman writes on film, television and pop music for the Calendar section.

At the end of a lengthy photo session, a photographer asks Holly Hunter if she would care to look longingly off into the distance for a few shots, just for variety's sake. She politely but firmly demurs.

"I like to look into the camera," she says. "Otherwise it looks ... "

"Too shy?" presumes the photographer.

"Too hokey," she counters.

The sense of self in this reasoning is perhaps axiomatic after an acting resume full of film projects with plenty of sentiment and little hokum to speak of. The Texas-bred actress veritably exudes sweetness every time she's on screen. But all the roles she's chosen have had a certifiable edge, too, from the conflicted career woman of "Broadcast News" (which won the then-unknown an Oscar nomination) to the tortured plaintiff of "Roe vs. Wade" (which landed her an Emmy).

Her latest part, similarly, offers viewers a woman who at first seems to be just a stereotypical hopeless romantic and the very model of a serenely loving wife, then turns out to be quite frayed around the corners.

In TNT's "Crazy in Love," Hunter stars as Georgie Symonds, the youngest in several generations of matriarchal women living on an idyllic island in the Puget Sound area. It's a deceptively wonderful life, and the title of the drama carries a darker meaning than its immediate one. Hunter is cute as all-get-out when fawning over her faithful husband, Nick (Bill Pullman). But her manner goes from cute-crazy to crazy-crazy, and her loving adoration turns into obsessive jealousy every time he's out of her sight.

"Crazy in Love" might be what used to be called a "woman's picture," both in talent and theme. In this distaff-dominated ensemble piece, Hunter once again has Gena Rowlands playing her mother, a la "Once Again"; she also works alongside Frances McDormand for the first time since "Raising Arizona." In the directorial chair is critical favorite Martha Coolidge ("Rambling Rose"), working from a script based on a novel by Luanne Rice; the telefilm's two producers are both women as well.

But that shouldn't lead anyone to expect an obvious feminist tract. If anything, "Crazy in Love" is a thoughtful critique of women subjugated not so much by men as by their own paranoia.

"It's a movie about a woman who is incapable of trust," says Hunter. "She's been brought up in a tyranny, really, of distrust, with her mother being a rather tyrannical figure--in a very, very subliminal way, not overtly monstrous or anything. My character is really a product of a legacy of a family without men, and of the idea that men will desert you, men will betray you, men will leave you. ... She fantasizes betrayals and disloyalties and deceitful acts on his part."

Eventually, with her husband gone on a business trip and her nerves on end, the emotionally distressed Georgie begins to indulge the impulse of carrying on a destructive affair of her own with a handsome photographer (Julian Sands).

"It's an odd acting out, a strange manifestation of an obsession and a fear, but it's one that I think is not uncommon," Hunter points out. "People do that kind of stuff all the time. They project onto someone what they fear most perhaps about themselves. ...

"It's really a very, very small movie. It's very focused on this woman's mental state--which is not mentally ill at all."

Though Hunter hasn't lived in the South since 1976 (holding residences since in New York City, Pittsburgh and, currently, Los Angeles), she's managed not to lose her accent, the charm of which has been put to good use in most of her roles, which have also included leads in such big films as "Always" and such tiny ones as "Miss Firecracker."

"It's real enchanting, I think, to take where you're from and kind of keep it in you. I love the way people talk when you can hear that they're from a particular place."

You won't hear the accent, though, in "Crazy in Love," which places her in the Seattle area.

You certainly won't be hearing the accent in her next theatrical release, "Piano Lesson," which recently completed five months of filming under the acclaimed director Jane Campion ("Angel at My Table"). In fact, you won't be hearing Hunter much at all. In the movie, set in Scotland circa 1850, she plays an almost lifelong "elective mute."

Hunter occasionally shows up in the news as an activist on the stump for the California Abortion Rights Action League. But, with one key exception, her eccentric career choices scarcely betray an agenda, and despite enjoying her forays into television, she waxes bored on the subject of doing the topically oriented telefilms that often populate the medium.

"Nah. Not interested in 'em," she says. " 'Roe vs. Wade,' yes, I was very much interested in specifically because of the topic and because I am adamantly and unequivocally pro-choice. And secondly to that, I thought it was a great character, and really did like her earthiness--her sense of black and white that she was reared with, and then finding out that there's a lot of gray elements, and her confusion at that revelation.

"But I think it's a limiting choice to begin to do 'issue' pictures because they are rather high-concept and can be sensational in tone and a little flat. And normally the characters are just horses that are bearing this burden of whatever the issue is, to foist it through the storyline. And I don't want to be a plot-driver alone."

Spoken firmly and, yes, as if right into the camera.

"Crazy in Love" airs Monday at 5, 7, 9 p.m.; Thursday at 1 p.m., and Friday at 7 p.m. on TNT.

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