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BRIEF ENCOUNTER

An opposite role attracts Hunter

In 'Little Black Book,' her character is in tabloid TV.

August 15, 2004|Susan King

Holly Hunter in tabloid TV? That's the world she finds herself navigating in the dark romantic comedy "Little Black Book," which opened Aug. 6.

Hunter, 46, plays Barb, a former Wall Street executive and bus driver, who is now working as an associate producer for a tabloid talk show hosted by the aging Kippie Kann (Kathy Bates).

The chain-smoking Barb, who exudes worldliness and weariness, quickly befriends the show's newest associate producer, Stacy (Brittany Murphy).

With Barb's encouragement, Stacy peruses her boyfriend's Palm Pilot to learn about all of his ex-girlfriends. Unbeknown to Stacy, though, there is a method behind Barb's machinations.

Fans of Hunter's Academy Award-nominated performance in 1987's "Broadcast News" can't help but notice that Barb is sort of the flip side to her role in James Brooks' comedy as earnest TV news producer Jane Craig.

Barb is an interesting twist on Jane Craig from "Broadcast News."

In the case of my character and juxtaposition of "Broadcast News," it was selfish and kind of tantalizing to play somebody who is seemingly the opposite of Jane Craig. A producer [like Barb], I would imagine, in Jane Craig's mind means that you have reached the basest of the base.

Did you watch any tabloid TV shows or visit the sets of any program to research your role in "Little Black Book?"

I watched none of them. I didn't talk to any producers. I didn't visit any studios. I did not have an interest in doing that really. I really felt that my character was not so much of that world. She was sort of a tourist.

Did your character evolve during pre-production?

I think there were a lot of things I kind of wanted to explore with the character. I wanted to make her as three-dimensional as possible. I think that what [producer] Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and I worked on was bringing her from kind of a two-dimensionality into the third with each subsequent draft of the script. One of the things that most interested me is that she be a seeker of truth even if it was not a straight-ahead look at the truth seeker. Her overall motivation is to seek out what is real against the backdrop of reality TV where virtually nothing is real. The irony of that was interesting to me. I think the agenda of Barb is the truth will out.

Did you work with the costumer to arrive at Barb's look of garish-colored tops and blouses and blue jeans?

What fed you about Barb's look? What did that lead you to believe about her?

That she was sort of a hardened person, almost low-rent.

I thought the clothes were put together in a bohemian way! That's interesting you took it in a different way. The clothes were actually kind of hip!

"Little Black Book" reunites you with character actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who directed you 20 years ago off-Broadway in "The Miss Firecracker Contest."

Exactly. It was so funny, man. It was a huge homecoming [for the two of us] along with Kathy Bates. I met them the same year -- 1982. It was so much fun. But I didn't get to work with Kathy enough. We were like two ships passing.

Over the past two decades, you constantly surprise audiences -- going from starring roles in major movies to cameos to supporting roles as in "Black Book." What are your criteria for picking a project?

Sometimes I really want to work with a director. I never even have read the script and I'll say yes based on the director. For example, Mike Figgis came to my house for dinner one night and said are you interested in being in my movie ["Timecode']. I said yes, and he said great, show up at 11 tomorrow. Figure out how your character dresses and bring it [the outfit] with you and what her name is and we will go from there. I just wanted to work with Mike. If Joel and Ethan Coen said, "We have a part for you," I would say, "Let's go." I take movies for all different kinds of reasons. Sometimes I take them because I really want to work -- I really want to act. It's a matter of timing. An offer is coming down the pike at a time when I am really dying to work, really loving the idea of working. Sometimes I simply could never say no to a film, even if I didn't want to work. My motives are very wide-ranging.

Besides receiving an Oscar nomination for "Thirteen" you also produced the movie. Would you like to wear the producer's hat again?

Yeah, I think that would be great. Once again, it has to be right. It has to be the right kind of project that I am interested in committing myself in that particular way, but really, the greatest commitment of all I can make for my own personal reasons is as an actress.

You are one of the voices in the Pixar animated film "The Incredibles," coming out in the fall. Did you enjoy doing voice work?

I think for any actor it is quite a surprise because the animators work for years on these things. Whenever I would come in they would show me a brief sequence of the movie, but in general it's fairly unknown to the actor what the movie is going to actually end up being. And you are doing your recordings often without other actors. "The Incredibles" are a family of retired superheroes who have domesticated themselves, and through the course of the film realize they have to come out of hiding to save the world or at least save their family. I can't wait to see it!

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