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Then She Found Me - Helen Hunt interview

Then She Found Me

Interview by Rob Carnevale

HELEN Hunt talks about writing, producing, directing and starring in Then She Found Me, as well as the immense battle she fought to bring it to the screen.

She also discusses working as a female director in Hollywood, liasing with James Brooks (of As Good As It Gets fame) and the joy and terror of watching her debut movie as a director with an audience at the Toronto Film Festival.

Q. How much did you identify personally with the character you play in this film?
Helen Hunt: I definitely do. I identify with all of them. Someone asked me if it was autobiographical… I do feel like I’m everybody. But certainly in her case and her wish for a baby, that was something I felt very, very strongly about – not knowing if I would be lucky enough to have a baby. I’m not adopted and I don’t have an adopted childhood, so that’s from the novel. So, that’s not me. But the things that are me are all the things that this movie is about – love, betrayal, faith, loss of faith, being a parent, being a daughter. So, if you just pull back and sort of look at it as a movie, look at an x-ray, I’m in there everywhere.

Q. You’ve been trying to get the movie made for some time. What grabbed you about it from the start?
Helen Hunt: It was a little under 10 years. I loved it in the beginning. I thought it was a very original idea… that a grown woman is found by her birth mother. Over time, as I tried to understand why it was just right as a novel and not quite a movie, the things I had to add and bring to it made me feel closer and closer to it. What the main character wants was a subtle thing in the book, but I think in a movie it’s fun to have the main character want something that is fun to watch her go after. In a story about mothers and daughters, it seemed like the right thing for her to want – a child of her own. I also got interested in the aspect of the story that has to do with betrayal and love – that you really can’t have love without betrayal in the room with you. If you try to outsmart it, you lose the love too. So, that’s how Matthew [Broderick]‘s character and Colin [Firth]‘s character were born. I thought if she starts out by being betrayed by someone, and ends up betraying someone else, I would have taken that theme all the way through the movie.

Q. Was there a point during the production process that you thought about giving up on this?
Helen Hunt: For sure. There were so many no’s along the way. I had a company that was going to give me four times the amount that I ended up making the movie for; I had bags packed, my step-son on his way to the East Coast because we were going to be there, and I was in the parking lot going to have lunch with someone, when I had a call from my agent that said: “You know the guy that runs that arm of the studio? He doesn’t have the right to say you have the money. You don’t have the money. The president of the studio read it and just doesn’t like it.” Many of my other no’s took the form of: “We love the movie but we don’t know how to sell it.” Or: “We love the movie but it’s not enough like other things or it’s too much like other things…” But the time before was simply about not liking it, and that was a particularly low moment. But I eventually asked someone: “Who gets movies made?” And he replied: “It’s the people who don’t give up. There’s nothing more mysterious than that.” So, I held on to that and a company came forward and said they’d give me a small amount.

Hiring Colin and hiring Matthew… I didn’t hire them because of their celebrity. In fact, I kind of hired them in spite of it. I thought the movie would be better with less well-known people in it. But ultimately I felt these two actors were just the very best people for the part.

Q. How easy was it to persuade people like Colin Firth and Bette Midler to come on board?
Helen Hunt: I didn’t persuade them at all, I just sent them the script. My name was not enough to get the movie made or financed. It probably was enough that they would open the script when it was sent to them. In Colin Firth’s case, he read it and called me to say that he’d like to try and do it. He also knew immediately that it was important that the guy he played wasn’t a “cute dad”, which made me know immediately that he got the movie. I then told him that I wanted all the men to have no make-up at all and nobody had any problem with any of it. They’re all smart and they could very quickly hear what movie they were in.

Q. How did the Salmon Rushdie supporting role come about?
Helen Hunt: Of all the betrayals that my character experiences in the movie, she feels betrayed and dropped by God. There’s a scene towards the end where they all pray, so I thought it would be interesting if either the doctor or the nurse were Indian and that would make us not be so sure who we knew exactly we were praying to. It was just a subliminal thing. I didn’t have a Judeo-Christian agenda for the movie. The character happens to be Jewish, and she happens to have a lot of faith, but that faith gets crushed. So, I auditioned some Indian actors to play the doctor, but I couldn’t find anyone that was right. Then I heard that Salmon would be willing to come in and read and he did a great job.

Q. Considering it was your first time directing, how difficult did you find it to juggle all the different roles?
Helen Hunt: Well, when I did Mad About You I directed some of them and loved it, except when I had to act in it and then I hated it. I loved doing all the scenes I wasn’t in, but then I’d be in the middle of a scene feeling the camera landing at the wrong time. I found it excruciating. I didn’t have that experience in this case and I think that instead of wearing a lot of hats, I threw them all in the garbage and I just was there. So, if it was about acting a scene, or giving another actor a piece of direction, or picking out a colour for the walls, or composing a shot, it just was about making the movie. I don’t know why, but I didn’t have that feeling of being pulled in 10 different directions.

Q. Is it something you’d like to do again, all four things – writing, directing, producing and starring – in the same movie?
Helen Hunt: Yes. I wrote another movie. It’s an original idea. I don’t know if it’s any good or whether I’ll ever get it made. But I’m going to try.

Q. In an era where air-brushing and glamour fills magazines, I thought it was quite refreshing that you opted not to wear make-up and bare all for this movie…
Helen Hunt: You mean that I looked like crap! [Laughs] To be totally honest, I can’t over-explain what it’s like to make a movie in such a short time. So, honestly, that’s an extra hour and a half a day. It sounds crazy but I was happy to just have an hour and a half more of the lead actors being free to do the movie. I did also think that a lot of hard things happened to my character at the start of the movie, so it was appropriate to start the movie looking like that was the case. I also know a lot of women, whose focus is more on their teaching career or medical practice, who don’t wear make-up, and I wanted to play that woman. By the end of the movie, there’s a little more life in her.

Q. How did you feel working as a female director and do you think female directors get the recognition they deserve?
Helen Hunt: Well, what I don’t know is why there aren’t more of them, except for the big percentage that would be taken out because as a mother it’s not a particularly user-friendly job. I was lucky that this movie was small because the actual shooting was six five-day weeks. For someone directing a big 16-week movie, I wouldn’t know how you’d be a mother and do that. But there’s a bigger question of why there aren’t more women directors and I honestly don’t know what the answer is. But I think they do get respect. I don’t think there’s anyone out there saying that they like a film less just because a woman made it. What I find there’s a shortage of is good stories. The more good stories that are written, the more parts there are going to be for black actors, for women. So, in that respect, the answer is to encourage more people to write.

Q. Do you think this movie would have been easier to get made 10 or 15 years ago?
Helen Hunt: I would think 20 years ago… or maybe 10 or 15. There were bigger movies being made then. As Good As It Gets, for example, was a big movie about people talking to each other. That’s why, in the beginning, I imagined this as a bigger movie. But then as time went on, it became clear that this kind of movie was what would be appropriate as an independent. And now I think this is probably better for being stripped down.

Q. Was James Brooks a big influence on yourself as a director?
Helen Hunt: Yeah. Even if I’d never worked with him [on As Good As It Gets] his movies are among my favourites ever. Then after working with him, I felt that his brain lined up with my brain. So, yes I’m sure that I’ve stolen from him all over this movie without realising it [laughs].

Q. Do you stay in touch with him?
Helen Hunt: He looked at a cut of the movie and helped me with one thing that just wasn’t playing right. He also thought of a couple of lines for me to drop in later and gave me a suggestion or two about things to change. He loved Colin Firth in the movie.

Q. Did you ever talk to your father [the respected director and acting coach Gordon Hunt] about the project?
Helen Hunt: Yeah, he read many drafts of it and saw some early cuts. He’s just a very, very supportive parent and he’s very proud. I’m very lucky.

Q. Have you watched this movie with an audience?
Helen Hunt: I have. The best time was the time in Toronto, with 2,000 people there. The movie was out of focus… so out of focus, in fact, that the audience clapped when it went in focus, the volume was down too low and I was sitting there thinking this was a public humiliation. But then, around the time Colin comes into the movie, something happened where people started to click with it. And by the end, there were 2,000 people on their feet and it sold that night. It was one of those Cinderella nights in a sea of ugly step sister nights. At the same film festival that year, The Assassination of Jesse James was there and they mixed up two reels… I cannot imagine. And it happens a lot at film festivals, apparently [laughs].

Q. Do you agree with the view that it’s harder for women to get roles the older they get?
Helen Hunt: I guess so but it’s hard for everyone to find good parts. I don’t think it’s particularly easy to be a black actor, or a Hispanic actress. Maybe if you’re white, 25 and lucky you have a set of years where it all goes well, but mostly it’s hard to find a good story. So, the more good stories there are, the more good parts there are going to be for everybody.

Read our review of Then She Found Me

  1. I just saw this. It was pretty good.

    Jamie    Sep 18    #