Family & Companions
Despite decades of potential career minefields, actress Helen Hunt emerged as an Oscar and Emmy winner en route to becoming one of the most popular actresses of the 1990s. Early in her career, Hunt made the risky transition from precocious TV kid and mainstay in melodramatic movies-of-the-week to land a seven-year run on one of the era's most awarded sitcoms, "Mad About You" (NBC, 1992-99). During that time, she diversified her talents by directing several episodes, a skill she would use elsewhere later in her career. Meanwhile, Hunt went from sitcom star to feature film leading lady with performances in the blockbuster "Twister" (1996) and the award-winning romantic comedy "As Good as It Gets" (1997), which earned her the Best Actress Academy Award. From there, she was the star of the moment with leading roles in "Pay it Forward" (2000), "What Women Want" (2000) and "Cast Away" (2000), only to step back from the limelight following her divorce from famous husband, Hank Azaria. Hunt later reemerged with "Empire Falls" (HBO, 2005), wrote and directed the features "Then She Found Me" (2008) and "Ride" (2014), and earned new buzz for her fearless performance in indie drama "The Sessions" (2012) while developing a new career as an in-demand television director. Always grounded and intelligent, Hunt brought strength, sensitivity and relatable complexity to her characters, all of which earned her a loyal fan base among modern independent women.
Born in the Culver City area of Los Angeles on June 15, 1963, Hunt was the daughter of actor-director Gordon Hunt and photographer Jane Elizabeth Hunt. When she was three years old, the family moved to New York City, where Hunt was first exposed to live theater and began to develop an interest in acting. With her father's encouragement and coaching, she landed her first acting job upon the family's return to L.A. in 1972. She appeared in the homesteading-themed TV movie "Pioneer Woman" (ABC, 1973) and was soon a series regular on "Amy Prentiss" (NBC, 1974-75), portraying the daughter of a San Francisco policewoman (Jessica Walter). She played a young member of the "Swiss Family Robinson" (ABC 1975-76) and appeared on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77) as Murray's (Gavin Macleod) daughter Laurie before making her big screen debut in the thriller "Rollercoaster" (1977).
The teen worked steadily as a guest player on popular shows like "The Bionic Woman" (ABC, 1976-77; NBC, 1977-78) and "Family" (ABC, 1976-1980), with her senior year of high school ending up her busiest yet, with four TV movies including "Child Bride of Short Creek" (NBC, 1981) and "The Miracle of Kathy Miller" (CBS, 1981), an inspirational tale in which Hunt starred as a high school athlete who perseveres despite a serious accident. After graduating from Providence High School in Burbank, CA in the spring of 1981, she attended UCLA that fall, but having built up such momentum in her film career, she ultimately called college quits after less than a semester. She landed a recurring role on the sitcom "It Takes Two" (ABC, 1982-83) and maintained a high profile on television, taking the lead as the sole female athlete on a high school football team on CBS' "Quarterback Princess" (1983), as well as co-starring as a social worker opposite Mickey Rooney's Emmy-nominated performance as a developmentally challenged senior in "Bill: On His Own" (CBS, 1983).
In 1985, Hunt appeared off-Broadway with Mary Stuart Masterson in "Been Taken" (1985) before inking a deal for a recurring role as the girlfriend of Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse) on the acclaimed NBC drama series "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88). Her film career received a boost with a pair of teenage roles in "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" (1985) and "Peggy Sue Got Married" (1986). Co-starring performances as an animal trainer in "Project X" (1987) and as Patrick Swayze's wife in "Next of Kin" (1989) helped shift her teen image, though for her impressive Broadway debut in 1989, she played Emily Webb in a revival of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" (1989). Enjoying being on stage, she stayed on in New York to appear in "The Taming of the Shrew" opposite Tracey Ullman and Morgan Freeman in Shakespeare in the Park the following summer.
Hunt landed her first leading TV series role in Michael Apted's ambitious but ultimately short-lived drama "My Life and Times" (ABC) in 1991, as well as receiving a profile boost in the juicy TV film "Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Smart Story" (1991), a fact-based TV film about a school teacher who plots her husband's demise along with the help of her 16-year-old lover and student. The much-ballyhooed TV event led to a starring role in Neil Jimenez's feature "The Waterdance" (1992), where she delivered a delicately nuanced, richly observed portrayal of an editor who becomes involved with her client, a writer crippled from a climbing accident. In 1992, she won praise as a smart-mouthed young agent of Buddy Young, Jr. (Billy Crystal) in the feature comedy misstep "Mr. Saturday Night" (1992), before receiving a phone call from real life stand-up comic Paul Reiser that would change her life forever.
Co-creator of a sitcom about thirty-something New York newlyweds, Reiser cast Hunt as his Yale-educated, slightly neurotic, but sweetly sensitive wife Jamie Buchman on "Mad About You." The show was an instant critical and audience favorite for its focus on the real challenges faced by a couple in love, navigating careers, families and life in the big city. Hunt was immediately recognized for her refreshingly modern take on "sitcom wife," earning her first Emmy nomination in 1993 and her first Golden Globe Award win in 1994. During series hiatuses, Hunt continued to try to achieve big screen success, taking a turn opposite David Caruso in Barbet Schroeder's "Kiss of Death" (1995), before scoring big with Jan De Bont's blockbuster "Twister" (1996). It was in the latter film that she brought a strong presence and believable intelligence - to say nothing of a highly imitated hairstyle that summer - to her scientist character, Dr. Jo Harding, obsessed with tracking tornadoes alongside her estranged husband (Bill Paxton). The film was a colossal hit, and though there was little doubt the CGI-created tornadoes were the main draw, Hunt was a huge asset to the film, setting herself up for a possible run as a big screen leading lady.
Hunt earned the first of four consecutive Emmy wins for "Mad About You" before netting Best Actress Oscar and Golden Globe Awards for playing a long-suffering single mom and waitress who becomes involved with Jack Nicholson's curmudgeon in James L. Brooks' "As Good As It Gets" (1997). She swept TV and film awards in 1998, leaving Hollywood in a mad rush to cast the most-talked about talent of the year. Hunt took on directing and producing capacities - and a reported $1 million per episode salary - for the final seasons of "Mad About You," with the series ending with the birth of the Buchman's first child in 1999. Hunt marked the end of her TV marriage with a real-life marriage, to actor Hank Azaria, best-known for his many voices on "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ), although the couple divorced less than two years after their wedding. Hunt returned to the big screen in four features in 2000. Her casting choices ran the gambit; from Robert Altman's arthouse ensemble "Dr. T and the Women" (2000) to the sentimental drama "Pay it Forward," co-starring Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment.
The actress enjoyed considerably more success in the familiar role of modern professional in the Mel Gibson romantic comedy "What Women Want" (2000), which was a box office smash. Hunt was also part of that year's mega-hit drama "Cast Away," and though most of the screen time was devoted to a grizzled-looking Tom Hanks, Hunt served as the inspirational love who fuels the desert island survivor during four grueling years of solitude. The next year, she realized a lifelong dream of working with Woody Allen by landing a starring role in his retro heist "Curse of the Jade Scorpion," which was unfortunately a box office flop and largely panned by critics. After a Broadway run in Yasmina Reza's "Life x 3" in 2003, the 41-year-old actress gave birth to a daughter, Makena Lei, in 2004 and settled into a new domestic life with writer and director Matthew Carnahan. (The couple split in 2017.)
In 2005, Hunt starred in another box-office misfire, playing a femme fatale in a film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "A Good Woman" (2005). During this time, she remained low-profile, surfacing in a small role in Emilio Estevez's ensemble homage to Robert F. Kennedy, "Bobby" (2006), but behind the scenes, Hunt was as busy as ever, working to develop a film adaptation of Elinor Lipman's novel, Then She Found Me. Hunt's labor of love, a comedic drama about a librarian who rediscovers her birth mother following the death of her adoptive mother and the end of her marriage, finally hit movie screens in 2008. Hunt not only took the lead opposite Bette Midler as her birth mother, she also made her feature directorial debut. Back to performing on the big screen, Hunt played the mother of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), who lost her arm in a shark attack at 13 years old, only to recover and turn professional, in the true-to-life drama, "Soul Surfer" (2011). She next garnered Indie Spirit, Golden Globe and Oscar nods for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the indie drama, "The Sessions" (2012), where Hunt played a professional sex surrogate who helps a man (John Hawkes) crippled by polio lose his virginity. After co-starring in the medical drama "Decoding Annie Parker" (2013), Hunt returned behind the camera, writing and directing the surfing drama "Ride" (2014) as well as starring opposite Luke Wilson. During this period, Hunt also began a side career as a television director, helming episodes of soap opera "Revenge" (ABC 2011-15), family sitcom "Life In Pieces" (CBS 2015- ), and Ryan Murphy's Old Hollywood miniseries "Feud: Bette and Joan" (FX 2017). Hunt also appeared in Louis C.K.'s comedy "I Love You, Daddy" (2017) and returned to television in a supporting role in Gina Prince-Bythewood's limited-run drama "Shots Fired" (Fox 2017).
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Made TV debut in the ABC movie "Pioneer Woman"
Landed role on adventure series "Swiss Family Robinson" (ABC)
Cast as the next door neighbor on "The Fitzpatricks" (CBS)
Made feature debut in "Rollercoaster"
Played a teenage girl who fights to play on her high school football team in the CBS TV-movie "Quarterback Princess"
Played recurring role of Dr. Jack Morrison's (David Morse) girlfriend on NBC medical series "St. Elsewhere"
Co-starred with Sarah Jessica Parker in dance feature "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"
Cast in small role playing Mark Harmon's sister in "Stealing Home"
Made Broadway debut in a revival of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town"; replaced Penelope Ann Miller as Emily Webb
Co-starred opposite Billy Crystal in "Mr. Saturday Night"
Co-starred with Paul Reiser on hit NBC sitcom "Mad About You"; made a producer during the 1996-97 season; received Golden Globe (1993, 1996, 1998) and Emmy (1993, 1994, 1995) nominations for Best Actress
Co-starred with Bill Paxton as storm chasers in Jan De Bont's blockbuster "Twister"
Won an Academy Award as Best Actress for her leading role in the comedy-drama "As Good As It Gets"
Made TV directorial debut with episodes of "Mad About You" (NBC)
Played Tom Hanks' love interest in the Robert Zemeckis directed "Castaway"
Co-starred in Robert Altman's ensemble feature "Dr. T and the Women"
Starred opposite Mel Gibson in Nancy Meyers' romantic comedy "What Women Want"
Cast opposite Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment in "Pay It Forward"
Cast in lead role in Woody Allen's "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion"
Co-starred with Ed Harris and Philip Seymour Hoffman in HBO miniseries "Empire Falls"
Joined cast of Emilio Estevez's directorial debut "Bobby"
Made feature directorial debut (also starred) with "Then She Found Me," a drama co-adapted by Hunt from Elinor Lipman's novel of the same name; premiered at the Toronto Film Festival; released theatrically in 2008
Co-starred in "Soul Surfer," playing the mother of Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm in a shark attack when she was 13 years old
Played a sex surrogate opposite John Hawkes and William H. Macy in Ben Lewin's drama "The Sessions"
Directed and starred in surfing drama "Ride"
Appeared in the comedy "Candy Jar"
Played Governor Patricia Eamons on "Shots Fired"
Appeared in Louis C.K. comedy "I Love You, Daddy"
Had a supporting role in sports drama "The Miracle Season"
Reprised her breakout role in "Mad About You" reboot