A ‘Grace’-ful Chat with Holly Hunter

TNT has been very, very good to Holly Hunter, who has carved out a niche on the cable drama, “Saving Grace,” which returns for its third season on June 16.

Hunter is among the likes of Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer”), Glenn Close (“Damages”) and Mary McCormack (“In Plain Sight”) in the group of powerhouse actresses who’ve found a new platform to shine on cable dramas.

When we last saw Hunter as Detective Grace Hanadarko in “Saving Grace,” she was at the side of Leon Cooley, a death-row inmate with whom she grew close shortly before his death. Grace had also unwittingly become involved in the “last chance” of a young girl who is a drug user and is a new charge of Earl’s.

I talked to Hunter recently to go over the chilling final episode of last season, what’s coming up this season, and which of her own movies she’d recommend for a Holly Hunter movie marathon.

That was an incredibly chilling final episode. Can you tell me about being a part of that?
“It was a great goodbye to Leon Cooley, you know, and our road together had been really an interesting one, and a really personal one because of the late discovery of the connection with my late sister, who’d been killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing. It was a wonderful kind of full-circle story with him that had real resonance for the show entire. It was real gratifying and it was an emotional ending.”

So you think it might change the minds of people who support the death penalty?
“It’s interesting what the ramifications are for Grace. You know, Grace is a very clear proponent of the death penalty, she’s totally pro death penalty, as many cops are. There can be a real streak of the conservative that runs through very many police departments across the United States and Grace is no exception. Yet, you have this real left turn from her, where suddenly I’m trying to get that changed for him. I’m trying to save his life, unsuccessfully. That is something that I think Grace would never have anticipated doing. Yet she fully believes it’s the right thing to do, to try to get it turned at the last minute.”

What did Grace show by befriending Leon at the end?
“There’s an acceptance of her own self. One of the things that I’ve loved about playing Grace is that Grace understands what people are capable of and she sees what people are capable of every day. I think one of the great wisdoms of Grace, is that she understands that she, herself, is capable of everything. She understands there is a killer inside of her, even though she’s never killed, something sacred inside of her, even though she is not a religious person. The understanding of that through the season has broadened and deepened.”

The final scenes with Leon–sharing his last meal, him giving Grace a gift–included a lot of religious symbolism. You’ve told me before you’re not a religious person. How did you feel about that ending? “That is the ritualistic nature of saying goodbye. Some cultures revel in that more than others through how they have funerals. Some cultures keep the body in the home for days. Some cultures bury the body within 24 hours, and say their goodbyes with intensity and acuteness. And having a last meal, you know, last suppers have been exercised for centuries having nothing to do with Christ. Yet, Christ had one of the most celebrated last suppers. I think that it was a ritual with which these two characters partook.”

Now Grace has become part of somebody else’s second chance. What’s that going to be like?
“Now we have this girl! It’s suddenly, now I’m part of her last chance. So, wow–the responsibilities of that. It’s not necessarily anything that Grace asked for, but there it is. The challenge has been made. That’s quite provocative. It’s entertaining. To Grace, it’s so novel. It’s a novel thing to be faced with, and, at the same time, Grace has a lot of questions now that she’s ready to ask, that she’s prepared to ask.”

Just to switch gears a little, since a couple of your movies tend to land on a lot of people’s favorites list (“Raising Arizona” and “Home for the Holidays”), what would you rank as your five favorite movies?
“Oh, I really can’t do that with movies because there are so many. There are so many filmmakers who I admire.”

OK, then, what about your favorite Holly Hunter movies? What would you recommend if someone was putting together a Holly Hunter movie marathon?
“Well, that would depend on what they’re digging. “Raising Arizona” has just got to be one of the great movies that I will ever do. “The Piano,” I think. “Home for the Holidays,” “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom,” “Crash,” “Broadcast News.” I loved doing the character in “Living Out Loud.” I’ve had a lot of fantastic experiences. I’ve been very lucky.”

Season 3 of ‘Saving Grace’ returns Tuesday at 10 p.m. on TNT.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.


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