You might say Helen Hunt has been raising two babies for the past few years: her three-year-old daughter and her new movie, Then She Found Me, which she directed, produced, co-wrote and starred in. After several decades of acting, this is Hunt’s first time behind a movie camera, and it hasn’t been an easy road. From securing financing to writing the screenplay, the film has been ten years in the making.
Hunt plays a thirty-nine-year-old woman who reconnects with the biological mother who abandoned her at birth. At the same time, she’s leaving her husband and dating a single father. We sat down with a small group of journalists to talk to Hunt about the trials of wearing so many hats. – Mina Hochberg
So, this is your baby?
Well, I have a redheaded person at the park right now. I used to be able to say that this film is like my baby. But really, as much as it meant to me, it’s hard to hold up to her. But it certainly, over the ten-year period it took to make it, became closer and closer to me.
How did you manage? You were acting, you were directing, and you were also mommying.
I had help. I had three grandparents who were willing to come here. It was the hottest summer on record in New York City while I was preparing for this movie. So I would have her in Battery Park by 6:45, because by eight it was dangerously hot. Her skin is this color [points to her fair skin] and her hair is this color [points to her fair hair], so she could not be outside. I would play with her for a while, go out and have a meeting, come back and put her down for a nap, go out for another meeting, put her to bed, have a meeting at ten o’clock. We had such a small budget that we only had six weeks. That was awful in a lot of ways, but for her I knew that the real hiccup would be six weeks long, and that seemed, with the help of some grandparents, like something I could stand.
Why was it so hard to get financing?
I don’t know. Some people said, “Well, is it a comedy or a drama? Is it a little movie or a big movie?” Of all the things I was insecure about, I was never worried about the tone. I know that my own life is funny one minute and really upsetting the next, so I was never worried that the two could co-exist.
You hadn’t planned on starring in the movie, originally. What made you decide you wanted to play this character?
The first thing was logistical. Colin Firth had three weeks at the beginning and Bette Midler gave us three weeks at the end, and Matthew [Broderick] broke his collarbone so he had to come late. If I had had another actress who had any needs at all, I couldn’t have made it in twenty-seven days. And then as a director, I thought of a few other wonderful actresses who would have been great, but I’d seen them in parts like this and I had never seen myself play this part. I know when I go to a movie, I like seeing actors I know play parts I haven’t seen. So I gave myself the role.
Did you find that being an actor was helpful in your direction?
I did. I know what bad direction feels like and how it just makes you feel self-conscious, so I could at least avoid that. I knew the whole story really well and I knew what pieces were important, so I did the best I could to communicate it to the actors in a language that I would wanna hear if I were them.
What was it like working with the kids in the movie?
I auditioned them and I found it excruciating, but I also knew that one bad line reading by a kid can ruin a movie. I don’t know, I didn’t feel very comfortable. But the kids who walked in wanted to be there. Maybe that was the difference – it wasn’t some mom dragging them in. They were excited to be part of a movie, so that helped. And the little girl gave a great audition and looked like Colin, so it was perfect.
You and Matthew Broderick [read Babble’s interview with him here] worked together on a movie twenty years ago, Project X. What was it like to be reunited with him on a set?
I’ve been friendly with him all this time, so mostly it was nice just to have a supportive, friendly face there.
What’s next for you?
I wrote another movie that I will direct and act in, though I’m so tired by the thought of it now that I don’t know if I will. Or someone will come in and give me a really good part in something, and I’ll be able to put it away and not think about it for a while.
As a mother, do you try to do projects that are near home?
So far I’ve been mostly home. I haven’t had that [experience] where it’s like, “Okay, it’s four months in Prague! Pick up your life and go!” I don’t feel that thing that a lot of actors have, like, “We’ll be fine, we’ll just be gypsies, and we’ll jump on a plane.” She probably would be fine, but it makes me really nervous to break up our little routine.