Holly Hunter has always exhibited a feistiness that is both irrepressible and irresistible. It was the quality that made her signature character, Jane Craig in “Broadcast News,” so charming. And just watch as her mama bear Beth takes on a heckler in “The Big Sick,” in theaters now.
In her new film, “Strange Weather,” Hunter stars as Darcy, a woman trying to make sense of her late son Walker’s (Ransom Ashley) suicide seven years after the fact. Hoping to get answers — and possibly mete out some justice — Darcy and her best friend Byrd (Carrie Coons) set out on a road trip to meet the man who may have stolen Walker’s business idea. That Darcy is willing to jeopardize her job, her friendships and even her ability to maintain a relationship with her on-again, off-again boyfriend (Kim Coates) is telling.
Hunter’s display of sass and pluck as she cajoles Walker’s former buddies and others for information is what makes her performance fun. But watching Hunter reacting to and absorbing some uneasy facts about her son in her single-minded pursuit for the truth is what makes “Strange Weather” so compelling. Moreover, a scene in which Darcy visits her ex-husband allows Hunter to perform a poignant monologue that will move viewers.
Holly Hunter is an emotional dynamo. She can make you laugh, make you afraid (Darcy packs heat), and move you, possibly to tears. The Oscar-winning actress does all of this in “Strange Weather.”
Hunter spoke to Salon about playing Darcy, a complicated woman full of fear and moxie, as well as road trips, grudges, and guns.
Darcy is motivated by triggers to investigate her son’s death. What motivates you to do something?
A variety of things. It can be a positive reinforcement that makes me feel more alive. Sometimes it’s to feel seen — that someone really knows me. Sometimes it’s fear. Fear can be a great motivator.
Can you talk about taking mama-bear roles — Darcy in “Strange Weather” and Beth in “The Big Sick,” who have strong feelings about their children.
I think that being a mother or a father affords people an incredible range of the greatest of human desires. But you’re talking about being a parent that can be anything from Medea to Donna Reed. There’s a beautiful range. In “Strange Weather” it’s too late for Darcy, and I think that the finality of that is haunting.
I agree! I see the film as a kind of ghost story; Darcy is haunted by her son’s suicide. What do you think she is really afraid of?
I think that there are many things to be afraid of. In this particular case, she’s afraid of her own self, and the future, and the past. I think that in a situation like that, there’s a tremendous amount of fear, and the inescapable . . . to feel imprisoned by one’s own life, which is what Darcy does in the case of this suicide. It embodies the idea that there’s no guarantee, and there are no known entities. What you thought you know you realize you don’t. She doesn’t want to grapple with it or move on. It’s easier to remain in this one fairly protected space.
Do you ever feel that you are stuck in a rut in your life?
I have no complaints. At the moment I have a tremendous amount of work, but it’s the way my career has gone. It’s a real working actor’s career. It has ebbs and flows. The rhythm of my career is the norm. There’s tremendous amount or work, or there’s little work. There’s something that a sparks a fire, or something that doesn’t. It’s a really normal career that I am privileged to have as a working actor.
You are known for playing feisty characters. What can you say about that being associated with that quality?
I think that I’ve really been attracted to playing these women. They have their own strengths. It’s coming from an original place. I’ve been drawn to women who have their own kind of original strength. There are not a lot of them written. It’s a more unusual thing to find, but I’ve been drawn to women who have a certain mystery, like Darcy.
We come to see in the film what’s important to Darcy. She wants justice for her son’s suicide. Can you talk about getting inside her mindset?
I think that it’s easier to seek revenge than come to terms with someone inside. Darcy thinks it was easier to take the conflict out than realize that the conflict is inside her. It’s easier to externalize these things. The gun was a beautiful symbol for taking it outside, and that there can be a real resolution. Final resolutions live inside guns. That’s an easier manifestation than living with something that doesn’t have — and you will never find — an answer. I think the mystery of that, and the difficulty with that, is why she finds it hard to live with.
What can you say about handling guns? You’ve also played cop roles in films like “Copycat.”
I think it demands great education and incredibly sober responsibility and caution. In this movie the gun is a male legacy, and I think that in that is an extraordinary resentment. Darcy is fully cognizant of the power: it’s the power of death.
Are you a grudge-holder like Darcy?
I think that’s a really destructive way to be. I work really hard not to do that. For me personally, it’s a real dead end. I like to be able to move through that particular kind of thing to forgiveness. Grudges take a tremendous amount of energy out of you. They are real soul-stealer. It’s not just hard on you, but also on the people around you. I’ve never been a big believer in grudges.
Have you ever struggled with a trauma to the degree that Darcy does?
Life is always dealing me things I don’t expect. Life is filled with the unexpected. I’ve dealt with loss and I’ve dealt with goodbyes, and death. But not this particular kind. I think death by suicide is a whole other experience that I can only imagine. I have friends who have experienced this particular kind of loss, and spoken with people and done reading and listened to people talk about this experience of living with it, and that’s what I had to go on to do it.
One of Darcy’s lines is “normal is overrated.” How have you worked towards not being “normal?”
I am drawn to being an actor, and that’s an extraordinary thing to be led by. Being an actor, I’ve always felt it demanded a certain exotic lifestyle. You’re always traveling; your life has an extremely unpredictable rhythm to it. You don’t know where you’ll be in two weeks, two years, two months. The on-the-road quality of my life has served me well. I’ve enjoyed the adventure. That, in itself, is not exactly what people will describe as normal.
Darcy also says “I’ve never been much of a planner.” Are you OCD, like Jane Craig in “Broadcast News,” who gives directions to taxi drivers, or are you more spontaneous?
I’m a normal mix of both. I’m a bit more laid back than either Jane Craig or Darcy. I’m on the drift.
Speaking of drifting, Darcy goes on a meaningful road trip in “Strange Weather.” What can you say about a road trip that you’ve taken that has been extremely meaningful for you?
All big road trips and driving across the country have a certain kind of iconic feel. You drive from one end of the U.S. to the other. I think the iconic road trips I’ve taken have involved being solo — which puts it in an iconic place in my memory or psyche — or, when I’ve done extended road trips using no freeways or expressways, so you really experience the towns you are going through.
Darcy tells herself stories about the life she wants to see. Do you think she is self-deceptive?
I think that death has affected Darcy in ways that are outside who she’s been, and in some ways she’s a new person because of this. In her life there will be a “before” and “after” the event of Walker’s death. In that unknown event is an unknown new person, and that is Darcy in this movie. Even her friends in some ways understand that, and they don’t understand who she is moment to moment — and neither does she. In some ways she feels liberated by that. As Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.” Darcy feels there’s nothing left to lose, so that, coupled with being on the road, can have a certain feeling of Kerouac — that generation of people who grew up thinking the road can free them.