Actress Holly Hunter, who just turned 60, is always on the prowl for new things to do

The actress, who turned 60 in March, is always searching for something new and shows no signs of wear and tear

Actress Holly Hunter lends her voice again to the wallop-packing Elastigirl in The Incredibles 2.
Actress Holly Hunter lends her voice again to the wallop-packing Elastigirl in The Incredibles 2.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • In 2004, Holly Hunter punched her way into The Incredibles, the Pixar-Disney superhero film that grossed about US$630 million worldwide and won an Oscar for best animated feature.

Fourteen years later, she is back in Incredibles 2, now showing to rave reviews, and displaying no signs of wear and tear.

As the ultra-bendy, wallop-packing Elastigirl - undercover identity: Helen Parr, wife of Bob and mother of Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack - Hunter acts and sounds as if all the previous super-excitement happened but a minute ago, in a scenario that picks up where the original film ended. Albeit revved up with an eye-popping costume, a mid-century modern mansion and an enviably sleek motorcycle.

Incredibles 2 gives Helen a feminist storyline that boots her into the field to fight crime and re-legitimise superheroes, while leaving her hubby, played by Craig T. Nelson, at home to tend to chores and kids. Including their infant's nascent superpowers.

It also keeps Hunter - who broke through in 1987 with the Coen brothers' Raising Arizona before winning a 1994 Oscar for The Piano; she was also nominated for Broadcast News (1987), The Firm (1993) and Thirteen (2003) - in the spotlight.

More recently, she has played the mother of an ailing graduate student with a Pakistani-American romantic interest in The Big Sick (2017), and a mother embarking on a great experiment with four children of different races, three of them adopted, in HBO's now-cancelled Here And Now.

In a telephone interview from New York, the famously private Hunter spoke about Elastigirl's latest incarnation, the state of her career and a milestone birthday while talking about her family - "I shall neither confirm nor deny the existence of my children" - and even the neighbourhood she lives in.

Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Where do we find the Parr family this time?

I think it's so funny that the movie starts 30 seconds after the first one ends.

I also think that it's a fun thing that there is such a revelation at the end of the first Incredibles, with our child Jack-Jack, who manifests his superpowers 30,000 feet up in the air with the bad guy.

We don't know that he has superpowers, so at the beginning of Incredibles 2, the parents are still in the dark about what that youngest son is capable of.

Elastigirl gets a storyline perfectly suited to the current zeitgeist. Does the director, Brad Bird, have crystal-ball superpowers?

Yeah, the timing is rather impeccable. This was obviously a long time coming, so Brad was thinking about what story he wanted to tell, where he wanted the family to evolve to. We're just lucky.

But it's a wonderful thing because Mrs Incredible, in the first movie, was a real reluctant hero. She was into being a mother and loved the domestic life.

So this is really fun - to see her revel in her autonomy, in her independence, in her own kind of private life. It is a room of one's own for Mrs Incredible.

What about the improvements in the animation?

The articulation that the animators have at their disposal is, yeah, the word is radical.

I remember when we were doing The Incredibles, that they were having an unbelievably challenging time trying to figure out how to make Violet's hair move so she could hide behind it.

It was, animation-wise, uncharted territory and so they had to solve that.

Now, I think that's nothing. One of the amazing things about Pixar is that the animators have full carte blanche to create.

It's not like they are mirroring what I do or what Craig T. Nelson does or Samuel Jackson (he plays Frozone, Bob Parr's best friend who can form ice). The world is their oyster and they are exploiting it.

Here And Now, the series created by Alan Ball, was not renewed after its first season. At any point, did you have a sense of foreboding?

Alan is a real artist and when we all took Here And Now, it was based on the pilot and Alan.

So, there was nothing known about where the story was going to progress. That was a discovery process for the actors. In no way did I ever feel that for whatever reasons, the series would not be picked up. I totally thought that it would.

Are you actively searching for something new?

Always. Always on the hunt. I live up to my last name, but you know, my last name could also be Drifter.

Instead of a Hunter-Gatherer, I'm a Hunter-Drifter. I get stuff and I normally say no to stuff and, at the same time, that's a bit of a crap shoot. It's not like you're getting a royal flush very often. You work with what you've got.

You turned 60 in March. How's that?

I'm certainly aware of my mortality in a way that I wasn't when I turned 50.

You've moved one step closer. It's like wow, it's a big chapter. And at the same time, I feel that there's a lot of power that women have available to them now in a way that maybe we never had.

Granted, we're operating at a deficit - and a steep deficit - just in terms of how many roles there are for women, how many studio executives are women, how many directors, how many grips, gaffers - you know, we're heavily deficient in all of those areas.

At the same time, I feel hopeful. I don't feel utterly foolish for the hopefulness because I think strides are being made.

A 2013 Atlantic story was titled, 20 Years After The Piano, We've All Failed Holly Hunter, about the lack of leading roles that have come your way. Do you feel like we've failed you?

I mean, I can't comment on another article. You would have to ask the public. I think that's a question for the public and I'm interested in hearing what they have to say.

There are also rumours of your "resurgence". Are you riding a comeback?

It makes sense that people think about a career in those terms.

There are exceptions and those exceptions are the people whom the public are most familiar with, where you're talking about people who are almost superstars.

But for the rest of us - and I certainly include myself in that group - I'm a working actress and so there are times, when, yes, I'm unemployed and, yes, I do things that don't take off, that maybe they don't even reach an audience.

Doing movies that don't get distribution is something that's not uncommon in the industry at this moment. Or if I do a play, I kind of fall out of the greater public consciousness.

A lot of people wouldn't have seen any of these projects and, therefore, can feel that I'm not working or I've got a lower profile.

But the fact is, I'm still answering whatever challenges that those particular projects present to me.

I'm still going. I'm still working and I've still got a process that's happening. I'm still the little engine that could.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2018, with the headline 'Holly Hunter on the prowl'. Subscribe