Hitting the 'Grace' Notes
Holly Hunter throws herself into her first TV series
"I wanted to play Grace, and I didn't want anyone else to play Grace," says Hunter, who got her wish. Her first series, "Saving Grace," premieres at 10 p.m. ET Monday (July 23) on TNT.
"It was that much of a private attraction that I had for the character," she continues. "That doesn't happen with me often, and I felt kind of privileged to feel it again. ... I could name [them] on a single hand in terms of my movie career. So that was what I went for."
Grace is an Oklahoma City detective who, when we first meet her, is having vigorous sex with a colleague. Though she's more than competent at her job, she also has a deeply ingrained self-destructive streak that manifests itself through heavy drinking, less-than-careful romantic entanglements -- her partner in that opening scene is a married fellow detective (played by Kenneth Johnson of "The Shield") -- and other bad behavior.
Things come to a head when, driving home after a night out, she runs over a man walking on the side of a deserted road. She appeals, to no one in particular, for help -- and gets it, in the form of an angel named Earl (Leon Rippy, "Deadwood").
"The relationship I have with Earl is very dynamic. In a way I think it's a relationship that's based on love," Hunter says. "I think what Earl wants for Grace is peace. I don't think he's particular about where she finds it -- it's just that where she's looking right now he doesn't feel he can give her that.
"And I think Grace wants Earl to just go away. She wants him to go away, except he's such a provocateur, such a provocative creature in her life. The exoticism of Earl is intriguing to Grace."
Hunter likens working on "Saving Grace" to making an independent film. The financial and ratings pressures on cable network are lower than at a broadcast network, and with those lower pressures comes more creative freedom.
"TNT said yes to Grace with [creator] Nancy Miller having written her several years ago, and it's been a fantastic, really uncensored journey they've taken with developing the character, up until the time I received the pilot with an offer," Hunter says. "It's been very courageous of TNT to nurture the character over the years and know that this is the uncompromised woman they wanted to bring to this project. They brought her whole to my doorstep, and I was impressed."
She's also digging the fact that she gets to work with the same people -- the cast also includes Laura San Giacomo ("Just Shoot Me"), Bokeem Woodbine ("City of Angels"), Bailey Chase ("Ugly Betty," "Las Vegas") and Gregory Norman Cruz -- multiple times, something she's coveted in her film career but hasn't had many chances to do.
"I've always wanted so badly to work with actors repeatedly because the intimacy you feel and the safety and comfort you feel with some actors is something you don't want to walk away from," she says. "That has come true for me in that it feels more like theater for me. It's like we're a repertory company. ...
"I really love these actors that share the show with me, and it's dynamite to get to do different stories every week with the same people. But I've got to tell you, it's a very unusual thing, because the stories are different. I can't describe it. I keep thinking I'm going to know the lines extremely well because I know all the people around me and I know Grace, and I'm in costumes I feel very comfortable in, but the lines are new. It's kinda funny."
Now that she's in, though, Hunter is liking what she's found.
"You have to be very spontaneous," she says. "You have to live a somewhat different life in front of the camera. You don't get two months to memorize your lines -- you might get a day. ... The creation is an entirely different process really ... but you can find an incredible amount of liberation in it.
"I think that's true. The day can take you, and the rhythm and the speed of shooting can be really intoxicating."