After what seems like a long hiatus from movies, Helen Hunt has returned in her own directorial debut, Then She Found Me, a low-budget story about a woman forced to cope with more than she’s probably equipped to handle — a divorce, pregnancy, a new romance, and the sudden reappearance of her birth mother.
Hunt, whose trademark flinty vulnerability was showcased in films like As Good As It Gets and on TV’s Mad About You, plays the lead role, April, with a remarkable lack of ego — she might be the centre of the story, but she never dominates the action, and the cast Hunt assembled around her has plenty of room to breathe. Hunt says she’s been trying to make the film for years, first with an eye to just doing the role of April, then letting someone else handle the part when she decided she wanted to direct.
“I always knew that my personality might very well be suited to directing,” Hunt tells me in a phone interview.
“But I also knew that it was too big and exhausting a job to do just to do, which was to say for the privilege of saying action and cut and bossing people around. It wasn’t worth it. But I knew that if I found a story that I had a real sense of authorship over and that I had something, a small but potent something that only I could say, then I would try to do it.”
In the end, she was forced to take on both acting and directing duties. After living with the character for so many years, it simply didn’t seem feasible to pass the burden of playing April on to someone else.
“The decision became logistical ... I don’t think I could have asked another actress to work 24 hours a day. I don’t think I had the time to download what I knew about this part into another person’s brain.”
Considering the budget restrictions, Hunt was able to pull together a stellar cast, with cameo roles by friends like Tim Robbins and Janeane Garofalo in addition to having actors like Matthew Broderick, Colin Firth and Bette Midler play her ex-husband, new love and birth mother respectively.
Their willingness to work on such a small project says a lot about the hunger for a human role in a decent script in Hollywood these days.
“I didn’t have money to pay them, so they must have responded to the story.
“If you think about the actors who worked on this, as much as we like to make money and be rewarded for what we do, there is a hunger to work on stories that speak to us that is obviously bigger than that. There’s no other reason why these people would have done it. I’m not that great a person that they would have just shown up for weeks at a time ’cause I’m nice.”