Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Independent Woman

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Independent Woman

Article excerpt

Byline: JASPER REES

Oscar-winning Holly Hunter is back with Thirteen, a tale of teenage sex, crime and self-mutilation written by a 13-year-old girl.

She tells Jasper Rees why she's happier when she stays away from the mainstream Holly Hunter is the most famous small film actress in the world.

This is not a reference to her height, though she is, undoubtedly, petite at 5ft 2in, even in the kitten heels she wore to the London premiere of her latest film, Thirteen. No, the thing about Hunter is that her renown rests almost entirely on her work in the independent sector. You can count the studio pictures she has made on the fingers of one hand, of which Broadcast Newswas easily the best, and that was back in 1987. The Coens' Raising Arizona, Cronenberg's Crash, Jane Campion's The Piano - for which she won her Oscar in 1994 - these are the indie films that define her.

To those we can now add Thirteen, a film with a minuscule budget, but a big heart. The truly remarkable thing about it is that Nikki Reed, who co-wrote (and acts in) the autobiographical story of one teenage girl falling under another's malign influence, was 13 when she took up her pen. Hunter plays the single mother who is powerless to quell a volcanic rebellion under her own roof that involves drugs, theft, sex and self-harm, plus industrial quantities of teenage rage. The scenes where her daughter Tracy, played by Evan Rachel Wood, opens her wrists with a razor are pretty much unwatchable.

In terms of finance, the project was getting nowhere until the script found its way to Hunter. 'I just thought, "Wow! What is this girl?",' she says in her lispy Georgian drawl. 'What would compel her to write a screenplay that's coming to me as an offer? I was actually pretty startled by her ability to translate an experience on to the page.

Within 48 hours, Hunter had signed, but not before beefing up her character, Melanie. 'The thing that I wanted to have in focus more was the triangle: the strength of the conflict between this lost daughter, the girl who leads her astray and a mother who represents a salvation had to remain in play at all times.' It is not often you hear of an actor influencing the script for artistic, rather than egotistical, reasons. But Hunter has an ear for dialogue. Just the one ear, mind - she lost use of the left one when she had mumps at nine, and focuses intensely when listening. Her fierce air of intelligence must explain why both Campion and James Brooks, director of Broadcast News, called off the hunt for tall actresses when they met Hunter.

'I have gotten several parts where they wanted somebody like Sigourney Weaver,' she has said. 'Then they got me.' The intensity would be a little scary if unleavened by self-deprecation.

And in her case, it's a gift.' It is clear she has definite views on the films she doesn't want to make. …

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