Holly Hunter says she loved playing Beth in the hit comedy of the year, The Big Sick. The film is based on the real-life relationship of Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, focusing on how the couple first met and how a life-threatening illness changed both their lives. Nanjiani and Gordon had split up, but their love was rekindled when she took ill and he rushed back to her bedside to help nurse her back to health. In the meantime, he had to deal with her parents and his own. Hunter plays Emily’s mother, a role that was not an impression of Gordon’s mother, but one written for and tailored around Hunter.
Hunter says she enjoyed her experience on this film because of the rehearsal period that allowed her to understand her character as well as form a relationship with her co-stars. Working alongside Ray Romano, Judd Apatow, and Michael Showalter, Hunter was liberated.
I had a quick sit-down with Hunter to talk The Big Sick and her excitement about the return of The Incredibles.
What have the past few weeks been like for you?
It’s always wonderful to have a movie that connects where the audience finds it and the audience finds them. I think for this movie there’s a simplicity of story that Emily and Kumail went for that in a way, this one man’s life and his engagement with this one very narrow window of time. I think that singular focus that he and Emily placed on the script and story was such a beautiful thing because I think people connect with the movie in so many different ways because of that. There are so many different by-products and offshoots from the movie that the movie didn’t go to get, it just organically happened.
You’ve not worked with Ray Romano before but you two had such great chemistry. Talk about working with him.
That’s something that happens or it doesn’t. There’s not a lot you can do about it. I had never met Ray before this project. He brings such musical intelligence to his comedy. He’s so quick-witted and effortless in how he does his comedy and stand up in his performances. I was so happy that we got lucky and there was this ease between how we worked.
What was it like for you reading this script as you’re reading their story and you’re playing Emily’s mother?
Sometimes I spend as much time with the person as I possibly can. In this case, I didn’t have a conversation with her mother because they had heavily fictionalized the couple. Emily’s parents in the film were furthest from the reality of any characters in the film. Ray felt that way too, neither one of us pursued that particular kind of research.
I spoke to Emily and Kumail, they said they wrote the characters based on the casting. So on that basis, did you have any input into the character?
I think the biggest research that we did as a cast was to spend a tremendous amount of time together in rehearsal. A lot of movies don’t have rehearsal, this one had a lot. We spent hours hanging out, reading the script, taking scenes apart, taking things out, putting new stuff in and re-reading it. That was a real process we went through because of Judd Apatow and Michael Showalter.
What was the on-set atmosphere like?
It was effortless. I think because of the fact we spent so much time together in rehearsal. When we were shooting it went quickly because we knew the tone of each scene. There were scripted parts and there was room to improv.
What was it like for you, having that flexibility?
There was a tremendous freedom. We’d try different things. I thought that the looseness was thanks to [director Michael] Showalter because he is a stand-up comic and he’s done a lot of TV. You understand there’s a lot of different ways to do something. There’s not necessarily one right way, there are a bunch of ways and that freedom was great.
What, aside from the heckling scene was fun to shoot?
When Emily woke up in the hospital. It was fun to have Zoe Kazan who is such a wonderful actress, wake up from that coma. To have her be alive and well, and it was so electrifying that those scenes were so much fun.
What did Emily’s mother say to you once she saw it?
She was so charming and over the moon. We met them at the LA premiere and it was nothing but a delight.
I met Kumail’s parents and it really was such a huge celebration for these two families. They’re so tight and very much together.
What kind of things do you look for in a role now?
I look for something that I enjoy reading. Is it involving and interesting to me? The director is also of interest to me. Do I find myself saying the lines out loud because I connect with the character. Those are things that connect with me.
We have The Incredibles 2 to look forward to in 2018.
I get to work with Brad Bird who is a genius. I think his conception of this sequel is going to be amazing. It’s been more fun doing the second one. I’m so excited about the story and what he’s doing. The reason he took so long was that he didn’t want to tell a story unless he had one.