The phrase “passion project” gets thrown around a lot in Hollywood, but in television, where even the brightest ideas can lose luster in the grind of a weekly series, passion like Holly Hunter’s can be hard to sustain.
But as the Academy Award-winning actress (“The Piano”) returns to TNT next week for Season 2 of “Saving Grace,” an offbeat drama in which she plays an Oklahoma City police detective named Grace Hanadarko, Hunter sounds more in love with her character than ever.
In the seven-month hiatus between seasons, she admits having missed Grace, who drinks and smokes and sleeps around, and whose secrets include childhood sexual abuse and a rumpled guardian angel named Earl (Leon Rippy).
“I’m completely in love with her,” Hunter said.
In a phone interview, she talked about the joy of (portraying) sex on television, our culture’s need for stories and why the mere idea of a clean and sober Grace is kind of beside the point.
A year ago, you were talking about Grace as a woman “who kind of revels in literally being alive.” And there was a lot of that in Season 1, but we also discovered some reasons why reveling might be harder for her than other people. Given all the things that happen to her in just the Season 2 premiere, do you see Grace changing this season?
I don’t think that anything is going to change. You know, I think reveling in life, that’s the fuel that she runs on literally. I think that’s how she digests her food and drink. It comes out with this full-on immersion in the absolute large events and minutiae of her life.
I think that this is the great thing about Grace. I think she loves that first cup of coffee, I think she loves that first drag of the smoke in the morning. I think she loves to feed her dog, you know, and she imagines what it’s like for him to not have the food. She’ll withhold it and she’ll give it to him and have a little game.
I think that so much of Grace’s connective tissue is fascinating to her, from, like, taking a shower and entertaining her next-door neighbor while she’s doing it to being fully engaged in the seemingly boring details of cop work - the footwork of being a cop. I just think it’s all really passionately felt by her.
Do you think that’s something she came with, or is it influenced by what’s happened to her?
Something like that is in someone’s DNA. You’re kind of born with a certain amount of that. And then as you get older, you know, the people that I encounter ... in my real life - I see people who are really enjoying their lives. I mean, really enjoying their lives, and they take joy in their daily obligations, they just do. And I believe that at a certain point, you’ve got to choose to be that way. You choose to approach your life that way. Or it’s all kind of a drag until Friday. And Grace is definitely not the drag-till-it’s-Friday girl.
This is probably redundant, but what’s your favorite part of playing this character?
I know I’ve said this before, but I love the exploration of her sexuality, because it’s such a rare opportunity. It’s something that we don’t see an expression of in the kind of cultural landscape of movies. And it’s something that me, and a whole bunch of other actresses, have never really gotten a chance to explore. The real intimacy of it.
You know, that’s something that I find fascinating and it was one of my hooks into the pilot, is that that was the introduction of her, as a fully sexually, realized creature. We’ll explore more of that as Season 2 goes on as well.
But intimacy - is she really intimate with all these people?
I think Grace is a really intimate woman. Because in a way, if you’re fully engaged with giving your dog a bowl of food, if you’re fully engaged with that, and then your nephew comes over and you’re fully engaged with (him) ... you’re a giver of gifts, of your own life, I think that’s nothing but intimate.
And I think in a way she intimately engages with perpetrators, I think intimately engages with crime.
She intimately engages with her partner. She intimately engages with wanting to have fun, wanting to have a laugh.
If you were to look ahead some number of seasons to this show’s ending, would it involve a Grace who was clean, sober and reasonably happy?
This is not about like becoming clean and sober. I mean ... that’s not the motivation. I think the motivation is more complex than that.
And also - clean and sober is, I think, naming Grace in a way that she defies identification. I don’t think she’s easily identifiable.
She slips under that kind of self-help pop psychology of our time. You know what I’m saying?
We’re doing something else ... You go to the bookstore and, like I said, the fiction section’s just getting smaller and the Psychology 101, the self-help, biography, the autobiography, those things are growing.
How to fix your life, how to lose weight, how to get a lover, how to, you know, eat better, how to not be depressive, how to say no, how to say yes - I mean everybody’s out there telling us how to do it and what’s wrong with us, and every single aspect of us has a name, and it’s generally a disorder, and I kind of feel that I’m so interested in Grace as a creature, as a lover of what it means to be human ... and that to me, defies easy description.
Grace pushes past a lot of people’s boundaries. When it comes to her more outrageous behavior, who’s pushing harder, you or (show creator) Nancy Miller?
Nancy brought me with an offer of the pilot. When I read the first scene, I went wow, this is a piece of fiction, and this woman is wrought of fiction that I find tantalizing. This is a completely seductive landscape for me. This is a seductive universe, because it is fiction, and I so love the departure.
You know, I love autobiography, I love biography, but I feel that my world, you know, the 24-hour news cycles?
I feel our world is so steeped in biography. And I long for - I have such a hunger for fiction ... to take a leap as an audience member, to take a leap as a reader, into the heart of darkness, or into a fantastical world ... What are we capable of?
We see all these terrible things and great things that people can do, you know, from Special Olympics to serial killers to whatever ...
It’s a fantastic mirror to us to engage with art, to engage with paintings that are about tragedy, to go see Shakespearean comedies, to read a Greek play ... We have always investigated the lightness and darkness of the human soul, in all these forms. So why not do it on television?