The Mary Sue Interview: Academy Award-Winner Helen Hunt On Her Sophomore Film Ride

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Helen Hunt has been in the industry since she was a teenager (Rollercoaster, anyone?), but she’s probably best know for her Emmy-winning role on Mad About You and her Oscar-winning role in As Good As It Gets. Since then, Hunt has starred in a number of films, earning a second Oscar nomination for The Sessions in 2013 while also becoming a mother. In 2007 she wrote, directed, and starred in the underrated dramedy Then She Found Me.

This week she opens her second film, Ride, about mother/career woman who follows her adult son to Venice after he quits college and takes up surfing (and re-ignites her love life with her surf teacher). Hunt spoke with us about the new film, surfing, and motherhood.

Lesley Coffin (TMS): I know you’ve done a surf movie before (Soul Surfer), but do you surf in your personal life?

Helen Hunt: No, but years ago, I was nine months pregnant and I saw this woman get out of the water with a surf board, take her child and start nursing. And I thought, that looks cool. So I eventually took a surf lesson and it was the worse experience and I crawled out of the water crying, saying “never again, never again.” But I thought about it and said “if I hate something that much, I should probably give it another try and write about it.” So in a funny way, that was sort of the seed of this movie. And then my boyfriend and I joked, let’s write a dumb comedy and call it Surf Mom. And then he got busy, but I still wanted to write it, but make it not so dumb. And I realized there might be something about a mother not sitting on the beach, watching her son surf, but getting in the water and doing it herself.

TMS: Writing and making this movie, did it make you interested in the sport?

Hunt: I am interested in the sport, but I didn’t get to take more surf lessons for the movie. But I spent a lot of time in the water, sometimes eight hours. I’m not as strong anymore, but for a second I was really, really strong. But I would come home shivering some days. I was fine in the water, but then would come home just wrapped in towels from exposure.

TMS: Well, the surf scenes look really cool and I understanding filming anything in the water is really difficult.

Hunt: Talking was the hardest; any time we had dialogue it was just a pain. But that was the ambition of the movie. There aren’t many indies which film as much in the water as we did, so I felt a little swagger for pulling it off. But it was really fun and we were just like a bunch of kids out there in the water flopping around.

New York

TMS: I was pleasantly surprised by the chemistry you had with Luke Wilson, because he seems like an unexpected choice to play your love interest. What made you cast him?

Hunt: I wanted every character to be very different from my character, and Luke is very different from me. He’s a little younger than me, and that seemed fun, especially after setting up that she hadn’t had sex is about a hundred years. Getting to roll around with Luke Wilson seemed like it would be fun for an audience to watch.

TMS: Did you feel the age difference between the characters an important detail?

Hunt: It was. It looked for a second like I wasn’t going to get him for the movie, and there were a couple of other actors who wanted to do it. But I didn’t want to give up on that detail. I wanted everything for my character to be completely different from her normal life. The last place she would be is Venice Beach, the last thing she would do is surf, and the last man she would end up in bed with is a 37-year-old surf teacher. That was the fun of the movie.

TMS: One of the big themes of the film is the need for moms to break away from their kids and start live their own lives. You daughter isn’t at the age of going out on her own yet, so where did the inspiration come from?

Hunt: It had more to do with how important it is as a mother to play, more so than breaking away. The empty nest aspect was a nice thing to have, because it gave the film a real time and place to exist in, but really it was about how you can’t let your kids be the only ones who play.

TMS: Is that something you’ve been conscious of as a mother?

Hunt: Definitely. I have to make time to get on my bike or climb a hill or play in the water or just go see a movie. I really think it is important that to be a good mother, you have get your own playtime in. So you aren’t cranky or resentful but joyful, and it’s important to model that behavior for my daughter. But really, it’s so I’m the best person I can be.

Hunt and Wilson

TMS: The difference between New York and Venice, CA is really important to the film. What visual choices did you make to stress that difference?

Hunt: In New York, we kind of pulled out all the color and filmed areas which were especially narrow and angular, so my character always looked like she was just squeezing in. We shot through a lot of doorways and picked big, tall vertical buildings in the city. And our DP wanted the movie to be in anamorphic, so when we got to Los Angeles, everything seemed even more spread out. That is when movie making is the most fun, when you write something and can use these arts and crafts to tell the story visually.

TMS: Was it harder or easier to make your second film on the budget you needed?

Hunt: I don’t know. I think people who met me during the first film didn’t think “is she responsible enough to make a movie?” But it may have been a little easier because they saw the first movie. The producers on this movie saw my first movie, really liked it, and I think that had a lot to do with their willingness to jump in.

TMS: You’ve acted in all the films and TV projects you’ve directed. Do you find it to be easier as an actress to direct yourself?

Hunt: Yes, although you certainly do miss something too, because you can’t just throw yourself into the role. It was hardest when I did the physical comedy, not having someone there to tell me if it worked and was funny. I just thought “what am I doing flopping in and out of the water without anyone telling me what to do?” But you also know the actor and director are on the same page when you are doing both, and that is one of the biggest challenges, especially when you have a small budget and short production schedule.

Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.

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