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Sunday Conversation with... Holly Hunter

The legend “The end is near” looms over Sunset Boulevard on a billboard bearing a portrait of Holly Hunter. It’s a clever allusion to the last season of her TNT series, “Saving Grace,” which premieres Monday, and the title character’s struggles with an angel sent by God to change her path as a freewheeling pleasure-seeker. Hunter, 52, an Oscar winner who lives in New York with actor Gordon MacDonald and their 4-year-old twin boys when she’s not filming in L.A., plays Grace Hanadarko, a dedicated Oklahoma City detective whose life is fraught with hard drinking and promiscuity.

Let’s start with the cancellation. Did that take a lot of people by surprise?

It took all of us by surprise because the ratings have been great, but this is stuff I haven’t really kept track of -- DVD sales, the foreign numbers. It’s such a truly, truly American show, but my concerns are always more personal and private. I have no desire to think about making it more palatable to anyone other than myself. What’s the best way to serve this material, not what’s the best way to serve a global market?

Having said that, I have always seen this character as being kind of a freight train. She is hurtling toward her destination. So when we found out, we were still shooting. Then the episodes we had left -- we had six left -- were geared toward the end, which was gratifying for me.

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Because you knew what your destination would be.

And Grace has always been headed toward her destination. She’s been heading somewhere recklessly, in extreme, but she’s going somewhere, and it was great for me to have the end zone in sight. It was time to sculpt the end of the story.

I’ve read that all of your characters reflect some side of you. What side of you is Grace?

I think that Grace is part of my imagination, and she’s also part of my own experience. She’s part of other people’s experiences that I’ve borrowed, that I’ve observed, that I wanted to incorporate.

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As opposed to who you are.

It’s fun to see something and be inspired by it -- a moment, just a second. I was watching “The Bicycle Thief,” and there was a moment that caught me on fire, and I thought I’d like to use some of that in the work tomorrow. My stolen things from “The Bicycle Thief” or Charlie Chaplin or the Marx Brothers or anybody I’ve ever stolen from would never be perceived as that. It comes out an entirely different thing.

Does Grace ever do things that Holly would like to but wouldn’t dare?

There’s a longing in Grace, and she’s a dreamy girl, but she’s dreamy only in the moment. Her life is very now without a lot of reflection for the past or for the future. She has had constant awakening throughout the course of the show, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed who she is. She is who she is. And that’s something I’ve wanted to protect. I didn’t want Grace to become born again.

Why?

I once was lost, and now I’m found. That wasn’t interesting to me. Other things were much more interesting. The essence of you and the essence of me is not going to change, and to bring that essence all the way through is a beautiful thing.

I understand you aren’t religious, which I thought was interesting. Were you quoted correctly?

I’m not religious. I’m not an atheist. Would I say I’m an agnostic? Possibly. But I would say the collective unconscious is something I’m much more interested in. I believe that there is good. I believe there is evil. Do I believe that they come from God who is watching us conduct myriad never-ending wars and looks benignly on because there’s higher purpose to all of this? I don’t think so. Am I going to go to heaven or hell when I die? No. Is there going to be a second coming and people are going to be stricken down? I find all that exclusionary.

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So what’s next for you? This is Hollywood, so I assume you want to direct. Will you be on “Dancing With the Stars”?

No, I’m not going to work. I really would love to take a big break and not be photographed, not perform.

I read that in 10th grade, you placed eighth nationally in a poultry-judging contest. Do you have any tips for us?

That was 4-H. I grew up on a farm. The worst-looking chickens are the best layers. The ones that are the scraggliest . . . those are usually the ones that are really cooking.

calendar@latimes.com


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