Long, tousled and Rapunzelesque, Holly Hunter’s formidably feminine locks deserve mention as supporting actors in their own right, as they regularly serve to soften and add depth to her typically feisty characters.
But examine her repertoire and you’ll discover there’s much more to the 5-foot-nothing Hunter than long hair and cojones. Masterfully malleable, Hunter is the ideal blank canvas, slipping easily from a period bonnet, fingerless gloves and looped braids (in “The Piano”) to talonlike nails and a suburban perm (in “The Firm”) and a fetishy square bob and pantyhose (in David Cronenberg’s “Crash”). Quirky, intense and physical, Hunter is a covert chameleon whose myriad physical guises are as eclectic as the roles she plays.
“When Billie Beat Bobby” (2001)
Foot-Forward Feminist Mullet
Holly Hunter is virtually unrecognizable in this 2001 TV biopic about the 1973 tennis match between court star Billie Jean King and middle-aged champ Bobby Riggs. To authentically portray BJK, the actress ditched her regular mane in favor of a mullet wig and Palm Springs-style visor teamed with pastel tennis tunics, enormous vintage glasses and lapels. Her naturally toned and wiry frame added to the believability of this period look, an authentic slice of 1970s feminist history.
Was it the conservative business suit teamed with black-leather driving gloves? Or maybe the way she caressed her sheer black pantyhose or clutched Rosanna Arquette’s prosthetic leg in the back seat of a convertible? In David Cronenberg’s “Crash,” Holly Hunter’s uneasy blend of propriety and deviance revealed another facet to her sex appeal, one in which a dowdy helmet bob (reminiscent of Vogue editor Anna Wintour’s iconic ‘do) masks her self-destructive urges.
“Saving Grace” (2007)
Blond Flower-Child Braids
For her TV role as Grace, a tough-as-nails Oklahoma City police detective subject to the occasional angelic visitation, Hunter uses her flowing locks to full effect, contrasting her character’s forceful demeanor with blond flower-child braids that hint at vulnerability and softness within. Hunter has said she specifically requested the braided style because of its association with tradition and classic femininity.
“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000)
Sunday-Best Southern Matriarch
Here Hunter plays Penny, a pursed-lipped, Depression-era mother of seven who sports sensible calf-length frocks and tucks her tresses beneath a series of rather prim straw cloche hats. Her mouselike appearance serves to contast the obvious truth — that she’s the one wearing the pants in the relationship with her caddish hubby.
“A Life Less Ordinary” (1997)
Locked-and-Loaded Bounty Hunter
In Danny Boyle’s gonzo romance, Hunter plays a glamorous angel-slash-bounty hunter in danger of being banished to Earth unless she can bring together the most hapless couple imaginable. Her comically clipped, deadpan delivery is accentuated by high-fashion-meets-Wall-Street costumes — pointed shoulder pads and power suits accented with an enormous beret perched atop her flowing hair — all of which add extra stiffness to a character who clearly has no inkling of what love is.
“The Incredibles” (2004)
Soccer Mom Bob
Pixar’s “The Incredibles” was animated, but one could easily have imagined Hunter, who voiced Elastigirl, playing the role onscreen. A superhero turned average American, Elastigirl’s purposely “normal” soccer mom bob is so suburban, so cliched, it of course hints at the frustration and chaos that seethe within — themes Hunter relishes.