Leading ladies in Emmy contention

Holly Hunter has always excelled at playing strong, larger-than-life women.

She won the Oscar for her indelible portrayal of a mute widow in “The Piano,” took no prisoners in “Broadcast News,” “The Firm” and “Thirteen” (three more Oscar-nominated perfs) and won Emmys for her inspired turns in “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom” and “Roe vs. Wade.”

Now the star happily has her hands full dealing with Grace Hanadarko, the tortured title character of TNT’s drama “Saving Grace,” which returns for a second season July 14. The hard-living and self-destructive Oklahoma City police detective with a pesky guardian angel and a bit of a drinking problem “immediately appealed” to Hunter.

“Saving Grace” marks the TV series debut of the Georgia-born star whose career spans three decades and who began acting in high school.

“I’ve been offered TV series my entire career, since way back when I did ‘Broadcast News,’ and it wasn’t like, well, I’m in my 40s, perhaps it’s time to consider a series now,” she explains. “I just couldn’t say no to being Grace, who was a fully experiential creature living this alternative, singularly kind of uncivilized existence, and who was also the heart of every conflict. That was wildly attractive to me.”

Hunter is also quick to agree that today’s TV dramas are often far more daring and creative than feature films.

“Just look at the show and the full arc of Grace,” she notes. “Last season I got to do 13 hours of a character, and that’s 11 hours more than I’ve ever gotten to do with any character I’ve ever played in a movie. So it’s an incredible opportunity, and the life of the character is so broad-ranging that, yes, it’s far more fulfilling than any work I’ve done in movies in the last few years.

“Take for example ‘Thirteen,’ which I loved doing. I loved the movie, but I probably only had 15 days of work total, and that was it. By contrast, I worked on “Grace” for five solid months last year, and this year I’ll work for seven solid months, and that’s incredibly enriching.”

Favorite scene: “That’s very tough for me to say as I don’t really think that way. It’s like top 10 lists and stuff like that.”

What you like most about your character: “I love that she’s managed to remain extremely close to her intuitive nature, and that gets bred out of us, either by society or our own cultural ethics or by our family. This character has no real sensibility about what’s taboo. She wants what she wants, and generally she wants everything.”

TV guilty pleasure: “There’s no TV show that I have to see. I don’t even have a TV right now! But I’m crazy about tennis. One year I couldn’t go to the U.S. Open and the only way I could see it was on TV, so I got cable just so I could watch.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more