By 1996, Candice Bergen had had enough. After five Emmy wins for lead actress in a comedy, the “Murphy Brown” star declined further nominations for the part. “Mad About You’s” Helen Hunt picked up her baton. And while NBC’s frank and honest sitcom about married life would eventually garner Hunt four Emmy wins — as well as launch her television directing career — she still cannot fathom why her co-star (and the series’ co-creator) Paul Reiser did not have the same luck with TV Academy voters. Hunt, who this season appeared onscreen in Fox’s “Shots Fired” and also directed episodes of FX’s “Feud” and NBC’s “This Is Us,” reflects on that win for Variety.
The first thing you did when you won your Emmy in 1996 was thank Candice Bergen “for her generosity of spirit.”
Well, the year before she said she thought Helen Hunt would win. She teed me up and then made sure it would happen, so really it’s her sixth Emmy, not my first Emmy.
You seemed prepared. You brought a sheet of paper with you to the stage.
Here’s what I know: When I have been in these situations, I’m so nervous and co-dependent that I have to write names down. And then I’m so mortified at the hubris that that displays that I either write it so small that I can’t read it or squeeze it so tight in my sweaty palm that I can’t read it.
It’s a lot of crushing so no one will see it and then being too shy to look at it. And then always leaving somebody out. I’d like a do-over where I worry about everyone else less.
Did you calm down as the years went on and you continued to win?
I wouldn’t say I calmed down, no. It’s not conducive to calm, that experience. First of all, you’re on your tiptoes on stage, which doesn’t relax you. You’re in a wool suit if you’re a man and a nightgown if you’re a woman. It’s cold usually. And you’re going to be in front of millions of people. None of those add up to calm.
You spoke of your love for your co-star, Paul Reiser, and you even dragged him onstage with you when you were in the press room after you won.
I think I said some of the times that I won that beautiful award that it was really one performance and I really felt that way. There’s no way to like Paul’s performance more than mine or mine better than his. It was really one performance. I got to have those moments onstage, but they were at least half his for sure.
He never won, which is super stupid.
You started directing when you were on “Mad About You.” Was that an important switch for you?
I always knew that if I wanted to build up mileage [as a director], this would be the place to do it. The crew was on my team and Paul was on my team. And I had great mentors who worked with me: my dad, [director Gordon Hunt], who won a DGA award for directing the show, and David Steinberg and Michael Lembeck.
The first episode I directed, the guest star was Sydney Pollack. It was sort of funny to have one of the best directors on the show and I was supposed to tell him where to stand.