Holly Hunter is one of our most acclaimed and versatile actresses, with credits like Blood Simple, The Firm, The Piano (for which she won an Oscar), Broadcast News, Crash, Raising Arizona, Thirteen, The Big Sick and many others to her illustrious credit.
In 2004 she took on her first voiceover role, portraying Helen Parr/Elastigirl in writer/director Brad Bird’s Pixar classic, The Incredibles. An outstanding superhero movie (and a sly deconstruction of the genre) as well as a groundbreaking effort for Pixar, The Incredibles went on to become one of the studio’s most successful and acclaimed movies — leading to many calls over the years for a sequel.
It took 14 years, but Bird finally had a story he wanted to tell for Incredibles 2 and the film at last is here, with Hunter, Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr), Samuel L. Jackson (Frozone) and the rest of the returning and new cast delivering another funny, moving, action-packed and smart take on both the superhero genre and the family comedy/drama.
This time out, Elastigirl takes the lead as a billionaire telecommunications mogul and Incredibles fan named Winston Deaver (Bob Odenkirk) wants to make superheroes legal and sends Elastigirl on a series of missions designed to change their public perception — while Bob/Mr. Incredible stays home with the kids. But a new villain named the Screen Slaver may imperil them all. Den of Geek had the chance to speak with Holly Hunter about Helen’s journey in this film, coming back to the Incredibles and more.
Den of Geek: How did it feel to come back to this after 14 years? Did it feel like yesterday?
Holly Hunter: Yeah, I think because we each recorded this with Brad only, that being back in the recording studio with Brad again after 14 years of life had transpired, and the beautiful success of the first movie, there were all these things that kind of enhanced the setup for it to feel really great.
It’s always fun to revisit a situation that had real success, you know artistically and audience wise. And I think I just felt like I knew things about Brad, and Brad knew me. There was a real comfort level in starting to record this movie with him. Everything in the first one was unknown for me, especially for the actors, because we didn’t really know the story, there was no Incredibles, we didn’t know what these people looked like. It was a new world. I’d never done an animated movie. So, yeah it was fun to come back to this.
How did he describe what Elastigirl’s journey would be, this time?
I knew that Elastigirl was going to go out and that Mr. Incredible was going to stay at home with the kids. That was explained, but I guess how, how much that she revels in her gift was revealed more and more as we recorded. So, that was really, it was kind of the blossoming of the character.
She was groundbreaking 14 years ago. Does she feel even more relevant now?
Well I think serendipitously we do have this movement but in some ways I feel she is meeting her adolescent self, this real young self, like when she gets on the motorcycle and she’s like “I also had a mohawk, you didn’t know that.” This whole kind of throwback to a person that she once was, when she was riding bikes and feeling invincible, and she’s that way again.
But now she’s a mother, she has all this history, she has all this life experience. She’s adding to the mix and to the power and the powerful mind that she has. We see through the course of this movie how powerfully she can objectively solve problems in a way that is very cool. She’s got a really cool head. Mr Incredible is much more hot headed, and she approaches these kind of risky situations from a real kind of objectivity that I think is fun to see. That’s who she is.
It’s a great moment when the Deavers say they want to send her out on missions because the analysis shows that she creates less collateral damage when she goes out than Mr. Incredible.
Definitely in this situation it’s totally true. But I think that the finer point of that is that there’s something mathematical about how she approaches problem solving as a super that I found delectable and mysterious. There’s something mysterious, there’s a mystique about her, about that mathematical mind. That coolness. It was fun to discover.
You were around the live action superhero genre a bit when you did Batman v Superman. Is it fun to do your own superhero movie but not have to stand in front of the green screens and get into the motion capture rig? You just go into a voice booth and do it all in there.
Well my experience with Batman v Superman was so funny because I wasn’t doing any of the superhero stuff, but I was surrounded by all of this money, (laughs) so much money. I would go have a costume fitting and I’d be in this airplane hangar of costumes, just for the movie. Rows and rows and rows of shoes and endless amounts of clothes. That was unusual for me, because I normally do lower budgets. But with Incredibles, Brad is like “the helicopter is going down, it’s going down, and action!” That’s fine.
When you do the action scenes, if Elastigirl is on her motorcycle or stretching herself atop a speeding train, is Brad telling you exactly how the action is supposed to play out when you’re in the vocal booth?
Yeah, and you’re thinking, “Okay, this sequence, you’ve got to pull the train back…” so it’s like okay, this is maximum exertion. So normally we would do those kinds of sequences at the end of the session because I literally would have no voice at the end. I mean, the next day, after I would do the Incredibles, would be a day of recovery, vocally, because I was just shot. But it also is fun to get like that, to a degree, even ig it’s also slightly painful (laughs).
Brad was asked why he set this movie right after the first one, and he said he wanted to continue to explore this family’s dynamic at the same age as the first movie…
But if you do more of them, would you be interested in having her relate to the kids at an older age, when they’re in college or Jack Jack is a pre-teen or something like that?
I’m just thinking about people hooking up with this movie and that I hope they do. The rest is out of my jurisdiction.
I’m curious what films people ask you about the most when if you meet fans or people recognize you on the street, because you’ve done such a wide range of things.
The Incredibles is a movie that people mention, that they happen to mention a lot. Top of the Lake was something that I did in New Zealand with Jane Campion again and people love Top of the Lake. It’s really whatever is coming out at that moment, because the public awareness of things that are coming down the pipe is higher than it used to be. At the same time, the life span can be shorter, because there’s so much content, there’s so many things out there for people to absorb, so many new shows, so many movies, that it tumbles out and then tumbles past.
But when you have something like The Incredibles, it has a certain imprimatur. There’s something indelible about where this movie lives, because people were raising their children and they go see The Incredibles. Or they’re the young parents and they remember seeing The Incredibles, and they’ve seen it many times over the course of their growing up. So it becomes this touchstone of childhood, or adolescence.
There’s a new generation possibly going to see this one.
There will be. It’s being ushered in by another generation. But the deal with this one is that it’s more adult. It feels like it’s more of a movie for adults. Totally a movie for children to go see too, but it has a more grown up sensibility.
Incredibles 2 is out in theaters Friday (June 15).