Relive Helen Hunt's greatest performances in movies, TV shows, and on stage

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

The legendary Hollywood star Helen Hunt will make her London theatre debut this autumn in the buzzy play Eureka Day at the Old Vic. The Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress has previously trodden the boards on Broadway. She now leads Jonathan Spector’s provocative satire about a contagious virus and the controversy surrounding compulsory vaccination and quarantine.

The Eureka Day play is set in an achingly progressive school in California, but this ostentatiously considerate environment, with its gender-neutral pronouns and reworking of colonial stories, is torn apart by an outbreak of mumps. Many parents show their anti-vaxxer colours, refusing to allow their kids to be vaccinated, putting the school principal in a quandary: the county health department has ordered that all unvaccinated pupils must be quarantined.

So, as we gear up for this very timely piece, let’s look back at Hunt’s incredible body of work – from starring opposite Jack Nicholson in the Academy Award-winning As Good As It Gets to her beloved stint on long-running sitcom Mad About You. Here’s our handy guide to Helen Hunt’s career.

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Helen Hunt’s TV work

The Californian-born Hunt began early. She was a child actress on the likes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bionic Woman, The Swiss Family Robinson and The Facts of Life, graduating to adolescent parts in St Elsewhere and Highway to Heaven.

However, her biggest TV role by far was in the sitcom Mad About You, which ran from 1992-99, and returned for a revival in 2019. She and Paul Reiser played, respectively, newlyweds Jamie, a PR specialist, and Paul, a documentary maker, who were navigating their relationship and burgeoning family life – including a baby – with their busy careers in New York.

The NBC show was a huge hit with audiences and won numerous awards, including four Emmys and three Golden Globes for Hunt. She and Reiser also received a whopping $1 million per episode for the final season, and Hunt directed several episodes, including the finale.

Hunt’s then husband Hank Azaria appeared on the show, as did Friends actress Lisa Kudrow as waitress Ursula. The latter character then became Phoebe Buffay’s twin, and Hunt and fellow Mad About You actress Leila Kenzle also made cameo appearances in Friends.

Hunt largely concentrated on her film career after Mad About You ended, but she did pop up in The Simpsons, as Moe’s girlfriend Renee.

More recently, she played the Governor of North Carolina in the miniseries Shots Fired, about a racially charged murder, and she was an American journalist trying to broadcast from Berlin during the Second World War in the acclaimed drama World on Fire. Hunt also appeared in Blindspotting, a spin-off of the 2018 film about a felon on probation who witnesses a police shooting.

Additionally, Hunt has a strong track record as a TV director. She began with Mad About You and has since directed episodes of Californication, Revenge, House of Lies, This Is Us, Feud: Betty and Joan, The Politician and more.

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Helen Hunt’s film work

Hunt made her feature film debut in the 1977 film Rollercoaster. But she had more of an impact as punk rock-loving Leena in the sci-fi thriller Trancers (and its subsequent sequels), and starring opposite Sarah Jessica Parker in cult comedy Girls Just Want to Have Fun. She played Kathleen Turner’s daughter in Francis Ford Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married, and Patrick Swayze’s wife in action thriller Next of Kin.

Hunt then had her biggest commercial hit to date with 1996 disaster film Twister, in which she played storm chaser Dr Jo Harding, and followed that up with her most critically acclaimed, James L Brooks’s 1997 dark comedy As Good As It Gets.

Hunt played Carol, a waitress and single mother to a severely asthmatic son, who begins a cautious romantic relationship with Jack Nicholson’s rude, obsessive-compulsive novelist Melvin. They also befriend Melvin’s neighbour, a gay artist played by Greg Kinnear. Both Hunt and Nicholson won Academy Awards for their performances, and the film was nominated for Best Picture.

Hunt continued to appear in high-profile movies, including Dr T & the Women, Pay It Forward, Cast Away and What Women Want. In 2007 she directed her first film, Then She Found Me, in which she co-starred with Bette Midler.

She was Oscar-nominated again for the 2012 comedy-drama The Sessions, playing sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene, and recently starred as real-life volleyball coach Kathy Bresnahan in The Miracle Season.

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Helen Hunt’s stage work

Hunt began her theatre career with a production of Our Town at New York’s Lincoln Center in 1989; she played Emily Webb. She followed that up with a Wild West take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, starring opposite Tracey Ullman and Morgan Freeman. Hunt then returned to Shakespeare, and to Lincoln Center, to play Viola in Twelfth Night.

In 2003, she starred in the Broadway production of Yasmina Reza’s Life x 3, starring Linda Emond, Brent Spiner and John Turturro. The London production at the National Theatre featured a likewise impressive company with Mark Rylance, Harriet Walter, Imelda Staunton and Oliver Cotton.

Our Town cropped up again in 2010, with Hunt swapping the role of Emily for the Stage Manager in the Off-Broadway revival at the Barrow Street Theatre. She then played another iconic Shakespearean heroine, Beatrice, in a Los Angeles run of Much Ado About Nothing.

Most recently Hunt starred in the 2019 Encores! production of Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso’s musical Working. The revised show included new songs from Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the cast also featured Andrea Burns, Christopher Jackson, Javier Munoz and Tracie Thoms. In a New York Theatre Guide review of Working, Hunt performed a moving rendition of "Just a Housewife."

Now Hunt will lead the European premiere of Eureka Day. Spector’s play began in California in 2016 and played Off-Broadway in 2019. The Old Vic production will be directed by Katy Rudd, whose dazzling adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane moved from the National Theatre to the West End and is now going on tour, and has the backing of super-producer Sonia Friedman – so may well have West End ambitions. Catch it first by booking for the Old Vic run!

Book Eureka Day tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Helen Hunt in Eureka Day, Mad About You, (Photos courtesy of production, photo by Darren Michaels, photo courtesy of IMDB, and photo by Joan Marcus)

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