Around Town meets Holly Hunter: ‘She’s emblematic in every way of a woman’

Holly Hunter once again lends her distinctive voice to Elastigirl in the highly-anticipated sequel, Incredibles 2. She tells Gemma Dunn why she’s so taken by the superheroine.

Forget capes – Pixar has proved it’s all about the super-suits as the Oscar-nominated Incredibles lands its riotous return.

Picking up where it left off, the long-awaited sequel will reintroduce audiences to the Parr family, who in line with the original animation – which has grossed more than $633 million worldwide since its 2004 debut – continue to grapple with their superpowers, while trying to maintain a quiet suburban life.

Director Brad Bird’s revival will see Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson reprise the voices of Helen and Bob Parr (aka the super stretchy Elastigirl and the super strong Mr. Incredible).
Sarah Vowell will make a comeback as teen Violet, Huck Milner joins to voice 10-year-old Dash and Eli Fucile returns as baby Jack-Jack.

It’s a homecoming Hunter, for one, couldn’t turn down and, she says, it “did oddly feel” like they’d never been gone.

“I recorded only with Brad for both, so when Brad was standing opposite me with a microphone in between us, it was just like, ‘Oh here we are. How nice’,” quips The Piano actress, 60.

But the Georgia-born star, who today is suffering from a bout of jet lag – “it’s nothing an English Breakfast Tea can’t fix” – has of course been busy in the interim.

In the 14 years since she last “donned” Elastigirl’s proverbial Lycra, Hunter has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, earned her stripes as a Tourette’s sufferer in The Big White, turned industry heads for her acting – and exec producing – on US crime drama, Saving Grace, and showcased her talent as Senator Finch in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. To name but a few successes.

She even found time to give birth to twin sons, Claude and Press, whom she shares with her long-time partner, actor Gordon MacDonald.

But she admits The Incredibles is one role she has received continual recognition for – in part due to her distinctive voice.

“The fact is that movie gets seen by people that have kids and their kids get older and then it’s their grandkids or their nieces and nephews…” begins the star, her signature Southern twang familiar.

“Whatever it is, the first movie was often in somebody’s house over those 14 years,” she reasons.

“So in a way it was like the movie didn’t go away, like a traditional movie might have.”
It’s meant lots of twenty-something fans this time around, she says: “Because they saw the first one when they were little and now they’re seeing this one.

“It’s a movie that can really stand that age group loving it,” she insists of the family-friendly hit. “It’s kind of an adult movie too.”

So where does this chapter come in?

For those in need of a recap, the earlier adventure came to a head when supervillain Syndrome was foiled – thanks to baby Jack-Jack and an ill-advised cape – and his jet exploded into a fiery ball, destroying the Parrs’ family home.

Rather than destroy them, the family of five grew closer than ever – that was until someone called the Underminer declared “war on peace and happiness” (whose fate will be revealed in due course).

And while old favourites like Lucius Best (aka Frozone) and Edna “E” Mode will reappear, the movie also introduces new characters to the mix – from a savvy businessman and superfan to a wannabe hero.

Though it’s not all heroes and villains, as Bird, whose other picture credits include The Iron Giant and Ratatouille, is keen to point out.

“I realised that the superhero aspect of the story didn’t interest me nearly as much as the whole family dynamic,” explains the Tinseltown star, whose work on The Incredibles won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

“I think that people see themselves in these characters and that’s why they fell for them the way they did.

“The Incredibles and now Incredibles 2 are really stories about a family.”
In particular Bird wanted this instalment to be Helen’s action-packed adventure.

“I was intrigued by how Bob would handle that, along with the responsibilities at home,” he says of Hunter’s character stepping into the spotlight.

That said, the silver-screen release will see Helen called on to lead a crime-fighting campaign to rebuild the Supers’ reputation, while Bob navigates the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life at home with Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack – whose superpowers are about to be discovered by his family.

It’s certainly a role reversal, a clever socio-political marker in the form of a superheroine, that has got people talking.

“I think she has total fearlessness when it comes to her role as a Super. But when it comes to her children, she has a very strong protective instinct,” Hunter notes.

“She has this innate desire to save others, which is a beautiful thing – especially in the world today.”

What does she make of Elastigirl’s physical shape – her impossibly small waist, for starters?

“She’s all woman. There’s a real female there; she is not a man,” Hunter responds.

“One of the things I love about the fact that she is a superheroine, is that her approach to everything has a womanliness about it.

“I think that women must exercise a kind of flexibility that maybe men don’t necessarily have to hone to the degree that women do – so I just think she is emblematic in every way of a woman,” she adds.

“Socially we’ve been geared that way; you have to say ‘yes’, you have to be able to change your mind a lot as a woman.”

For Hunter, the return to Incredibles is a milestone – as is 2018, which marks 25 years since her Academy Award-winning performance as Ada McGrath in the 1993 drama film The Piano.

Has much changed for her since?

“Both, yes and no,” she answers candidly. “Of course I’ve been through so many different experiences since that time, and at the same time there’s something fundamentally unchanged about me.

“One of the great, great things, the gifts of that movie, is Jane Campion,” she finishes, in reference to the director.

“She remains a great friend of mine and that’s one of the great things about this career – you take people with you.”

Incredibles 2 is out in cinemas now.