In the ’90s, Helen Hunt was everywhere. She starred in the long-running sitcom Mad About You, and the world was mad about her. But since the show’s cancellation in 1999, we’ve heard increasingly less and less from the actress. Why is that? Here’s what Helen Hunt’s been up to since receding from the spotlight.
She’s been dealing with a bad breakup
Breakups happen all the time, both in Hollywood and out, but Helen Hunt surprised many in 2017 by calling off things with her boyfriend of 16 years, a producer named Matthew Carnahan.
The two had been together since 2001 — in 2004, they welcomed a daughter, Makena Lei Gordon Carnahan, into the world. And yet, despite In Touch Weekly reporting that “Helen and Matthew always appeared to be super in love,” they couldn’t keep it going forever. According to a source for the tabloid, “the breakup was very messy.”
That same source revealed that the pair had done this several times before. “Matthew moved out a few times over the years. Helen would always take him back, and then time would pass and she’d kick him out again,” they reported. But now, it seems they’re done for real, and even their mutual love for their daughter couldn’t keep them together anymore.
She’s been raising her daughter
On May 13, 2004, shortly before her 41st birthday, Helen Hunt gave birth to Makena, her first child—and an obviously compelling reason to step back from the Hollywood grindstone. After life without kids, it’s completely understandable if Hunt wanted to stay home more to raise her firstborn.
Now that Makena is no longer a small child, we may start to see more of Hunt in the celebrity world again. Then again, perhaps not. Makena will likely need tons of love and support during the breakup of her family, and she remains Hunt’s only child. It’s possible that Hunt will continue to shy away from the spotlight in favor of motherhood until Makena reaches adulthood. Only time will tell.
Box office struggles
It isn’t like Helen Hunt has stopped making movies since her prime Mad days. It’s just that, with a few exceptions, you may not have heard about them.
At the height of her career, Hunt was starring in films like 1997’s As Good As It Gets, and the combination of her charisma and Jack Nicholson’s expert crack avoidance netted the rom-com almost $315 million worldwide. A year before that, she was in Twister, a disaster epic that grossed almost $500 million. Right after Mad About You ended, she starred in 2000’s What Women Want and Cast Away, which took in $375 million and $430 million, respectively.
But then came films like The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Dr. T and the Women, Bobby, and The Sessions, all of which failed to impress moviegoers. Her rock bottom moment has to be 2011’s Every Day, which opened in three theaters, never made it past four, grossed a paltry $46,029 over ten weeks, and limped away with a whimper. And what makes Every Day’s failure even worse is that it was actually Hunt’s return to the screen after a three-year hiatus.
Critics weren’t kind to Then She Found Me
In 2007, Helen Hunt took her first shot at directing and starring in a film with Then She Found Me, an adaptation of the Elinor Lipman novel. It was the kind of dramedy Hunt seemed particularly suited for, having had such success with As Good As It Gets, which helped define the genre.
Unfortunately, Then She Found Me fell flat with critics like Carina Chocano of The Los Angeles Times, who singled out Hunt’s performance by calling it “a little too whiny, a little too angry to be very sympathetic.” Ouch.
Christy DeSmith of the Minneapolis Star Tribune took shots at both of Hunt’s roles, writing that the film’s “endeavor at realism is not particularly artful,” and Hunt’s direction was “heavy-handed.” DeSmith twisted the knife by digging at Hunt’s performance as well, distilling her portrayal of a “a devoted party-pooper” who viewers can barely stand as Hunt’s “schtick.” Double ouch.
Bobby didn’t inspire the social commentary she’d hoped for
In 2006, Helen Hunt was coerced out of “semi-retirement,” as she put it, to take a small role in Emilio Estevez’s directorial effort Bobby, which centered on the day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Of the film’s importance to her, Hunt said, “My daughter will hear what [Kennedy] said in a way that might be feelable to her in a way, because she will have—if she watches the movie—will have watched this group of human beings make their way toward that fateful moment, so by the time Bobby Kennedy’s speech plays, you know, her heart will be open and she will really hear what he said.”
Hopefully Hunt’s daughter had the intended reaction, unlike Ty Burr at The Boston Globe, who wrote, “Bobby is a cry of sociopolitical agony that shoots itself in the foot on a scene-by-scene basis” and compared the film to “a freeway pileup.” Critic Cole Smithey was even less kind, writing, “This movie has everything to do with Estevez’s needy ego, and nothing to do with Bobby Kennedy. It is a disgrace.”
Granted, none of those are particular slams against Hunt, but we’re guessing Bobby wasn’t exactly the triumphant Hollywood return she may have had in mind.
It’s hard to improve on Oscar Wilde
Before Bobby and Then She Found Me, critics also took apart A Good Woman, an adaptation of an Oscar Wilde play that Helen Hunt described to Paste Magazine as having “a real heart and soul.” Asked what drew her to the role, Hunt said, “It has all the earmarks of a really good part. I certainly saw in there the potential for a character I haven’t seen in a little while.”
While the part may have been juicy, critics didn’t exactly love what Hunt did with it. Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club wrote, “Helen Hunt looks embarrassingly out of place trying to play an infamous seductress … her every gesture, expression, and inflection suggests a kindly aunt more than a femme fatale.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Moira Macdonald of The Seattle Times wrote, “[Hunt] is completely at sea here, flatly intoning her lines as if she’d memorized them phonetically,” adding, “It’s a mystifyingly bad performance, and it drags down the entire movie.” With reviews like that coming in, we’d probably consider taking a step away from the big screen as well.
She’s moved behind the camera
Sometimes, you don’t hear much about someone because they’re working behind the scenes. This appears to be at least somewhat the case for Helen Hunt, who’s been directing more over the past decade.
As Variety recaps, she started by directing several episodes of Mad About You, but didn’t return to the art until 2007, with Then She Found Me. As previously mentioned, the film failed to impress, but it was evidence that Hunt was looking to do more than just be a leading lady. Then, after another long break, she started directing in earnest. So far focusing mostly on television, she’s overseen an episode of Californication, two of Revenge, and one each for Life In Pieces, House of Lies, This Is Us, and Feud: Bette and Joan. In addition, she directed a second movie, 2015’s Ride—while it wasn’t her best effort (48 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), she’s clearly working hard to get better at her new profession and will only improve over time.
She slowed down after her Oscar win
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Helen Hunt said that part of the reason she shifted into low gear after her late ’90s boom was due to her Oscar win for As Good As It Gets. That led to “a deal at Sony,” which led to her going into writing mode.
“When I wasn’t getting acting jobs all the time that I liked, I was writing and writing and writing. Ten years of that. That’s how Then She Found Me happened,” Hunt said, adding, “As that was happening, I’d just been in the last big wave of movies about people talking to each other and trying to love each other, so as that was shrinking, I was trying to make one of those movies. So I kept rewriting it subtly.”
On top of that, Hunt said during this time, studios not only stopped financing the kind of films she typically made, but she also wasn’t particularly fond of the genre in the first place. “That’s what I don’t get, the economic thing. And [the bankers] famously don’t read them. They’ll say, ‘Helen Hunt in a romantic comedy, you can have $3.4 million,” Hunt said, adding, “There’s also ‘dramedy,’ which is my least favorite word — even though I’ve made two of them.”
In other words: Hunt and the studios got sick of the kind of movies she was making at the exact same time.
She can afford to be choosy
Even before her film career blew up, Helen Hunt slowed her professional pace in the wake of Mad About You, and one possible reason may well be the simplest: she’s made a lot of money. She has absolutely no need to work anymore, unless she really wants to.
According to The Richest, Hunt’s net worth is around $55 million. That includes a Manhattan apartment that, as of 2011, was valued at $2.75 million. Hunt’s wealth increased magnificently in May 1998, as she and Mad co-star Paul Reiser negotiated pay raises from $250,000 an episode to an incredible $1 million per episode. Though this pay grade only lasted them through the final season (the show ended the following year), its 22 episodes still netted both of them $22 million each. That, plus Hollywood blockbuster money, has given her wealth beyond most anyone’s wildest dreams. So next time you’re wondering why Helen Hunt isn’t everywhere anymore, the answer might just be: she doesn’t have to be.
A personal loss
One of the hardest things for anyone to face is the death of a family member, and unfortunately, Helen Hunt has had to deal with just that.
On December 17, 2016, Gordon Hunt, father to Helen and famed director of cartoons and live-action television, passed away at the age of 87. According to the Hollywood Reporter, he had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease prior to his death. As could be expected, directing Mad About You was a major part of his résumé, as he helmed 31 episodes out of the series’ 164 total. One of the episodes was the one in which Hunt’s character gave birth, which had to have been an extra-special experience for both of them, even if the birth was fictional.
As Helen said when remembering her father, “If you asked 100 people who knew him, 100 of them would say he was the kindest man they ever knew.” Even before his death, she honored him — she dedicated her 2014 surfing film Ride to him, as he was an active and avid bodysurfer from the 1930s until just a few years before his death.
A passion for activism
Being a woman, and especially one with a daughter, it makes sense that women’s rights would be a big issue in Helen Hunt’s life. It’s one that she’s shown she’s willing to fight for.
In 2012, Hunt appeared on NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?, a show showing celebrities learning about their family tree. There, according to Parade’s recap, Hunt learned that her great-great-grandmother was a pivotal figure in the battle for women’s equality. This must’ve ignited a spark in Hunt, as she’s been vocal about women’s rights, both in Hollywood and out, since. During a 2015 interview with the Huffington Post, in reaction to the interviewer saying there were few roles in Hollywood for older women, she said, “What are the great movies for younger women, where they’re the protagonist, [being] made now? The whole thing—there’s no equal rights amendment. We’re f***ed. … I’m tired of the billboard where [a girl’s] barely in her underwear and they’re selling, you know, a watch or something.”
She later made her stance further known by joining the Women’s March to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump, based on derogatory things he said about women before and during his campaign. Even if Hunt never acts again, she’s certainly got plenty of work ahead of her.
Her big movie was pulled before it hit theaters
In 2017, Helen Hunt was primed for a cinematic comeback, tapped for a major role in a new film by one of Hollywood’s most respected content creators. Written and directed by Louis C.K., the Woody Allen-esque, black-and-white I Love You, Daddy concerns a TV writer (also Louis C.K.) who doesn’t know what to do when his young daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) starts to date a significantly older and legendarily sleazy filmmaker (John Malkovich). Hunt co-starred as Aura, ex-wife of C.K.’s character and mother of Moretz’s.
I Love You, Daddy was set for a star-studded premiere in New York on November 9, 2017, but the event was canceled at the last minute upon the New York Times’ published accounts of five women who accused C.K. of sexual misconduct. A subsequent theatrical release was immediately taken off the table as well, with C.K. buying back the rights to the film. As of 2020, I Love You, Daddy remains unreleased, robbing Helen Hunt of a showy role in a big movie.
She’s been working in some low-key projects
It’s not like Helen Hunt has stopped acting in the two avenues in which she’s best known and has been most successful — feature films and over-the-air television. Perhaps she can afford to be choosy, a status afforded by her many seasons on the successful and lucratively syndicated Mad About You, she just doesn’t appear in a ton of projects each year. Since the one-two punch of the end of Shots Fired and the cancellation of I Love You, Daddy, Hunt has acted in about half a dozen projects. In 2018, she starred in The Miracle Season, an inspiring family film based on the real-life story of an Iowa high school volleyball team that won a championship in the wake of a tragedy. Hunt played the coach, Kathy Bresnahan, but the film bombed with a $10 million box office take. Hunt followed the movie with World on Fire, an epic World War II miniseries that aired on the BBC and PBS. Despite glowing reviews, it didn’t exactly, well, set the world on fire.
Did cosmetic surgery affect her career prospects?
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
Hollywood actors are left in a tough bind. When they’re no longer young and fresh-faced, they lose out on roles in an industry obsessed with youth and its attractiveness. So, in order to keep landing the big-time roles to which they are accustomed and deserving, they may get a little cosmetic surgery to smooth out the lines, creases, and bags that appear on their faces because they dared to age. Sometimes, those procedures aren’t completely effective, and rather than making the familiar star look like “themselves,” they appear to look different or even unrecognizable, meaning they have trouble gaining roles because they’ve lost their greatest calling card — their faces.
It’s possible that such a fate befell Helen Hunt. The analysts at Glamour Path speculated, with thorough photographic analysis, that Hunt went under the knife, pointing out that her face and neck appear noticeably different. Hunt hasn’t admitted to booking any plastic surgery, but viewers of her miniseries World on Fire were convinced she had, and that her new look was too distracting to enjoy the show.
The world didn’t go mad for a new Mad About You
In November 2019, Helen Hunt returned to the role, and the massively successful TV show, that not only made her famous but netted her four Emmy Awards and three Golden Globes: Jamie Buchman on the romantic sitcom Mad About You. While its initial run on NBC ended in 1999, it came back to TV on the tail end of the reboot craze that saw other ’90s hits like Twin Peaks, The X-Files, and Roseanne return to open-armed viewers. The 12 new episodes of the series focused on the once young and newlywed Jamie and Paul Buchman (Paul Reiser) wondering what to do with themselves after their only child leaves for college. Mad About You version 2.0, however, just didn’t click as well as its fellow revived classics, earning a middling 42 percent rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. If fans wanted to watch it, it was also kind of hard for them to do so, as it aired on Spectrum Originals, a relatively obscure network that serves as the showcase channel for a cable company. Poor Helen Hunt — she tried to give the people what they wanted, but they apparently didn’t want more Mad About You.
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