Holly Hunter in Campion’s Top of the Lake

Holly Hunter Bio Actress Holly Hunter has won a long list of award, including an Oscar two Emmys and a Golden Globe.   Her great performances in films like “The Piano”, “Broadcast News”, “Thirteen”, “Crash” and “Raising Arizona” are just a few of the reasons she is one of our most loved and greatest performers.  She recently stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk about her newest project– “Top of the Lake” — a seven part series directed by Jane Campion, for the Sundance Channel.   The series premiers Monday March 18th at 9pm.  Excerpts from the interview appear below.

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:  Holly Hunter, welcome.  It’s great to see you.   I am trying to even explain a little bit of this series to people because I’ve never seen anything like it.

Holly Hunter:  And how many episodes have you seen?

Ron Bennington:  I’ve seen 3.  

Holly Hunter:  Great.  Great.

Ron Bennington:  And it’s only how many all together?  

Holly Hunter:  Well, there’s 7.

Ron Bennington:  There’s 7?  I have no idea where this is going to go.  

Holly Hunter:  Great.

* * *

Holly Hunter Talks About the New Series, “Top of the Lake”

Ron Bennington:  And it is so tense, funny, strange, weird.  I mean it’s phenomenal.  It’s phenomenal.  It’s beauty up against this ugliness all the time too.  

Holly Hunter:  One of the things, as I was watching it too – that I didn’t know when I read the script,  I mean I didn’t fully feel it the way that I feel it, it’s so visceral – is the poison that seeps into the beauty.  Like you said – the ugliness and the beauty.  But the poison is just so insidious – that just winds it’s way around the heart of the story.

Ron Bennington:  And it’s all generational.  It’s all very old poison.  It’s poison that’s in us.  The things that we do to each other for years and years and years.  And then also, the thing that’s so strange about it – it’s this extreme masculinity and extreme femininity.  

filming top of the lakeHolly Hunter:  That’s right.  Yeah, totally.  I felt that too.  And I think Jane (Campion) is so interested in kind of a matriarchal versus a patriarchal…I mean those 2 forces are semi set up against each other in the movie.

Ron Bennington:  Right, but at the same time, they’re drawn back to each other.  

Holly Hunter:  Completely.

Ron Bennington:  So, it’s this weird magnet thing where they’re pulled together.  They’re pushed…

Holly Hunter:  And repelled.

Ron Bennington:  Yeah.  And it’s phenomenal.  And your character is the most mysterious of all because we’re not exactly sure what brings people to her and how she even feels about it.  

Holly Hunter:  Well, there’s a real ambiguity that is not really answered.  Some things do remain a mystery.  And regardless, whether you’ve watched 1 episode or all of them – GJ remains that way.

* * *

Holly Hunter Talks About Her Character, “GJ” 

Ron Bennington:  Yeah.  And it’s almost like she sees everything for what it actually is.  

Holly Hunter:  Yes.

Ron Bennington:  She sees the pain.  This pain that is – I guess, even a part of the human existence when you think about it.  This thing that we’ve done to each other and that we continue to do to each other.  But I love the fact that she’s a leader who doesn’t ask for it – that they ask her questions that she…she spits this stuff back at them that no one really wants to hear.  There’s nothing they really want from her and yet they’re drawn to her at the same time.  She also seems like she’s rocking Jane’s hair.  Was that done on purpose?  

Holly Hunter:  Well, Jane said – Holly, I want you to read this script.  Call me and tell me what you think afterwards.  I want you to wear a long gray wig and be dressed in like tan colors.  So, I was like – oh, okay, cool.  I’ll read it.  (laughs)  So Jane, from the beginning, had this idea of GJ kind of melding into the landscape with these colors.  Just the colors of the Earth and with this long gray hair.  And when I decided to do the part – wild horses couldn’t drag me away from the idea of the long hair.  At one point, we thought the wig might not work out.  And I was like – no, no, no.  It’s got to.

Ron Bennington:  It has to be there.  

Holly Hunter:  I have to have it.  Because it was such a transformational…it offered me transportation, the wig.  So, I don’t know if it’s really like Jane.  There’s a lot of gray hair in the movie.  But I think also, Jane really wanted to talk about where she is in her life as a human being.  And she felt like that’s something that’s not expressed that much.  And expressed in kind of a luxurious way.  She got to stretch out with some of the things she wanted to talk about.  At the women’s camp and through GJ.

Ron Bennington:  Well, the women’s camp to me is so interesting because it’s this thing about healing.  And I also noticed there’s a lot of Americans there.  There’s a lot of Americans that are in that camp that are from the other side because I do think that, particularly our women go searching at a point.  That there’s almost a place like in American society of – okay, now, where do we put people as they start to move into stuff?  We almost don’t have it in our society anymore.  

Holly Hunter:  Yeah.  I mean our whole country was founded on – “Go West”.

* * *

Holly Talks About Jane Campion’s Vision for the Film

Ron Bennington:  Yeah, right.  Keep going West.  Keep moving, moving.  And that’s a very big part of the American thing.  But also, the beauty of that area and it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, but brutal at the same time.  It’s like one of the most beautiful places that you’re like – I don’t know if I could stay there very long.  (Holly laughs)  I don’t know if I can be around that harshness for too long – where a lake is so cold that you could die falling into it.  

Jane CampionHolly Hunter:  Yeah.  I think the paradox of that – it lives in Jane.  I think she has a certain comfort level with everything that we’re capable of.  And that’s what she wants to talk about as a filmmaker.  And I think that’s why she likes fiction as opposed to telling…I mean, I think she loved the whole idea of this being almost like reading a book.  Reading a novel – that kind of involvement with the psychological…the intricacies of our brains.  All the mysteries that are in Elisabeth Moss’ character, that are in Peter Mullan’s character.  And I loved that the evil that is described in the story, you also see the humanity that’s hand in hand with it.  So, in no way, can you write off any character that you’re confronted with.  In the case of a pedophile who you meet, there’s a certain humanity that manifests from that character that you’re simply not expecting.  And that’s the beauty of, I think, her filmmaking.

Ron Bennington:  Well, there’s almost like – here’s where it came from.  So there’s a responsibility of us all when you see an evil character and some of that might have come from his childhood – what happened with his own mother and on and on and on.  We do these things and then the repercussions go on forever and ever and ever.  

Holly Hunter:  Yes.  Like the ripples in the lake.

* * *

Holly Talks About Jane Campion

Ron Bennington:  It’s got to be interesting for you to be working in some of these areas now.  

Holly Hunter:  Well, I mean for me – and that was one of the things that I loved about working with Jane.  Jane didn’t really recognize this as television.  She didn’t shift anything.  She was making a movie.  And it only felt like that when I was working with her.  In no way did it feel any…she made no adjustments that I could see, for television.  And I’ve done a television series and it did feel very different.

Ron Bennington:  It felt like TV.

Holly Hunter:  Because you were moving with the wind in your hair, you were going so fast.  Jane didn’t.  There was room made for Jane to shoot the way she wanted to shoot.  But I think that’s going to happen more and more with television.

Ron Bennington:  You met her when?  Back in the early 90’s?

Holly Hunter:  Yeah, ’91.

Ron Bennington:  In ’91 and now, we’re over 20 years in this relationship.  What kind of pulls an actor and a director together like that?  

Holly Hunter:  I don’t know.

Ron Bennington:  You can never tell, huh?  

Holly Hunter:  I don’t know, it was…I read the character in “The Piano” and I said – that’s for me.  I want to do that.  I can be her.  I know it.  And Jane said – really?  I don’t think so.  And I said – well, can I come in?  And she said – yes.  And the “yes” thing of Jane is what separates her from many people because she didn’t see me.  She didn’t see Elisabeth Moss as being the lead in “Top of the Lake”.  But Elisabeth did.  And so Jane said – oh, okay.  Let’s hang out.  Come in and spend some time.  And Elisabeth said – yes.  And Jane…a lot of people say no.  You’re not what we’re thinking of, no.  And so, that’s that.  I tend to…I’ve got to go towards the Y-E-S.

* * *

Holly Hunter Talks About the Way She Relates to an Audience

Ron Bennington:  Well, you started in the theater here in New York, right?  Where you first started?  

Holly Hunter:  Yeah.

Ron Bennington:  When you worked in theater, did you think about the audience or was it just you focusing on the story?  

Holly Hunter:  Only on if they could hear me.  The communication was all – you know, is it clear?  But then beyond that, otherwise I think the erosion is really…that’s poisonous.  That’s when you get the obligatory stuff.  That’s when you get the formulaic and nothing is going to be specific.  Nothing is going to be coming from an individual.  It’s going to be a bureaucratic arrival.  So, I think that’s like not what I want.

Ron Bennington:  Well, it is somewhat dangerous to kind of give people what they want, correct?  I mean in the case of this, “Top of the Lake”, it certainly wasn’t anything…

Holly Hunter:  I think it was Nina Simone said – if you give people what they want, you got nothing left.

Ron Bennington:  You got nothing at all.  And they don’t know what they want because it’s only what they’ve had before, which is always the problem in trying to tell stories – if you show up, you weren’t going to think to yourself, as an audience member – I liked to see something like “Top of the Lake” because you weren’t going to think about these things.  

Holly Hunter:  And this is what’s cool about Sundance Channel.  As Jane says – what about this thing?  I’ve got this idea.  I want to do…and they’re like – yes.  They wanted to work with her.  They wanted to be a partner with her.  And that’s where you get original stuff – is faith from the money people.

Ron Bennington:  And they’re able to give her that because of the work that she’s done leading up to this point.  And the fact that she can bring in all kinds of great people to be part of this.  

Holly Hunter:  Yeah, and trust her with casting.  And trust her with building the thing from the ground up.

* * *

Holly Talks About Becoming an Actor

Ron Bennington:  What was it that drew you into acting in the first place?  When you said – this is something that I want to spend the rest of my life doing.  

Holly Hunter:  I think I was on stage in a musical in high school.  And I just felt a full hook up.  Just a full hook up with the audience.  I want that.  Addicting.  I like that.  So, it was simple.  It was very simple.

Ron Bennington:  And it’s always interesting that a kid could make that decision.  And now here you are still following that path many years later. 

Holly Hunter:  Well, connection is powerful.  And I think in a way, that of course, that’s what we all want.  We want to connect.  And we’re afraid of connecting.  I mean the duality of that – the repulsion and the attraction that you were just talking about with Jane, with men and women, is the same thing with communication.  You want it and you’re scared of it.  And you hate it and you’ve got to do it and the obligation and the habitual kind of – this why people seek out religion.  This is why people go to shrinks – to figure out how to get along in the world.  And it’s tough.

Ron Bennington:  It’s constant.  It’s constant throughout our lifetimes.  And it’s really rarely even talked about.  It’s really rarely talked about, except  just on the surface. 

Holly Hunter:  And, but it is talked about a lot in great depth in fiction.  In fiction, people will take the leap.  Writers, novelists.  That’s why I think sometimes it’s unfortunate that the whole thing has gone into autobiography.  I mean fiction is where you can jump off the edge.  What are we capable of?  What would I like to do?  That I can’t.  That’s what…I think that’s what keeps us square.  That’s what keeps us pointed in the right direction.

* * *


Ron Bennington:  I could talk about this forever and I’m so glad that people are going to get a chance to see “Top of the Lake” now because I think it’s going to bring up a lot of great conversations and I’m glad I get to say…the chance to get to say to you – thank you so much for all your work.  You’ve done such great stuff for so many years.

Holly Hunter:  Thank you.

Ron Bennington:  Whether it’s funny or crazy and out there, it’s just one after the other, but thank you so much Holly.   And I hope to see you next time coming through.  

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkSfUYoiRM0]


“Top of the Lake” premiers on The Sundance Channel on March 18, 2013 at 9pm.  Get more information on the official webpage.


You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio.  Not yet a subscriber?  Click here for a free trial subscription.


You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews atRonBenningtonInterviews.com.


  1. FanBoy1

    March 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I watched this show last night. I still this morning have no idea what exactly I watched or wtf is going on. its trippy and a bit weird I guess I just dont get it yet.

    • Henduey

      March 25, 2013 at 11:08 pm

      @FanBoy1 I like the fact that its not easy to figure out like EVERY other show, theres three shows, Luther, Sherlock and Top or the lake