Can This Career Be Saved?

By Gregg Kilday
Updated November 19, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

Falling star: William Hurt
Career pinnacle: From his psychedelic debut in 1980’s Altered States and the sweaty intrigue of 1981’s Body Heat, through the boomer soul-searching of 1983’s The Big Chill and an Oscar turn in 1985’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, Bill Hurt was on an upward trajectory as the new WASP hunk, a Robert Redford for the ’80s.
Latest misstep: A supporting role as a philandering professor in Mr. Wonderful did nothing to revive his marquee value.
Perceived problem: In between romantic misadventures — when his personal relationships sour they tend to end up in court — Hurt abandoned mainstream Hollywood, indulging instead in a series of art films. Many of them have bombed, including 1991’s Until the End of the World. He seemed to be changing his tune when he played a surgeon stricken with cancer in The Doctor, but he’s veering again — Hurt allegedly turned down the role of the villain who terrorizes Meryl Streep in the just-wrapped The River Wild (the job went to Kevin Bacon). Insiders are amazed. “The guy is self-destructing,” says a prominent agent.
Next move: Although Hurt has two upcoming low-profile projects (Second Best and Trial by Jury), super-hot director Jane Campion (The Piano) has just cast him as the male lead opposite Nicole Kidman in Portrait of a Lady, which could reestablish his critical credentials.
Advice: Lighten up. “He never wanted to be mainstream and turned down a lot of things,” says a studio executive. “What he should do for his career is a big love story.” After all, there are worse things to be called than the next Bob Redford.