Long out of the limelight, the Oscar winner caught up with EW.com at the Toronto Film Festival to describe how it feels to have her directorial debut ''Then She Found Me'' -- 10 years in the making -- leaving Canada with a distribution deal

By Gregory Kirschling
September 11, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Wondering why you haven’t seen much of Helen Hunt lately? For the past 10 years, the Academy Award-winning actress has been fighting to get her directorial debut, Then She Found Me, off the ground. Co-adapted by Hunt from a 1990 novel by Elinor Lipman, and featuring her as a woman eager to have a child just as her own birth mother (Bette Midler) enters her life for the first time, Then She Found Me premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday. By Saturday it was the subject of the biggest acquisition news out of the festival: ThinkFilm and a Canadian distributor picked it up in a reported $2.5 million-to-$3 million deal.

Over the weekend, EW.com talked to Hunt about what took her so long to get Then She Found Me done, the movies that inspired her as a filmmaker, and why she kind of wishes she were a kangaroo.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on your distribution deal. Was there crazy deal making going on behind the scenes?
HELEN HUNT: For me, most of the night was about the premiere, 1,500 people standing up at the end. Oh my God, that was one of the big moments of my career, mostly because the audience seemed to be responding to these weird thoughts I have and things I care about. So that was the biggest part of it, and then I went to bed not knowing [if we had distribution], and I woke up to congratulations.

Why did it take you 10 years to make this movie?
Writing it took forever, because [the Lipman novel] was one of the pieces of material that was better than most things, but not yet really ready to go. It’s easy when the novel is lousy, but there were characters in [this] novel that I ”loved”, but I had to execute and replace them. And the character has no wish for a baby in the novel, so it took me a long time to get there, to figure out what the movie was about. That took an embarrassingly long period of time, and then it took forever to finance it. And there were a couple of years that I acted in a lot of films. But this movie just walked along next to me and kept my attention.

Did you always know you’d star in it?
No. That was the toughest decision I made for the entire time. I just thought it was every actor’s rookie mistake, to put themselves in their movie, but I hadn’t seen myself play this part. And I also needed someone who would work 24 hours a day, who would change their clothes in the street, would go to Bette Midler’s apartment when she snapped her fingers to rehearse. I had no money, so I was like a desperate woman, and the one thing I could control was the lead actress — I could make her do whatever I said.

NEXT PAGE: ”If I read a movie that’s pretty good, that in my 20s I would’ve said, ”Yeah, I’ll jump on a plane and go to Utah for three months,” it’s just not the same now.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve got a 3 1/2-year-old kid. And your character, April, wants a baby. How closely does April’s life line up with your life?
HELEN HUNT: I would say the core elemental things are the same, in my character and Colin Firth’s character. In the movie, his character wants to sleep on his kid’s floor, and work outside of his kid’s school. I don’t do those things, but I fantasize about them. I would be more relaxed if I could stare at [my daughter] all day. [Laughs] I used to say I wanted to be a kangaroo: I could put her in my pouch and then go work and whatever.

So we also haven’t seen as much of you on screen because you wanted to spend time with your daughter?
It’s been about finding my life at home so compelling that it takes a great story for me to say, ”I’m not going to be around this kid every day. I’m just not bored of being with her.” So if I read a movie that’s pretty good, that in my 20s I would’ve said, ”Yeah, I’ll jump on a plane and go to Utah for three months,” it’s just not the same now. One quality I envy in other actresses is their ability to just put their kids on a plane and move and be fine.

So now that this movie is finished, since it sounds so personal for you, does it mark the end of a certain part of your life?
Maybe. When I thought about what to write next, I said to myself that I’ve put everything I think into this movie. I don’t care about anything else. It’s all in here.

Were there movies you looked to for inspiration?
Kramer vs. Kramer. That’s a perfect movie. I don’t think this is a perfect movie, but there’s something about the purity of how it was shot, the lack of pretension. I guess if [my movie] has a style it would be a lack of pretension, and you hope it just registers on someone’s radar. I love About A Boy. That’s a comedy where you find the mother in her own vomit after trying to kill herself, and this is a comedy where some dark things happen. Those are my favorite kind of movies.

Do you have an acting job lined up?
There’s one thing that still needs to be financed, but I don’t have a next big thing.

You want to direct again?
I hope so.

Have you always wanted to get behind the camera?
I think I have more of a director’s brain than an actor’s brain, in a way. I love acting, and I’d love the next thing I do to be someone else handing me a wonderful, luscious part. But I feel like my personality is kind of suited to this job.