Why You Don't Really Hear From Helen Hunt Anymore

The 1990s was a brilliant time for sitcoms, and when it comes to official accolades, Helen Hunt's "Mad About You" raked in some serious awards in the form of both wins and nominations. From the Emmy Awards to the Golden Globes, to acknowledgments for Best Actress multiple years running, to SAG Awards, awards for comedy ... it seemed like that once the show ended, Hunt would have been riding high with her choice of what to do next. But while she was in some major motion pictures — like "Twister" — and was snapped up for one of Netflix's must-watch hit thrillers, her career outside of the beloved sitcom didn't play out like many fans might have expected.

It's worth mentioning that Hunt herself seems absolutely fine with this. In 2008, she did an interview with The New York Times, and was asked about what might best be described as a sprinkling of work in the years since the end of "Mad About You." She replied that things really changed for her when she gave birth to her daughter, and said that having a child put her options into a whole new light ... especially when it came time to weigh the alternatives.

"I suddenly wasn't offered parts that were worth walking away from the most compelling thing I'd ever been involved with, which was my family," she said, adding, "... Maybe my dirty little secret is this is the life I'd been wanting." What else can anyone ask for? Perhaps surprisingly, there are a handful of reasons that she's been fairly quiet.

She felt an ageist Hollywood wasn't giving her the chances she wanted

It's no secret that Hollywood has some outdated and pretty gross views about women who have sailed past 40 years old, give or take. That's not a random number, either, as it's the age that Helen Hunt was at when she sat down for an eye-opening interview with The Daily Beast. She said that she'd had to take a good, hard look at what she wanted her career to be: "When I wasn't getting acting jobs all the time that I liked, I was writing and writing and writing." If she wasn't going to get parts worth playing, she simply wasn't going to compromise.

Hunt also spoke about the lack of quality opportunities that women were offered in a statement to The New York Times as well, saying, "I think it's worse than 10 years ago, so we can't even tell ourselves it's slowly evolving." She also noted that calling out sexism and ageism wasn't easy: "Women who say it's not OK are wet blankets or sore losers," she added.

And she had been dealing with it for a long time. In 2008, she told The Guardian that she'd decided to get behind the camera to create movies instead of just starring in them, because there just weren't as many opportunities as she would have liked. She hedged around the issue a bit, saying, "So, while it would have been nice to have had more opportunities, I'm not really sure if they were out there to have."

She was briefly hospitalized and out of work after a car accident

In October 2019, TMZ broke the news that Helen Hunt had been in a terrifying car accident. Initial reports said that she had been riding in the back seat of an SUV when it was clipped by another car. The other vehicle didn't stop before going through the intersection that she was already in the middle of, and she was taken to the hospital.

Details were scarce, but the following month, she and "Mad About You" costar Paul Reiser were interviewed by Entertainment Tonight and asked about the accident. "It was scary. I'm grateful to be here with my friend." It was also revealed that while she suffered no serious injuries, she didn't post back-to-work selfies until about a month after the accident.

But that wasn't the end of the story: In 2021, Hunt sued the limo company that had been involved in the accident. Although official reports found there were no criminal charges to be made, her lawsuit asked for a slew of damages that included personal injury, loss of wages and earning capacity, medical expenses, and emotional distress. As of early 2024, the case was still ongoing, with a hearing scheduled for later in the year.

She felt harassed by the paparazzi

Whether or not fame should come with a loss of privacy has been hotly debated for years, and according to what Helen Hunt told The Guardian in 2008, her experiences with the paparazzi, who are well-known for recklessly pursuing celebrities, had left her feeling incredibly and pretty constantly uneasy. Fast forward to 2022, and has the virtue of hindsight changed things? Not at all, as she told the same outlet: "There were a couple of years when I was a little spooked. I was afraid that I could never unring that bell."

The idea of never having privacy or anything resembling a normal life is a terrifying prospect, and Hunt said that it confirmed her belief that she never really wanted fame, she only wanted to be able to create in peace. In response to the relentless demands, she said, "I just became very boring," and made it a point to live a life where she simply wasn't going to give them the juicy pics they seemed to want.

Did the move to try to give herself privacy and some kind of normalcy hurt her career? Hunt has been hesitant to draw a direct line between catering to the paparazzi and keeping a high profile in Hollywood and in front of audiences, but in 2019, she also told The Guardian that even after the high-profile success that she's had, her career comes with a massive helping of stress and worry: "I can't cure the, 'Will I work again?' thing that every actor has ... I'm always sure it's the last job."

She went through a messy end to a long-term relationship

Ending a relationship is never without challenges, even if both parties know that it's time to move on. For Helen Hunt, a break-up may have meant the end of a work collaboration as well. Hunt was in a long-term relationship with "House of Lies" and "Valley of the Boom" writer Matthew Carnahan, and when she spoke with The Daily Beast in 2015, she revealed they had something in the works. She didn't give many details, but it sounded like it was going to be wild stuff. "It's a musical — but a hallucinogenic one," she said. "It's totally crazy. We did a little work on it to present it to the network, and I felt completely out of my comfort zone."

The joint project never manifested, and when they split in 2017, that made it look like it was the end of that endeavor. InTouch Weekly spoke with some of those in the know, and they said it wasn't a clean break. Hunt, they said, had been pretty sure that Carnahan had been cheating on her, in spite of his repeated denials. Friends alternatively expressed shock — they had, after all, been together for 16 years — while others suggested the relationship had been on the rocks for a while.

Hunt hasn't said much about it, which is completely understandable. But the breakup seems to have come with the end of the mysterious — and mysteriously weird — project, as she hasn't said anything about it since the split.

She's been candid about the failure of her Twister 2 pitch

It turns out that starring in a wildly popular television show and several blockbuster movies doesn't give as much clout as one might think, when it comes to pitching ideas in Hollywood. That's according to Helen Hunt, who — in spite of starring in "Twister" — had zero luck getting her pitch for a sequel off the ground. And no, she's not involved in 2024's "Twisters."

In an interview with The Guardian, Hunt talked about the movie she had planned: She was going to direct, and she was going to be joined on-screen and in the writers' room by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. At the heart of the idea was a group of racially diverse storm chasers, but Hunt explained, "It was literally July 2020. The United States was on fire with the beginning of a 400-year overdue racial reckoning; and #MeToo hadn't been that long ago. There were three of us, each representing a minority of our own, one of us having starred in the [original] movie, and we couldn't get a meeting. It was sobering."

Diggs has also spoken out about Hollywood's failure to even entertain their sequel, and to say he wasn't impressed is putting it very lightly. When Insider asked him about it in 2023, he confirmed that they'd been all in on doing it, but the studio hadn't. Why? "... it didn't happen, and the reasons that it didn't happen are potentially shady. But shady in the way that we know the industry is shady."

Her father died after being diagnosed with Parkinson's

Gordon Hunt wasn't just Helen Hunt's father, he was a wildly prolific director, writer, acting coach, and actor as well. She's consistently credited him with sparking her love of acting and theater in particular, once telling The Guardian that when he took her 5-year-old self to see "Godspell," she knew she'd found her calling. Decades later, she said, "Every time I see a play I think of him, because he was always so excited when the lights began to go down. And I am, too."

Having that kind of lifelong connection with a beloved parent is special beyond words, and losing a beloved parent is devastating ... also, beyond words. Gordon died in 2016, when it was revealed that although he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's, he had kept working and teaching until not long before his December death.

Helen spoke with The Hollywood Reporter after his death, and there was no shortage of accolades for his work not only in sitcoms — including "Mad About You," which he helped direct — but in creating some of the biggest cartoons of the last few decades, and even some video games. Still, the most poignant statement came from Helen, who said, "If you asked 100 people who knew him, 100 of them would say he was the kindest man they ever knew."

Recent Hollywood projects haven't been received well

One of the big reasons that Helen Hunt has been off the radar lately is that when she has done some projects, they haven't always been received that well — certainly not in a must-see sort of way. In 2007, she directed "Then She Found Me," which has a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 51%. Critics were even less kind three years prior, when her Oscar Wilde remake (of "Lady Windermere's Fan"), "A Good Woman," hit just 38% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Fast forward to 2017, when Hunt became scandal-adjacent in a big way. She was starring in "I Love You, Daddy," as the ex-wife of the movie's male lead, played by Louis C.K. He also wrote and directed the Woody Allen-esque picture, which tells the story of a blossoming love between his 17-year-old daughter and a 68-year-old director. The movie came out at about the same time that C.K. faced allegations of sexual misconduct, leading to the immediate halt of the movie's release. No one was really heartbroken: The New Yorker called it "a disgusting movie that should never have been acquired for distribution in the first place," and Hunt doesn't seem to have commented.

More recently, Hunt was on the small screen again in 2019, when she and Paul Reiser rebooted "Mad About You," continuing their characters' stories 20 years after the show originally ended. Even that didn't go over as they'd probably hoped, with critics and audiences alike being less-than-thrilled and no renewal in sight.

She's spending serious quality time with her daughter

One of the things that Helen Hunt has been consistent about is making it clear that her main priority is her daughter, Makena'lei. She was four years old when Hunt talked to People in 2008, saying, "I fell in love, I had a daughter ... it was hard to find a part that was as interesting as watching her grow up. Why go off and pretend to be someone's mother, or pretend to be someone's wife, when I finally had the chance to have that experience in my real life?"

A few years later, she spoke with Vulture to add that, with Makena'lei now six years old, she had been able to branch out a little bit, and take parts that allowed her to include her daughter. At the time, that was "Soul Surfer," which let them share an incredible bonding experience as she filmed in Hawaii. "... the opportunity to be paid and have my family with me and be in heaven was pretty great," she explained.

When she spoke with ESPN around the release of another surfing movie, "Ride," she revealed that yes, it was her surfing, and her daughter had inspired her to do it. "I began to think about how vitally important it might be for the moms to ... get into the water, or whatever their version of getting into the water is." Being able to take an active role in her daughter's life has been everything for Hunt.

Pet projects brought ridiculous difficulties

Although Helen Hunt has been clear that it was in large part her own decision to step away from the limelight, she has been working on some projects of her own — instead of starring in the pet projects of others. Going that route has brought some serious difficulties into her life, and she spoke about just how long it had taken her to get 2007's "Then She Found Me" made.

She told The Guardian that it had taken 10 years to make, from start to finish, and that finish ended up being unthinkably painful. After all the work she'd put into it, the distribution company filed for bankruptcy the day before it was released. "That was the most crushing ... it doesn't take away from the experience of making it, but then you want people to see what you did. So that was hard; that was very hard." And it was also why few people saw it — with a bankrupt distributor, there was no one to get the word out about it.

Hunt spoke about the heartbreak to Vulture, too, saying that she only hoped people had seen it and found that it had meant something wonderful to them. "When I hear that someone is talking about it, I'm very gratified."

She went back to college

Any college student knows how time-intensive classes can be, and it turns out that back in 2008, Helen Hunt was spending a good chunk of her time back in class ... and reading her texts while waiting on interviews. She met up with Redbook to talk about the movie "Then She Found Me," and when she was asked about the tome she was reading, she shared the fact that she was taking a college class a semester, and that semester was philosophy.

"Philosophy is studying what you already know and dismantling it," she explained. "I thought it would be right up my alley. I can't tell you how much it's not me."

Fortunately, she was also asked the question that would be on pretty much everyone's mind: What's it like being a famous, award-winning actress and sitting down in a classroom with perfectly ordinary other people? She admitted that she actually wasn't seen as much of a celebrity, and aside from the occasional person snapping a picture of her, she had already recaptured a comfortable sort of near-obscurity.

She's been on the theater stage

Even before "Mad About You" came to an end for the first time, Helen Hunt was taking the time to perform to a more intimate audience. In 1998, she joined a cast that included Paul Rudd and Kyra Sedgwick for a Broadway production of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." In an interview with Playbill, she said, "As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be involved in the theater." And that's important: She's kept doing it, off and on over the years.

In 2010, she made headlines for her stint as stage manager in the Thornton Wilder play "Our Town," and it was notable for the simple reason that the play refers to the character as being male. Hunt was only one of a few women to play the character in high-profile productions, and The New York Times quoted her as saying that it really didn't matter: "What authority do I have, or does any female actor or male actor have, to say what it means to be human?"

She appeared in "Working: A Musical" in 2019, and then, in 2022, she added another impressive line to her resume, when she made her London stage debut. The play was called "Eureka Day," and in a surprising bit of casting, Hunt plays an anti-vaxxer who sits on the board of an elite private school that's dealing with a disease outbreak. Reviews for the show — running at the iconic Old Vic — were largely positive, with Hunt being lauded for her stage presence and performance.