When TNT's Saving Grace returns for its third season next Tuesday (10PM EDT), the big questions will still remain unanswered.
Which is as it should, says the series star Holly Hunter, who plays Grace Hanadarko, the hard-living Oklahoma City police detective wrestling daily with her own last-chance angel, Earl (played by Leon Rippy).
"One of the things we'll deal with this season is faith and belief," Hunter says in a telephone interview. "What does it mean to believe, rather than to know? To surrender to something that's not fact but faith?"
The construct of Earl is less as a scold than as guidance for Grace, whose line of work (and loss of her sister in the Murrah Building explosion in 1995) tests her ability to believe in God. Earl brought her together with Leon Cooley, a Death Row inmate played by Bokeem Woodbine, showing her the commonality she had with someone she would have otherwise have dismissed as irredeemable. Earl tsk-tsks disapprovingly at Grace's excessive drinking, smoking and general partying.
"Grace flourishes in chaos and facts," Hunter says. "But her angel says, 'I want you to believe in God.' The definition of God through this is a large one - it's not confined to Catholicism or Christianity. It can be Buddhism or Islam. What is God and how do you believe in him - how do you not believe? It's a question the world continues to tussle with. People's beliefs get them in a lot of conflicts."
For Hunter, Saving Grace represents a kind of security she's rarely had in her career. Despite an early Oscar nomination for Broadcast News and a subsequent win for The Piano, Hunter has always scrambled for work.
"I've always been offered stuff, but my career has never been as giant as all that," says Hunter, 51. "I've moved laterally, as opposed to vertically. I was never a superstar. I've always had to move between a couple of years of unemployment, where offers are not provocative enough to take, and seasons where I work nonstop for a year. It's always been an erratic rhythm. I've always enjoyed my time off. I've never liked working as much as I work now. I do get a hiatus but I'd like a little more."
Yet the TV series -- one of several on cable networks that offer women the kind of strong parts they seldom find in films -- has been a godsend.
"Feature films seem geared toward very large budgets, action, broad comedy," Hunter says. "That seems to dominate all year where it used to be relegated to summer. But the market has permeated the entire year. It's got 2 faces; you've got Oscar season and the rest of the year is devoted to big-budget features."
"So many means of expression are being explored in TV through women who are fully mature, in the prime of their lives, feeling experienced and able to express who they are. We're not 21. It's really exciting, in that these opportunities are kind of unprecedented. Glenn Close, Kyra Sedgwick, Mary McCormick, Mary Louise Parker, a show like United States of Tara -- women are exploring all kinds of new aspects of themselves."
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