William Hurt is an actor who shuns the limelight, even when attending the Sundance Film Festival. Quietly eloquent, Hurt avoids the glittering facet of Hollywood for the quiet sanctity of Oregon. Hurt picks and chooses his projects carefully, from the beautifully eloquent Yellow Handkerchief, premiering at Sundance, to next month’s thriller Vantage Point and the summer blockbuster The Hulk.
All films define an unpredictable career trajectory for the acclaimed actor who says he doesn’t look at the size of a movie as part of his decision to do it. “I don’t think about big movies. I just think about where the idea is one I like and do I like the idea?” Yellow Handkerchief is the antithesis of his more commercial projects, starring as a recently released prison inmate struggling with a past with which he is trying to reconcile. He ends up on a road trip with a teenager and a young boy through rural Mississippi, one that ends with ultimate redemption.
Hurt gives one of his finest, most eloquent performances to date and agreed that this was an irresistible character for to play and “Just a remarkable opportunity.” He admits it was challenging to play a character that reveals very little but yet reveals a lot at the same time. “The biggest challenge was trying to be true to a rural origin, and a person who didn’t have a lot of education with his blue collar background and being true to the quality of courage and honor that those people who are the platform on which we all stand have. They’re the people who make the whole country work for the rest of us. They know how to work, they’re not superficial and not for show.”
Hurt says it was easy to identify with the character “because I live among those people where I live, in Oregon and I’ve always respected that. My cause is an honest middle class.” There seems to be a dichotomy in the kinds of choices Hurt makes as an actor, but this ferocious intellectual is clear about why he does something. Yellow Handkerchief is all about the character and the work, but The Incredible Hulk doesn’t seem to be an obvious pick for the actor. “I didn’t blink. I loved the Hulk when I was a kid. It was my favorite comic. I absolutely adored it so I didn’t hesitate. I have no idea how it will turn out but I had a blast doing it.”
Hurt also gets to play President in the upcoming political thriller Vantage Point which opens later this month, but the actor says he finds it difficult to define who this particular Commander-in-Chief is. “That’s not as specific a character as I’m used to doing. I never knew his first name, I didn’t know what state he was from, but it is still a very useful film.” Asked whether he was playing a Democrat or Republican, Hurt smilingly hedges his bets. “I think he was completely independent and libertarian. He was probably Ron Paul’s best friend and the one who can make bureaucracy work.”
here is an irresistible irony that Hurt is talking about a political thriller on this equally suspenseful election year. When it comes to talking real-life politics, Hurt’s eyes are ablaze with passion. He is very much a political animal and looks forward to the race ahead. “I’m very engaged in it and am pretty much up to speed on it.”
A Democrat for years, Hurt says that McCain and Ron Paul interest me a lot because they spoke against torture. They’re the only two candidates in either party who have specifically spoken out against torture,” a subject that greatly impassions the actor, despite McCain’s pro-war stance. “He may be pro-war, but he’s against torture, because he was tortured and he knows that it’s useless. So he knows something about war that a lot of people who have never fought a war don’t know. So I don’t mind that he’s a warrior, and I approve of the fact that he’s a warrior who has some restraint against useless, foolish, idiotic, un-American activities. So I’m looking very carefully. I also think McCain has mellowed in the last five years a lot. Ron Paul of course fascinates me as well as a lot of liberals like myself. Of course they’ll never let him be president, but I love to hear an honest man in the forum. I love to hear a man speak his own mind and know what he thinks.”
Asked if he think the Democrats are honest, and Hurt speaks his mind with thoughtful passion. “I don’t think anybody who is going to mount a campaign big enough to actually get a seat in the White House is going to mount somebody up who isn’t more a function of a huge party machine. They have to be able to cope with the huge party machinery and that’s what they are is an animal of that machinery, instead of being what we’re always praying for, which is the individual piercing view that transcends all of that and relates to us individually. That’s probably impossible in a machine, in an economy that generates, what is it, how many trillion dollars? We have a $500 billion defense budget and that’s not including Iraq, so we’re talking about people who have to understand. Now, Ron Paul and McCain were obviously not members of the party that I usually choose to vote for, are elected officials, aware of all of that machinery, all of that. And they’re interesting to me. I’m very affected by and have affection toward Obama, but I don’t know how much he can handle if the going gets really tough, I’m worried about that and Hillary has accommodated a lot of different directions. However, it is a momentous time in history, when we have prominent candidates for the president of the United States, one is a black man and one is a woman and I think that is very important right there, so I think we’ve already gained from that.”
Hurt is optimistic about this country’s future, he says, and enjoys watching the battle take place from the Oregon home he shares with his Australian fiancée, while working on both sides of the film industry. His next film is a co-starring role in the new film The Countess, directed by and starring Julie Delphy. “I’m going to get all weirdo feudal,” Hurt says, laughingly. “I play the Count who is basically her nemesis, but we’re all bad in this movie. There are no good guys, except the guy she falls in love with, the Count’s son. The rest of us are pretty feudal.” It’s quite the year for the diverse William Hurt. “I’m really looking forward to it. There are a couple of other projects I’m looking forward to also, but we’re not quite sure. It’s hard to mount indies, because they’re houses of cards.”