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The inspiration for Helen Hunt's new film struck her ten years ago, while on a trip to Hawaii. “I was nine months pregnant, and we're [on] the side of the road looking out at the ocean,” says the 51-year-old Oscar winner. Soon, Hunt spotted a mother surfing on a nearby beach. “She got out of the water, put her surfboard down, took a bottle of water and poured it on her breast and started nursing. I thought, ‘I want to be her.’” That’s when Hunt decided to learn to surf, eventually inspiring her new film Ride (you can watch the first trailer above). “There’s a lot in this movie that’s me,” she tells Yahoo Movies.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Hunt on the big screen — her last major role was in 2014’s Decoding Annie Parker. But that’s only because she has been busy behind the camera. Hunt wrote, directed, and produced the upcoming film about a successful New York mother who travels cross-country to learn to ride waves. As if she didn’t have enough to do on Ride, Hunt also stars in the film, along with Luke Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums), Brenton Thwaites (The Giver), and David Zayas (Showtime’s Dexter).
Hunt wore so many hats on the low-budget project in part to keep things from going awry. And while the shoot was hardly chaotic, she did tell Yahoo Movies about dealing with some unforeseen obstacles.Hunt was continually crushed by waves during filming, most of which most took place in Venice Beach, CA, as crewmembers worked atop inflatable floaties while negotiating the surf. “I remember trying to have some kind of commanding authority over a moment and, mid-sentence, just being toppled by a wave and waking up to a lot of water-safety guys having a good chuckle.” It didn’t help that ornery locals harangued the crew. “Neighbors started cranking their music on. We kept getting screamed at,” Hunt recalls.
Hunt would spend up to eight hours in the water, breaking only to grab a quick lunch on the beach. “I was very very prune-y,” she says. “A lot of chilliness, [and] a lot of peeing in the wet suit, which helps [combat the chill]. Still, it was a really fun movie to make.”
As part of her numerous duties, Hunt had to make sure her cast members actuallyknew how to surf. Thwaites, an Australian, has been hitting the waves since he was a kid, and Hunt has been at it for a decade. But in spite of his beach-friendly disposition, Wilson didn’t know how to surf. “When I met with him I thought he was a surfer already,” recalls Hunt. “I offered him the part and he said, ‘I can’t wait to learn!’ And I went, ‘Oh no!’ But Wilson quickly got up to speed. “It’s one thing to learn to stand up on a wave,” Hunt points out. “It’s another to manage the board in the water and look like you know what you’re doing. That’s very hard. It’s basically undoable in the few months that he had, and he did it.”
At this stage in her career, Hunt says she only signs on to films that tell a good story, and only chooses movies in which “there’s no demoralizing or relativizing of a woman in a movie. I’ve got to say, I’m over it.” Hunt weighs story so heavily she’s even willing to accept a smaller role for a project she believes in. “I’ve always felt that way. I did Cast Away five minutes after the biggest, fanciest moment I had [winning the Best Actress Oscar for As Good as it Gets]. That was not a big part, but I just thought the story was so beautiful.”
In Ride, Hunt playsan editor at The New Yorker who follows her son (Thwaites) to Los Angeles after he drops out of college to surf. Intending to teach him a lesson, she unexpectedly enters her own course of self-discovery.”It’s a good part, which are hard to come by,” Hunt says. And all the mouthfuls of salt water and the toil that came with it was worth it. “Here’s the fun thing about making an independent movie: You have to be a bit of a criminal,” she says. “You just have to have this down-and-dirty mentality: ‘We will shoot it before you can throw us out.’ It’s fun. Everybody’s there because they care and are excited.”
Ride surfs into theaters May 1.