Born Holly Patricia Hunter on 20 March 1958 in Conyers, Georgia, Holly Hunter was the youngest of seven kids born to Charles Edwin Hunter, a farmer and a part-time representative of a sporting goods company and Opal Marguerite, a homemaker. Although she was born with a talent for portraying intense, driven and often offbeat characters in both comedies and dramas, she lost the hearing power of her left ear, due to a childhood attack of mumps. The unfortunate condition led to complications at work in her later life and on certain occasions, the script have to be altered for her to use her right.
Encouraged by her parents, she had her first acting experience while she was still in elementary school and appeared as Helen Keller in a fifth-grade play. After that, she joined her school's drama club and the school plays led to drama school, which later led her to the theatre in New York. She moved to Pittsburgh in 1976, to pursue a degree in drama and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1980, with a degree in drama. She was active in the theatre scene of her college and during that time, also performed at the City Theatre in Pittsburgh. After completing graduation in 1980, Holly Hunter moved to New York City, where she shared room with another actress, Frances McDormand, in the Bronx, at the end of the subway train, just off 205th Street. During that time, one day, she accidentally became acquainted with the playwright Beth Henley, when both of them were trapped in a stalled elevator for around ten minutes. Their formal conversation during the short meeting eventually led her to appear in his plays Crimes of the Heart and The Miss Firecracker Contest.
Hunter made her film debut with a bit part in the low-budget horror film The Burning (1981), then moved to Los Angeles in 1982 and after playing small roles in the TV films, Svengali and An Uncommon Love, appeared in a supporting role in Swing Shift (1984). However, she landed her first starring role opposite Nicolas Cage in the Coen brother’s crime-comedy Rising Arizona (1987).
In the same year, she earned her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her breakthrough performance in the role of the news producer Jane Craig in Broadcast News (1987), directed by James L. Brooks. She also earned a Silver Bear, the Best Actress Award, for her performance in the film, at the Berlin International Film Festival.
After her acclaimed performance in Broadcast News, Hunter recreated the lead role in the film version of Henley’s play Miss Firecracker (1989) and also appeared in Steven Spielberg's romantic fantasy Always (1989), in which Richard Dreyfuss played the role of a pilot killed in a fire fighting operation and returned from Heaven to watch another young pilot romancing his surviving girlfriend, played by Holly Hunter. Following her second collaboration with Dreyfuss, in Once Around (1991), she earned her first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, along with a Golden Glove and BAFTA Award and worldwide acclaim for her brilliant performance as a mute Scottish bride to a New Zealand planter, entangled in an adulterous affair in The Piano (1993).
She received another nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in the same year, for her commendable performance in Sydney Pollack’s thriller The Firm (1993), starring Tom Cruise.
Her other important films during the 1990s include the thriller Copycat (1993), Jodie Foster’s comedy Home for the Holidays (1995) and David Cronenberg’s sexual drama Crash (1996).
Apart from that, in Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary (1997), she played the role of an angel assigned to make sure Robert, played by Ewan McGregor, falls in love with Celine, played by Cameron Diaz and in Living Out Loud (1998), she portrayed a woman trying to find purpose after being left in the lurch by her doctor-husband.
Perhaps, Hunter’s first important film during the 2000s is Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen (2003), in which she played the divorced mother of a teenage girl, troubled with classic issues like sex, drugs and other difficulties. While the film was critically acclaimed, Hunter again earned a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. In the next year, she appeared in Little Black Book (2004), a romantic satire, in which she played a coworker of Brittany Murphy, trying to get to the bottom of her commitment-phobic boyfriend by delving into the secrets of his former girlfriends, with the help and encouragement of Hunter.
After that, she appeared in The Big White (2005), a black comedy, in which Robin Williams played a travelling salesman, plotting to swindle an insurance company over his missing-presumed-dead brother, leading to complications involving gangsters, a mistress and his wife, played by Holly Hunter.
Later, Hunter co-starred Al Pacino in Manglehorn (2014) and appeared as the kind-hearted bank teller Dawn in the life of Manglehorn, a reclusive Texas key-maker, who spends his days caring for his cat, finding comfort in his work and lamenting a long lost love. Two years later, she appeared in the superhero epic Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) as Senator Finch.
In her glorious career in the movie industry, Holly Hunter won an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe Award and two Primetime Emmy Awards, apart from winning a Best Actress Ward in Berlin International Film Festival and another in Cannes Film Festival. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 30 May 2008 and was awarded the coveted Women in Film Lucy Award, for her creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television in 2009.
Hunter married Janusz Kamiński, cinematographer of Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, on 20 May 1995, but they were officially divorced on 21 December 2001. However, Holly Hunter has been in a long-term relationship with British actor Gordon MacDonald since 2001. They met during the production of Marina Carr's play By the Bog of Cats, in which Hunter appeared as a woman abandoned by her lover of 14 years, played by MacDonald. Hunter gave birth to their twin sons, Claude and Press, in January 2006.