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Helen Hunt 'Swept Up' With Mel

001218 Early Show Helen Hunt
CBS
Helen Hunt has returned to the big screen in a big way in a role in this week's number one hit movie, What Women Want.

It is the fourth movie she has been in this year. Hunt told CBS News Entertainment Correspondent Mark McEwen she prepared for her role in the romantic comedy by trying to be open.

Hunt's character does her best to teach a male chauvinist colleague, played by Mel Gibson, a few things about the opposite sex.

"In other movies, you know, I do everything. I try to figure out how this person walks, and try to talk to people who have had experiences like she has, and change the way I speak, and change the way I look, and use my imagination," said Hunt.

"On this movie, I thought, the best thing to do would be to show up and have my heart open and be willing to play and be willing to enjoy this wonderful actor I worked with," said Hunt. "I didn't need to go to an advertising firm and learn how that worked. I didn't feel like that was where the challenge lay for me. The challenge for me was just to be open and be willing to have fun and to allow myself to be swept up into the spirit of the movie. And I think that was the right choice for me."

McEwen wondered whether Hunt thinks men are as dumb as movies sometimes make us out to be.

"I wouldn't say dumb as much as limited," quipped Hunt.

She said that Gibson wanted her to be in the movie, "which immediately made me feel terrific. There was a lot of scheduling work to be done to have me be free. And he was unrelenting in terms of making that happen. So I showed up feeling wanted, which was the best thing. And he was interested in what I thought. And he was great. He just made me happy when I was there."

Helen Hunt has been working a lot lately, releasing four movies in the year 2000 alone, including Pay It Forward with Kevin Spacey.

"I walked off the set of Pay It Forward and walked onto the set of this movie. And it was a 180 for me, but it was great," said Hunt. "I had poured my heart and soul completely into that part in Pay It Forward and felt very satisfied and proud of the experience. And then to — rather than going home and sitting with it, going, 'What did I just do, who am I anyway?' I got to step into this romantic breezy part playing a woman very much like myself. It was very divinely set up."

One reason Hunt is so busy this year is because she won the best actress Oscar last year for As Good As It Gets.

She recalled the night she won. "I was very lucky, because I stayed out and partied until 2 a.m. and then woke up at 8 a.m. and went to the set of Mad About You where my friends had hired a Mariachi band to play for me. And then, we started our read, and then, we rehearsed," said Hunt. "So I luckily didn't go home and sit there, and you know, waiting for the calls to come in or wait for nothing to happen...I was still in the process f making these little half hour movies that I was so proud of. So I liked very much that I didn't sit there waiting for whatever was next."

Which actors inspired her when she was younger?

"I still watch Judi Dench and Meryl Streep and Peter O'Toole. And, you know, the performances I've seen, probably on the stage are the ones that have stayed with me the longest," said Hunt. "I grew up going to the theater. And I didn't know that I wanted to be an actress right away. But I knew that I felt some very — I just liked being there. I just wanted to be part of it. And, you know, I've had — lately people list off this rogue's gallery of leading men I've gotten to work with. And there's nobody left. And I want to say Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, on and on, Diane Keaton. There's plenty of actresses I'd love to work with. So I have plenty to do."

Hunt's third movie of this fall is set to open this Friday. She's in Castaway.

Hunt, the daughter of film director Gordon Hunt and photographer Jane Hunt, grew up in Manhattan and California. She started acting at age 9 and as a child was featured in two television series, The Swiss Family Robinson (1975) and The Fitzpatricks (1977). She won Emmy and Golden Globe awards during her seven-year stint on the TV show Mad About You. Hunt married actor Hank Azaria but they were recently separated.

Helent Hunt filmography:

As Good As It Gets (1997)
Twister (1996)
Kiss of Death (1995)
Bob Roberts (1992)
In the Company of Darkness (1992)
Into the Badlands (1992)
Mr. Saturday Night (1992)
Only You (1992)
Trancers 3 (1992)
Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Smart Story (1991)
Queens Logic (1991)
The Waterdance (1991)
Trancers 2 (1991)
Incident at Dark River (1989)
Next of Kin (1989)
Miles from Home (1988)
Shooter (1988)
Stealing Home (1988)
The Frog Prince (1988)
Project X (1987)
Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985)
Trancers(1985)
Code of Honor (1984)
Bill: On His Own (1983)
Choices of the Heart (1983)
Quarterback Princess (1983)
Desperate Lives (1982)
Angel Dusted (1981)
The Child Bride of Short Creek (1981)
The Miracle of Kathy Miller (1981)
Transplant (1979)
Rollercoaster (1977)
The Spell (1977)
All Together Now (1975)
Death Scream (1975)
Pioneer Woman (1973)