Linda Hunt: A towering talent

Born in 1945, she grew up in Westport, Conn., and was always smaller than most.

"Everybody either wanted to take care of me or push me around, you know?" she said. "I was teased a lot, sure I was, of course. Fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, everybody was taking their spurts except me. I was not growing up."

She was diagnosed with a form of dwarfism. Nothing would make her taller. But when her parents took her to her first Broadway show -- a production of "Peter Pan" -- Hunt realized the stage was a place she might at least feel taller.

"What was it about 'Peter Pan' that really struck you?" Cowan asked.

"That it was bigger than life," Hunt said. "And that in some sense, I longed to be bigger than life, because I wasn't."

"So what was it about acting that you thought could overcome all these other feelings that you felt?"

"You know what I think it was about? That I could pretend to be anything."

But she needed a calling card, something beyond her size. She began working on her voice -- trying to sound more authoritative than she looked.

"When I was 16, nobody else talked like me. Nobody else sounded like me."

"And there was a confidence in that?" Cowan asked.

"Oh, absolutely. That made me big."

The critics noticed. Off-Broadway, she won two Obie Awards. On Broadway, she was nominated for a Tony, from "End of the World."

Strong, independent characters suited Hunt the best, from Gertrude Stein's lover in "Waiting for the Moon," to a spark plug of a bartender in the western "Silverado."

But it was a comedy that introduced Hunt to a new generation of fans, when she played opposite her physical opposite -- Arnold Schwarzenegger -- in "Kindergarten Cop."

"What's it like being opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger? For me? Are you kidding? Maybe if I'm lucky, come up to his navel!" she laughed.

Both on stage and in person, you soon forget her stature. Just ask Karen Klein, who says Hunt's size was hardly the first thing she noticed. "I was kind of struck [by] Linda's corduroys," she said.

Those corduroys were the beginning of a 26-year relationship. They were married in 2008.

"Karen's six years younger, but I forgive her daily," Hunt said. "I do, I forgive you for being younger."

They are as open about their relationship as Hunt it about her future. "NCIS: Los Angeles" may be going strong, but she says she doesn't want her role to last forever.

"I look forward to a time when I don't have to work anymore," she said. "Which is close at hand, I think."

Her current contract will take her into her 70s. Not bad for a woman whose own parents feared might be too small to stand out on stage. Half a century later, their small wonder still has audiences looking up.

And what does Hunt think her parents would think now?

"They'd be so happy that I'm earning a check every week! A paycheck every week -- they would be thrilled!" she replied.

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