Nationality: American. Born: Washington, D.C., 20 March 1950. Education: Graduated from Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts; attended the Juilliard School, New York. Family: Married 1) the actress Mary Beth Hurt, 1971 (divorced 1982); 2) Heidi Henderson, 1989 (divorced 1993), sons: Sam and William; son with the ballet dancer Sandra Jennings: Alex; daughter with the actress Sandrine Bonnaire: Jeanne. Career: Acted with the New York Civic Repertory Company, 1976; made his theatrical film debut in Altered States, 1979. Awards: Best Actor Academy Award, Best Actor British Academy Award, National Board of Review Best Actor (tied with Raul Julia), Cannes Film Festival Best Actor, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actor, for Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985. Address: 151 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, California 90212, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
Verna—USO Girl (Maxwell—for TV) (as Walter)
Altered States (Ken Russell) (as Eddie Jessup)
Eyewitness (The Janitor) (Yates) (as Daryll Deever)
Body Heat (Kasdan) (as Ned Racine)
Gorky Park (Apted) (as Arkady Renko); The Big Chill (Kasdan) (as Nick)
Kiss of the Spider Woman (Babenco) (as Luis Molina)
Children of a Lesser God (Haines) (as James Leeds)
Broadcast News (James L. Brooks) (as Tom Grunick)
A Time of Destiny (Nava) (as Martin Lawrence); The Accidental Tourist (Kasdan) (as Macon Leary)
I Love You to Death (Kasdan) (as Harlan James); Alice (Woody Allen) (as Doug Tate)
Bis ans Ende der Welt (Until the End of the World) (Wenders) (as Trevor McPhee/Sam Farber); The Doctor (Haines) (as Jack McKee)
The Plague (La Peste) (Puenzo) (as Dr. Bernard Rieux); Mr. Wonderful (Minghella) (as Tom)
Trial by Jury (Gould) (as Tommy Vesey); Second Best (Menges) (as Graham Holt)
Smoke (Wang) (as Paul Benjamin); Confidences a un inconnu (Secrets Shared with a Stranger) (Bardawil)
Jane Eyre (Zeffirelli) (as Edward Rochester); Michael (Nora Ephron) (as reporter); Loved (Dignam); Un Divan a New York (A Couch in New York) (Akerman) (as Henry Harriston)
Loved (Dignam) (as K.D. Dietrickson)
Dark City (Proyas) (as Inspector Frank Bumstead); The Proposition (Lesli Linka Glatter) (as Arthur Barret); Lost in Space (Hopkins) (as Professor John Robinson); One True Thing (Franklin) (as George Gulden)
Sunshine (Szabó) (as Andor Knorr); The Miracle Maker (Hayes, Sokolov—for TV) (voice); Big Brass Ring (Hickenlooper) (as Blake Pellarin); Do Not Disturb (Maas) (as Walter); The 4th Floor (Klausner) (as Greg Harrison)
The Simian Lane (Yellen) (as Edward); The Contaminated Man (Hickox); The Miracle Maker (Hayes and Sokolov—for TV) (as voice of Jairus); Dune (Harrison—for TV) (as Duke Leto Atreides)
By HURT: articles—
Interview in Films (London), February 1982.
Interview with Dan Yakir, in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1985.
"Zen and the Art of Film Acting," interview with Susan Linfield, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), July/August 1986.
"Blond Man's Bluff," interview with Sarah Gristwood, in Time Out (London), 9 November 1994.
On HURT: book—
Goldstein, Toby, William Hurt: The Actor & His Work, New York, 1987.
On HURT: articles—
Rickey, Carrie, and Artie West, "The Return of the WASP Hero," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1981.
"A New Breed of Actor," in Newsweek (New York), 7 December 1981.
Films and Filming (London), September 1984.
Current Biography 1986, New York, 1986.
Rothstein, M., "At Home Again, William Hurt Takes Stock," in New York Times, 15 October 1989.
Ciapara, E., "Mr. Wonderful," in Filmowy Serwis Prasowy (Warsaw), vol. 39, no. 12, 1993.
Radio Times (London), 25 February 1995.
Campbell, V., and C. Oakley, "A Star is Born," in Movieline (Escondido), June 1996.
Millea, H., "The Star Who Walked Away," in Premiere (New York), October 1997.
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After compiling a solid résumé of stage credits, blond-haired William Hurt found celluloid stardom in the early 1980s, at which point he was touted as his generation's Robert Redford. In fact, he was nominated by Time magazine as "the WASP movie idol of the 80s." Beyond the hype, however, Hurt acquired a reputation for being a steadfastly dedicated actor, committed to giving intelligent performances, as witnessed by his impressive work in three early films: Altered States, his screen debut, playing a scientist who uses himself as a guinea pig in his research experiments; Eyewitness, as a janitor enamored of an attractive television reporter; and Body Heat, as a lawyer manipulated by a femme fatale.
As he might have been the first to acknowledge, Hurt had no movie idol aspirations. He wanted to be an actor first, with versatility and a commitment to craft being his prominent concerns. His ability to thoroughly transform himself into his characters is best exemplified by his performances in two disparate roles. In Broadcast News, he plays Tom Grunick, the cardboard-handsome bubblehead whose looks alone allow him to become Washington correspondent of a major network news division, and who is being groomed to anchor the evening news; in Kiss of the Spider Woman, he is Luis Molina, the effeminate homosexual prisoner obsessed with the high camp of old Hollywood movies. Tom Grunick is all facade, a pretty boy who has mastered the art of looking good. An original thought has never entered his head, and he must be spoon-fed questions, words, and ideas. Conversely, Luis Molina is all feeling, all emotion. He is coquettish, flamboyant, amusing—and as extroverted as so many of Hurt's other characters are restrained. In both roles, the actor offers knowing performances, inhabiting each character and making him thoroughly believable within the framework of the story.
Quite a few of Hurt's other characters also have been cerebral: the enigmatic Edward Rochester, in Jane Eyre; Nick, the rootless, impotent drug-dealing Vietnam veteran who lives out of his beat-up sports car, in The Big Chill; James Leeds, the teacher of deaf pupils, in Children of a Lesser God; George Gulden, the detached, intellectually pompous college professor-writer, in One True Thing; and Macon Leary in The Accidental Tourist and Paul Benjamin in Smoke, both of whom have been shattered by the premature demise of loved ones. Hurt's ability to project quietude might serve as a mask for his character's sensitivity (as in The Accidental Tourist and Smoke), or might be plain thickheadedness (as in Broadcast News and Body Heat). Indeed, as Kathleen Turner's bitch-goddess so properly observes in Body Heat, "You're not very bright, are you? I like that in a man."
In the early 1980s, Hurt was considered a hot actor and premier leading man; by the 1990s, he had been stricken from the Hollywood A-list. His inability to maintain a movie star profile was the result of his proclivity for selecting idiosyncratic screen roles. The Plague (in which he plays a doctor) is an ambitious but ultimately unwatchable adaptation of the Albert Camus novel, and never even earned a U.S. theatrical release. Second Best, in which he offers a sensitive performance as an aging Welsh bachelor who decides to adopt a troubled ten-year-old boy, is not the kind of film to have audiences lining up at movie theaters. During the decade, Hurt's highest profile films have included Smoke, Jane Eyre, and One True Thing. In Smoke, he is part of an ensemble; in Jane Eyre, Rochester is subordinate to the title character; in One True Thing, his presence and performance are obscured by the characters and star turns of Meryl Streep and Renee Zellweger. In some of his other films, Sunshine being a perfect example, he barely is noticeable. Late in the decade, he accepted the role of the scientist-father who leads his family on a space mission in Lost in Space, the clunky, special effects-dominated screen version of the 1960s TV series. His involvement in this project indicated that Hurt seemed to be rejecting his own value system and acknowledging the reality that in order to survive as a celluloid commodity you must play the Hollywood game. Only in his case, this acceptance may have come too late. Furthermore, he seemed way out of his element uttering such by-the-numbers lines as "You violated a direct order" and "We have to get that door open." Additionally, Hurt's career situation was exacerbated by his arious legal scuffles and stormy romantic relationships (most notoriously, a 1989 palimony case brought on by his ex-lover, ballet dancer Sandra Jennings)—a predicament which resulted in his seeming to be more often mentioned in tabloid headlines than film reviews.