Born in Conyers, GA, Hunter was one of seven children raised on a 250-acre farm by her parents. After she first shone onstage as Helen Keller in a fifth grade production of "The Miracle Worker," her family encouraged her to pursue performing as a career. In 1976, she went to Carnegie Mellon to pursue a degree in drama, and after graduating in 1980, she moved to New York to put her schooling to the test. A chance encounter with playwright Beth Henley (in a stalled elevator) led to Hunter becoming Henley's muse in several acclaimed productions, including "Crimes of the Heart" and "The Miss Firecracker Contest." Aspiring filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen saw her in the former play and wrote a part for her in their upcoming debut, a modern noir called "Blood Simple" (1984), but due to commitments with another play, she was forced to turn them down. Hunter then recommended her roommate, Frances McDormand, to the brothers, who cast her as the female lead, tapping Hunter to provide a voice on an answering machine in the film. McDormand later married Joel Coen in 1984, and the new couple, along with Ethan Coen and Sam Raimi of "Spider-Man" (2002) fame, all lived together in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles when Hunter moved there in 1981. That same year, Hunter landed her first onscreen role in a particularly violent slasher film produced by Harvey and Bob Weinstein called "The Burning." She marked time in a string of unremarkable TV movies until her star-making role in the Coen Brothers' "Raising Arizona" arrived in 1987. As a tender-hearted police officer whose inability to have a child forces her and her jailbird husband (Nicolas Cage) to kidnap a baby from a wealthy furniture salesmen, Hunter showed an uncommon knack for verbal and physical comedy. Hunter charmed audiences and critics alike, leaving directors queued up to tap her apparently unlimited talent. Hunter next wowed audiences in "Broadcast News" (1987), director James L. Brooks' tribute to the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. Hunter brought smarts and sensuality to her turn as an overachieving news reporter, and critics responded by nominating her for an Oscar and a Golden Globe.Hunter essayed more take-charge women with romantic flaws in her next projects, which included "Always" (1989), Steven Spielberg's treacle-heavy remake of "A Guy Named Joe" (1943); and 1993's "Once Around." She also returned to Henley's "Miss Firecracker" in a little-seen film adaptation in 1989, and took a serious turn in "Roe vs. Wade," a 1989 TV movie that earned her an Emmy nomination for her performance as the woman whose inability to have an abortion due to state law created the landmark legal case. The year 1993 proved a high mark for Hunter's career with the release of "The Piano." Aside from the challenges of playing a mute, Hunter also performed all of her own musical pieces in the film (she began studying piano at the age of nine) and had to stand on her own amidst two powerhouse performers, Harvey Keitel and Sam Neill. Alternately delicate, defiant, and sexually confident, Hunter's Ada McGrath won her an Academy Award and countless other nods from critics and organizations around the globe, solidifying the opinion that Hunter was among the best actresses working in film at the time.Unfortunately, the movies that followed "The Piano" did not quite measure up to her talents. Television brought her the best post-"Piano" character - an overachieving suburban mother whose desire to see her daughter succeed leads to an unbelievable murder plot in the cable comedy-drama, "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom" (1993), for which she won the Emmy. But aside from an Oscar-nominated and scene-stealing turn as Gary Busey's secretary in Sydney Pollack's "The Firm" (1993), Hunter's next few film projects were as middle-of-the-road as Hollywood could get. "Copycat" (1995) and "Home for the Holidays" (1996) were unremarkable thrillers and comedies, respectively, and "A Life Less Ordinary" (1997) and "Living Out Loud" (1998) were filled with star talent but offered their casts little to do. The sole standout among this sea of unremarkable projects was David Cronenberg's controversial "Crash" (1996), in which Hunter and James Spader play disaffected urbanites that develop a passionate sexual relationship built around the violence of car accidents. The project won a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996, and reinforced Hunter's willingness to appear in challenging fare. During this period, she also married cinematographer and frequent Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski; the couple split in 2001. After "Crash," Hunter associated herself with more independent-minded work. Her films of the late 1990s included "Jesus' Son" (1999), about a drug addict's stream of consciousness adventures; Rodrigo Garcia's intimate character piece "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her" (2000), which eventually aired on the Showtime network and earned Hunter an Emmy nomination; and Mike Figgis' "Timecode" (2000), which presented multiple storylines occurring at the same time on screen. She also returned to the Coen Brothers' fold during this time for a small but pivotal part as George Clooney's beloved in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000), which blossomed into a runaway cult hit. Hunter also found exceptional projects on the small screen during this time. Her starring roles in "Harlan County War" (2000), about the United Coal Miners' union strike in the early 1970s, and "When Billie Beat Bobby" (2001), both brought her Emmy nominations. She also ventured behind the scenes with the latter project, for which she served as co-executive producer, and did so again in 2003 for Catherine Hardwicke's gripping drama "Thirteen." As a former alcoholic and mother struggling to understand her rebellious daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), Hunter gave another riveting performance and earned another Academy Award nomination.The following year, Hunter found a new legion of fans as the voice of Helen Parr, a.k.a. Elastigirl, in Brad Bird's charming and wildly successful animated film, "The Incredibles" (2004), about a family of superheroes who must shrug off the complacency of suburban life to once again save the world. However, her next projects - a reunion with Rodrigo Garcia in another vignette-styled picture called "Nine Lives" (2005) and a comedy with Robin Williams called "The Big White" (2005), went largely unseen by mainstream audiences. In 2007, Hunter made her first venture into a network television series with "Saving Grace" (TNT, 2007-2010), for which she played a jaded police detective who encounters an angel with the power to redeem her past and present. The show earned Hunter renewed critical acclaim and accolades, leading to a numerous award nominations over the series' run.