Linda Hunt from ‘NCIS’ is completely unrecognizable in historic role, fans won’t believe their eyes

linda hunt hadn’t had the career of a superstar in hollywood until she got the role of hetty on ‘ncis.’ at least, that’s probably what many of the fans of the now-classic crime series thought.

hunt actually has a lengthy career in show business, despite facing many issues growing up. she was institutionalized because of her stunted physical and mental growth, but that didn’t stop her from pursuing her dreams.

in 1983, linda hunt received an academy award for best supporting actress. but many fans would probably not be able to recognize her from the role at the time, which became a true classic.

linda hunt was born on april 2, 1945, in morristown, new jersey. she was raised in connecticut by her parents, elsie and raymond hunt. at an early age, though, when linda was only six months old, her parents noticed something that gave them cause for worry.

linda’s motor skills weren’t developing at the usual rate, so her mother and father took her to a hospital in new york to seek help.

what doctors found wasn’t exactly the news linda’s parents wanted. as the bulletin reported in 1991, examinations showed she was suffering from a form of cretinism – a condition of severely stunted physical and mental growth – which would likely eventually lead to linda being institutionalized.

linda hunt – early life

elsie and raymond, however, were not going to let hope fade. instead, they were determined to support their beloved linda and used books and theater to encourage her and help her develop.

by the time linda started school, her motor skills were pretty much on par with that of an average child her. sadly, she struggled due to her learning difficulties and short stature.

“i was totally alienated by school almost from the first day, i had a bad experience with a teacher and was made to feel stupid. i felt bad that i didn’t fit in,” hunt said

In an interview with The Bulletin, Linda Hunt shared her lifelong passion for acting and theater, citing a pivotal moment of inspiration at the age of eight when she saw the Broadway production of Peter Pan with her parents.

“I’m lucky that I’ve always known what I wanted to do,” she expressed to the newspaper, reflecting on the impact of Mary Martin’s portrayal of Peter Pan. “She had the power to make others believe what was in her mind.”

Recalling the experience to CBS, Hunt elaborated, “It was bigger than life. And that in some sense, I longed to be bigger than life because I wasn’t.”

From that moment, Hunt dedicated herself to the craft of acting and theater, aspiring to become a “high priestess of theater.” With the support of her parents, she received private acting coaching in high school and attended a prestigious boarding school to pursue her passion.

“I was so lucky my parents were encouraging on every level,” she emphasized.

Despite their encouragement, Hunt’s parents also urged her to have a backup plan, prompting her to study directing alongside acting. Her father, Raymond, even suggested pursuing a teaching degree if acting didn’t pan out.

Fortunately, Hunt’s determination prevailed. After completing high school, she was diagnosed with hypopituitary dwarfism, a condition that stunted her growth due to a deficiency in growth hormones. However, this diagnosis did not deter her from pursuing her dreams.

Following her education at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and the Theatre School of DePaul University in Chicago, Linda Hunt set her sights on New York City, where her passion for theater continued to flourish.

Arriving in the bustling metropolis, Hunt found herself unsure of where to begin her professional journey.

“I moved into a shoebox-sized apartment in the city when I was in my early 20s with my father’s help,” Hunt recounted. “I was very young and very lost. I didn’t even attempt to act professionally. That would have meant getting an agent and going to auditions. I wasn’t capable of doing any of that. It was truly emotionally beyond me.”

In 1975, Hunt made her Broadway debut in Ah, Wilderness, marking the beginning of her stage career. This eventually paved the way for her first film role in 1978’s Fame. However, it was four years later that Hunt made cinematic history.

Cast as Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously alongside Mel Gibson, Hunt delivered a groundbreaking performance that earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Notably, she was the first person to win an Oscar for portraying a cisgender character of the opposite sex. Despite her achievement, Hunt’s portrayal often goes unrecognized due to her transformative performance.

Director Peter Weir initially faced challenges in casting the role of Billy Kwan, a pivotal character in the film. After Australian dancer David Atkins left the project due to creative differences, a member of the casting department suggested Linda Hunt for the role.

“The sets were being built in Manila and time was of the essence,” Weir explained to The New York Times in 2019. “The casting agent said he had a possible Billy Kwan called L. Hunt. Later it was revealed she was a woman. We were desperate, we gave her a shot and it was brilliant.”

By the time the phone rang, Linda Hunt had already established herself as a prominent figure in theater. So when the casting director proposed a role that would require her to play a man, she was taken aback.

“I didn’t quite understand what I was there for; I talked to the casting director about it and he just said, ‘This would be a part that you would play as a man,’” she recounted to The Daily Beast. “I said, ‘Holy shit,’ and laughed.”

Initially, Hunt contemplated asking director Peter Weir to alter the script to accommodate her gender. However, that notion was swiftly dismissed.

Instead, the producer posed a simple question to Hunt: Could she portray a man?

“I said this would change the entire story and there was a silence,” recalled Weir. “‘Could you play a man?’ I asked her and there was a longer silence. ‘Only if you believe in me,’ she replied.”

Hunt was instructed to undergo a physical transformation for the role, including wearing a wig, prosthetics over her eyes for an “oriental” appearance, and a mustache. However, Hunt pushed back against the prosthetics, insisting on authenticity.

“I didn’t try to pass myself off as a man; the movie wasn’t about that,” Hunt clarified to the New Straits Times.

For the film, Hunt committed fully to the role, altering her appearance significantly. Reports even suggest that she was mistaken for a man in public, despite wearing feminine attire.

Hunt’s portrayal of Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously earned her critical acclaim and an Academy Award, making her the only woman to win an Oscar for playing a cisgender man.

“It seemed crazy, but it totally worked, and that’s why she won,” remarked Turner Classic Movies host Dave Karger to the New York Times.

In her Oscars acceptance speech, Hunt expressed gratitude to her parents, who were in attendance.

“He lived through the Academy Awards and died about 18 months later of a stroke,” she reflected in 2011. “It now means a great deal that he got to be there.”

Since then, Hunt has enjoyed a successful career, notably as Operations Manager Henrietta “Hetty” Lange on NCIS Los Angeles, where she has appeared in a remarkable 281 episodes. While her presence on the show was less prominent during season 12 due to COVID-19 concerns, there are hopeful indications for her return in the future.

After completing both doses of her vaccines, Linda returned to the set feeling rejuvenated and elated. Showrunner R. Scott Gemmill shared with TV Insider in 2021 how Linda’s absence had left her longing for the set’s camaraderie, making her return all the more joyous.

In a promising update in May of last year, Gemmill hinted at Linda’s potential comeback, teasing that she might reprise her role as Hetty in the following season.

Linda Hunt’s involvement in a three-way crossover event between NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, and NCIS: Hawaii in January 2023 showcased her enduring presence in the franchise.

This wasn’t the first time Linda had taken a hiatus from NCIS: Los Angeles. Following a car accident in July 2018, which fortunately resulted in minor injuries, she missed most of the 10th season and a significant portion of the 11th season.

While Linda’s schedule outside of NCIS: Los Angeles remains uncertain, she has previously explored various acting opportunities, including voice roles in films and video games.

Financially, Linda doesn’t need to fret about taking breaks from filming; her net worth reportedly stands at approximately $12 million. Celebrity Net Worth estimates her earnings at $80,000 per episode of NCIS: Los Angeles.

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