Helen Elizabeth Hunt is an American actress, film director, and screenwriter. She starred in the sitcom, Mad About You, for seven years before being cast in the 1997 romantic comedy film, As Good as It Gets for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Some of her other Hollywood credits include Twister, Castaway, What Women Want, Pay It Forward, and Soul Surfer. She made her directorial debut in 2007 with Then She Found Me.
Hunt was born in Culver City, California. Her mother, Jane Elizabeth, worked as a photographer, and her father, Gordon E. Hunt, is a film director and acting coach. Her uncle, Peter H. Hunt, is also a director. When she was three, Hunt's family moved to New York City, where her father directed theatre (Hunt attended plays as a child several times a week). Hunt studied ballet, and attended UCLA.
Hunt began working as a child actress in the 1970s. Her early roles included an appearance as Murray Slaughter's daughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, alongside Lindsay Wagner in an episode of The Bionic Woman, and a regular role in the television series The Swiss Family Robinson. She appeared as a marijuana-smoking classmate on an episode of The Facts of Life. Hunt also played a young woman who, while on PCP, jumps out of a second-story window, in a 1982 after school special called Desperate Lives. That same year, Hunt was cast on the ABC sitcom It Takes Two, which lasted a single season. In the mid-1980s, she had a recurring role on St. Elsewhere as Clancy Williams, girlfriend of Dr. Jack "Boomer" Morrison. She played Jennie in the television movie Bill: On His Own, co-starring Mickey Rooney. She also starred in the 1985 film Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Shannen Doherty.
In the 1990s, after playing the lead female role in the short-lived My Life and Times, Hunt starred in the series Mad About You, winning Emmy Awards for her performances in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999. In 1998, Hunt won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Carol Connelly in the movie As Good as It Gets; the character is a waitress and single mother who finds herself falling in love with Melvin Udall, an obsessive-compulsive romance novelist played by Jack Nicholson. After winning the Academy Award, she took time off from movie work to play Viola in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, at Lincoln Center in New York.
In 2000, Hunt starred in four films: Dr. T & the Women, with Richard Gere; Pay It Forward, with Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment; What Women Want, with Mel Gibson; and Castaway, with Tom Hanks. In 2003, she returned to Broadway in Yasmina Reza's Life x 3. In 2006, Hunt appeared in the ensemble cast film Bobby alongside Demi Moore, Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone and William H. Macy.
Hunt directed several episodes of Mad About You, including the series finale. Her big-screen directorial debut came with the film Then She Found Me, in which she also starred, with Colin Firth and Matthew Broderick.
She currently owns a production company with Connie Tavel, Hunt/Tavel Productions under Sony Pictures Entertainment.