The Stunning Transformation Of Linda Hunt

Most of us know Linda Hunt as the indomitable Hetty Lange from CBS's NCIS: Los Angeles. The much-loved role, which Hunt has been portraying since 2009, has well and truly defined the actress' long career. In fact, Hetty has become something of a cult favorite among fans of the show. Hunt's marriage to Karen Kline has also made Hunt something of an icon in the LGBTQ+ community, too — especially as she's always been pretty open about her sexuality.

But Hunt's career didn't begin with Hetty Lange. In fact, you may remember her for some of her other roles in films such as Kindergarten Cop, Silverado, Dune, and The Year of Living Dangerously (via IMDb). And true Hunt fans might even know about her early days as an emerging New York theater actress.

Curious to learn more about Hunt's journey from bullied child to television star? Here is the stunning transformation of Linda Hunt.

Linda Hunt was supported by her parents growing up

Linda Hunt was born in 1945 in New Jersey and raised in Connecticut by her parents, Elsie and Raymond Hunt. When she was just six months old, her parents began to worry. As The Bulletin reported, she wasn't developing motor skills at the normal rate. Doctors predicted that she would need to be institutionalized.

Hunt's mother was determined to support her baby. Elsie and Raymond used books and theater to encourage Linda's development. Apparently, Linda's motor skills were almost normal by the time she started school. Even though Linda struggled at school, her parents were determined to give her every possible chance in life. They even hired her a private acting coach and sent her to an excellent boarding school. By the sounds of things, Linda's parents made her life full. "I was so lucky my parents were encouraging on every level," she said.

Linda Hunt was teased mercilessly for her height in her childhood

Because of her short stature and her learning difficulties, Linda Hunt had a difficult childhood. As she told The Bulletin, "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." Her peers were also unkind.

"Everybody either wanted to take care of me or push me around, you know? I was teased a lot, sure I was, of course," Hunt told CBS News. "Fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, everybody was taking their spurts except me." While the bullying was difficult for Hunt, it also gave her a unique kind of determination. She explained to the Daily Beast, "I was a very determined kid. ... This happens to kids who are different in any way."

By the end of high school, she was eventually diagnosed with hypopituitary dwarfism, a condition that doesn't allow the standard amount of growth hormones to be released in the body.

Linda Hunt was hugely inspired by a theater production of Peter Pan

Linda Hunt's love of theater and acting came early in life. As she explained to The Bulletin, "I'm lucky that I've always known what I wanted to do." Her inspiration came when she was 8 years old and her parents took her to see Peter Pan on Broadway. "[Mary Martin, who played Peter] was astonishing in her belief in the world she was creating, and that was fascinating to me," Hunt recalled. "She had the power to make others believe what was in her mind." Hunt decided that she would devote her life to the theater. As she put it, she wanted to become "a high priestess of theater."

Hunt described seeing Martin's life-changing performance to CBS News, saying, "It was bigger than life. And that in some sense, I longed to be bigger than life, because I wasn't."

When Hunt told her parents she wanted to act professionally, they were supportive, but anxious that she should have a back-up plan. Her father encouraged her to study directing and even get a teaching degree, as she told the Daily Beast

Linda Hunt spent several years unsure of herself and her future

After studying acting throughout high school, Linda Hunt moved to New York. She knew she was passionate about theater, but she wasn't sure about where to begin. What followed were a few difficult years. "I was very young and very lost," she told The Bulletin. In fact, she felt so lost, she didn't even consider acting. "That would have meant getting an agent and going on auditions," she said. "I wasn't capable of doing any of that. It was truly emotionally beyond me."

Hunt's early years in New York were spent finding a community of friends and doing some backstage work at a theater. She was also undergoing a range of treatments for her hypopituitary dwarfism, all of which proved unsuccessful. Eventually, Hunt began to question herself and wonder if she had actually pursued the right path. She even moved back to her parents' house to regroup.

An acting coach changed Linda Hunt's life

Moving back home as a young adult initially felt like an admission of failure for Linda Hunt. However, the move ended up being just what she needed to regain her confidence and passion. She met up with her old acting coach who rekindled her childhood love of theater. "My acting coach reminded me again about the importance of acting in my life and the knowledge that this was my gift," she explained to The Bulletin. "I had lost myself for a while, and that awareness gave me back to myself."

Hunt, with newfound confidence, decided that professional acting was her true calling, and she began auditioning. "Soon I was sending out resumes and reading for parts," she recalled. Luckily, she proved to be successful. By the sounds of things, this acting coach ended up being a pivotal person in Hunt's life and the advice she received was just what she needed to kick-start her career in the entertainment business.

Linda Hunt began her career with a series of impressive stage role

Once Linda Hunt began pursuing a career in acting, things started happening for her pretty quickly. In 1972, she appeared in Hamlet in New Haven. What followed were a series of theater roles in plays by Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Bertolt Brecht, and Anton Chekhov (via The Bulletin). She even won two Obie Awards and picked up a Tony nomination (via CBS News).

Hunt was clearly well-suited for a career in theater. In fact, as she told Bomb magazine, her years of stage acting taught her a lot — especially when she worked with actor Austin Pendleton. She developed a method of acting that involved "using everything that is happening to you and editing nothing." She explained that she learned to stop organizing her thoughts and just let everything that happened inform her performance. As she recalled, "Austin taught me that all of the stimuli, everything that you are vulnerable to when you're out there has got to be taken in ... if you spend any energy keeping it out, you're dead."

In her early career, Linda Hunt had to deal with her fair share of rejection

Despite her success in theater, Linda Hunt didn't immediately feel like she'd made it as an actor. In fact, in between her stage roles, she often found herself dealing with rejection and disappointment. As she told The Bulletin, "I'm working more than I thought I'd be. I am not working as much as I'd like." She added, "I'm still feeling enough frustrations about myself and my career that I'm in analysis now."

She went into more detail about missed opportunities in her interview with Bomb magazine. Apparently, she was once in the running to star in Waiting for Godot, but the writer didn't want the role to go to a woman. "I was completely shattered," she said, adding, "It was a time in my life when I came very, very close to some remarkable opportunities and they got away from me for one reason or another." She went on to explain that some periods got so bad, she even collected unemployment. However, instead of becoming depressed, she soldiered on and even started making her own work.

Linda Hunt made history in 1984 with her Oscar win

In 1984, Linda Hunt took on what was arguably her breakthrough role — she played Billy Kwan, a Chinese-Australian photographer, in the film The Year of Living Dangerously. She described the role as "extraordinary" to Bomb magazine. "I had to do it," she recalled. As The New York Times noted, there may have been some issues with her casting as a part-Chinese man today, as it would be considered inappropriate. Nevertheless, her performance was widely considered to be a spectacular one. At the time, Roger Ebert wrote, "This is what great acting is." Hunt ended up winning an Oscar for the role, becoming the first actor to win for portraying "a cisgender character of the opposite sex."

As Hunt told the New Straits Times, "I didn't try to impersonate a man — that's not what the movie is about." She did, however, chop off her hair and shave her eyebrows.

The Oscar win catapulted her into the public eye, and, as she explained, the fame wasn't something she had bargained for. It definitely marked the end of her life as a relatively unknown theater actor.

Linda Hunt broke into film and TV and became known for her "authority"

Linda Hunt's career took a leap forward when she broke into the film and TV world with a role in the Fame movie, followed by a role in Popeye and then, of course, her turn in The Year of Living Dangerously (via IMDb). Soon after her Oscar win, she was taking on more and more major roles. She starred in Dune, Eleni, and The Bostonians. In Silverado, she starred alongside Kevin Kline as a "flirtatious vamp." In Kindergarten Cop, she starred with her "physical opposite" Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Over the years, her screen roles began to follow a certain type. In shows like The Practice, The Unit, and Without a Trace, she portrayed a series of strong, powerful women. As Hunt explained to the New York Post, "People are always casting me for what they call my authority." As she went on to explain, this quality came easily to her as she had developed a certain strength to compensate for her height. "To get people to take you seriously, you have to come at things with a great deal of strength," she said.

Linda Hunt's career started to look like it was dwindling

Despite her history-making Oscar win and a few decades of successful film and TV work, Linda Hunt's career began to slow down in the early 2000s. She confessed to the Daily Beast that she had become bored of her work at that time. "I began to get some pretty boring stuff for a while: children's films, family films, which I never felt comfortable with," she revealed. In these films, she felt out of place. "I never knew what I was really playing. I was just there for some kind of... 'Oh, let's get Linda Hunt. She'll do anything.'"

Hunt clearly didn't like becoming a token actor without a good, meaty role to sink her teeth into. By the sounds of things, she had largely accepted her fate, and she was doing voice work, not really expecting to take on a long-term role on a television drama. However, a role did come along in NCIS: Los Angeles, and it changed her career entirely.

Linda Hunt got married in 2008

Linda Hunt's career may have felt a little stale in the 2000s, but her personal life was thriving. In 2008, she married Karen Kline, a therapist, or, as Hunt calls her, her "lady" (via Daily Beast). That year was also the year same-sex marriage was legalized in California. The couple had been together for many years prior to their marriage — in fact, according to CheatSheet, the couple first got together in 1987. Of her marriage, Hunt told the New York Post, "What that means legally, I don't know. And remember, legal is only legal in California."

As Kline told CBS News, she was initially taken by Hunt's fashion sense rather than her height. "I was kind of struck [by] Linda's corduroy's," she joked. Hunt chimed in with her own joke, this one about their slight age difference. "Karen's six years younger," she said, "but I forgive her daily. I do, I forgive you for being younger."

Linda Hunt took on her career-defining role in NCIS: Los Angeles in 2009

When Linda Hunt took on the role of Hetty Lange in NCIS: Los Angeles in 2009, she probably didn't realize how important the role would be in her career. As of 2021, over a decade later, she's still stepping into Hetty's shoes. In 2011, she told the Daily Beast, "I'm now 66. At this time in my life, that this has come along, feels just like a gift."

The role was the perfect opportunity for Hunt to show off her authoritative presence in an interesting role. As her co-star Chris O'Donnell said, "Linda is so petite, but she just has this presence about her." And Shane Brennan, a writer on the show, added, "It became apparent pretty quickly that Linda was something special and that the audience was responding to her."

For Hunt, the role and its popularity gave her a feeling of retribution after her difficult experiences of childhood bullying. "These days, there are some teenagers out there who actually think that what Hetty is doing is cool and what Linda Hunt is doing is cool," she said. "I love that."

As Linda Hunt got older, she began to yearn for more time at home

Linda Hunt's enthusiasm for acting has never faltered — but over the years, she's begun to prioritize her own time at home. As she told CBS News in 2013, "I look forward to a time when I don't have to work anymore, which is close at hand, I think." Free time off work would mean more time to spend with her wife, Karen, and their three "doggies" (via USA Today). It might also mean more time spent on her hobbies, like reading, writing, and studying psychology.

For Hunt, acting also comes with a lot of stress. After a decades-long career, it has become difficult to manage. She told the Daily Beast, "At this time in my life, I'd rather just not do it [act] ... I'd rather be the person who has more time to stretch, more time to think, more time to reach out to other people."

As the Los Angeles Times revealed, Hunt and her wife share a beautiful but small bungalow in Hollywood. As Hunt told the publication, "I often go to the guesthouse to practice lines and look at the window of the sunroom and think how pretty it is." No wonder she can't wait to spend more time there!

Why Linda Hunt had a much smaller part in Season 12 of NCIS: Los Angeles

As of 2021, Linda Hunt is still technically a member of the cast of NCIS: Los Angeles, despite her claims that she was excited to retire and spend more time at home. However, as fans of the show may have realized, she didn't actually appear much in Season 12 of the show. As the Express revealed, her absence from the main cast is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Hunt is in her 70s, she was kept separate from the rest of the cast for health reasons. She was also in a serious car accident a couple years earlier, and she decided to pare back her role then in order to recover. So, with all that in mind, it's no wonder Hetty hasn't been a constant presence for a few years.

Luckily, the writers on the show found a way around the COVID dilemma. Instead of having Hunt join the rest of the cast on set, they instead wrote a plotline for her character that involved her having to call in via video.

Even though Hunt is still a part of the show, many fans believe that Season 12 may be her last. Maybe Hunt will finally get the retirement she has been waiting for.