SAN FRANCISCO -- There are several lengthy scenes in "The Sessions" where Helen Hunt appears naked.
This should have been the kind of thing that gives pause to a person on the threshold of turning 50. Not Hunt. The Emmy and Oscar winner was so attracted to the story, she didn't even consider how much it would require her to be stripped naked both physically and emotionally.
"I didn't let myself think about how I was going to play it. I didn't let myself think about the nudity too much. I just thought this story was beautiful," she says.
Hunt plays a sex therapist who helps a 38-year-old man in an iron lung -- based on the true story of writer Mark O'Brien -- lose his virginity. The therapist must put aside her own emotional issues to approach their sessions in a professional, and yet caring, manner.
An important element in her being relaxed enough to play such a revealing role was how comfortable she felt with writer/director Ben Lewin. His own battles with polio helped Hunt realize that Lewin would be sensitive both to how the story was told and filmed. It also helped that she connected with co-star John Hawkes and knew he would help her feel at ease.
"When a friend asked me about doing it, I said, 'You know what? It's getting late.' It's a beautiful movie that I would be proud of making. What did I have to worry about? I was nervous here and there, but I just decided I wanted to make the movie more than I wanted to worry about being naked," Hunt says.
The fact that she's 49 years old actually made it easier for Hunt to say yes. She became a professional actor when she was 10 and through many of those years of making movies and TV shows -- the best known being "Mad About You" -- Hunt was not happy with the way she looked.
"I would have not been ready to do a role like this when I was in my 20s," Hunt says. "I spent part of my 20s worrying more about my body than I do now. It was that whole '80s aerobics thing about how you were supposed to look. Actresses in L.A. were eating rice cakes. That's pretty bleak when you go down that road. I went down that road a little and I was miserable.
"At some point I said I would never diet again in my life. My body became more something that I liked, not less."
Although Hunt would love to have a long line of great roles waiting, scripts like "The Sessions" don't come along that often. That's why she's been very selective about the parts she accepts.
"I guess I'm choosey but not cocky about being choosey. Every time I pick up a script, I root for it to be good -- or to pay me. Either one of those would be excellent," Hunt says with a smile.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.