Born Lydia Susanna Hunt on April, 2, 1945 in Morristown, New Jersey to a piano teacher mother, Elsie, and vice president of an Oil company father, Raymond Davy Hunt she grew up with one sister, Marcia. She had several health issues since birth. She was misdiagnosed with cretinism when she was just 6 months old and then later diagnosed with a condition of the pituitary gland not releasing enough growth hormone.
She knew she wanted to be an actress since she was a child and when she 13 she started taking drama lessons. She majored in directing at the prestigious Goodman Theater School in Chicago as she realized that because of her small stature it may be difficult to land acting roles. She worked as a stage manager and director in New York and occasionally as an actress. She worked in alternative theater in companies such as La Mama and Open Theater.
Hunt made her 1980 film debut in the Robert Altman’s musical comedy Popeye. In 1982 she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting actress for her role in The Year of Living Dangerously, Billy Kwan, the Chinese-Australian photographer. She was the first person to win an Oscar for playing a character of the opposite sex. This was her second role as a male character in film. The other one was as “Management” in Carnivale.
She has had a couple of recurring roles on television as Judge Zoey Hiller on David E. Keller’s The Practice and Dr. Claire Bryson on Without a Trace. She now plays the role of the supervisor and operations manager, Henrietta “Hetty” Lange, on CBS’s NCIS: Los Angeles.
Her trade mark is her deep husky voice. She is known by her stature (she stands 4 feet nine) as well as her deep, rich voice that has been used in several documentaries, commercials and video games. She was also chosen by Disney to the voice of Grandmother Willow in the film Pocahontas. She also is the host of the on-air City Arts & Lectures recorded on KQED public radio.
Well known as a stage actress she has received two Obie awards and a Tony nomination for her stage work. She was praised for her work as the title character in Bertoldt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children and she created the role of Aunt Dan in Wallace Shawn’s play Aunt Dan and Lemon.
She has lived with her partner, Karen Klein since 1987.