I came late to William Hurt, probably for the simple reason that he wasn't the actor children stumbled over first. Always seeking the serious, thematically interesting, and often intellectual roles, Hurt has throughout his career gained a reputation for being perhaps overly professional and serious – something which fits good with his 'waspy' appearance. But underneath the seemingly inaccessible shell is a charming and life-loving performer who boasts great sense of humour – often sarcastic and ironic.
Getting into movies quite late, Hurt enjoyed an almost unbelievably successful decade in the 1980s, first breaking through with his debut performance in Altered States before going on to leading roles in back-to-back critical and commercial successes. From 1985 through 1987, he was Oscar-nominated for best lead actor in three consecutive years. The first of these, for Kiss of the Spider Woman, earned him best actor awards from nearly every award ceremony on the planet, including BAFTA, Cannes and David di Donatello in addition to the Oscars. He has constantly collaborated with Lawrence Kasdan, who first cast Hurt in his own directorial debut Body Heat, and then went on to direct another three films starring Hurt.
Approaching the mid to late 1990s, Hurt struggled to find equally challenging roles, and rarely leads. His brief position as a sex symbol was over, and he had to focus on character roles in supporting parts. In 2005, he was back at his very best and also back as an Oscars nominee with his 10-minute bravura performance in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence.
William Hurt has never given directing or writing a shot, and he has always kept a low profile in the public. He is known for being quite outspoken and philosophical, but despite being labelled a classic intellectual, some of his best performances have come with quite different characters (as in Body Heat), showing his versatility and ability, and perhaps suggesting that William Hurt, all in all, hasn't been given as many good roles as he should've been.
Altered States (1980)
"(...) and Hurt, making his movie début, brings a cool, quivering untrustworthiness to his revved-up mad-scientist role" - Pauline Kael
The Accidental Tourist (1988)
"Hurt gives an exquisite performance as a man shattered by the death of his son (...)." - Pauline Kael
"What Hurt achieves here is almost impossible: He's depressed, low-key, and intensely private through most of the movie, and yet somehow he wins our sympathy." - Roger Ebert
Body Heat (1981)
Matty (Kathleen Turner): "You aren't too
smart. I like that in a man."