Gregory Kirschling
May 23, 2005 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Helen Hunt gets off to an unlikable start in HBO’s Empire Falls (see review, page 126), playing, she says, Ed Harris’ ”slightly offensive, very insensitive” estranged wife. But during the two-part adaptation of Richard Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the Oscar winner, 41, eventually unveils her character’s ”broken, misunderstood” side, too. Her biggest challenge? Maneuvering a tricky East Coast twang. Don’t try this at home.

What’s the accent? Maine or New Engl —

It better be exactly Augusta, Maine. I worked very hard on it. [My dialect coach Robert Easton] will tell you how [the character’s] mother would’ve spoken, and her mother’s mother. It’s really an art form: ”Western Maine is not southern Maine, and here’s why — ’cause there’s an Irish influence.” And he’s masterful at it.

Next: the fall romantic comedy A Good Woman. Why haven’t we seen you in more since 2000’s What Women Want?

I don’t know! [Laughs]I had a baby [Makena Lei, 1, with boyfriend, producer Matthew Carnahan]. But that’s not all of it. It’s hard to find parts that are as interesting as this one.

Do you turn a lot of stuff down?

I don’t feel like I have. I feel like I haven’t been getting the offers I wish I got. But I’ve also been very happy to spend the last year with my family.

At one point, you were going to star in a series of female detective movies written by Robert B. Parker. What happened?

We weren’t able to find the right way to put it on screen. Somebody might. But we haven’t yet.

But you’ll soon make your directorial debut with Then She Found Me, based on Elinor Lipman’s novel.

I will be preparing as much as humanly possible. [The movie’s] about love and fear, betrayal, motherhood and daughterhood, risk, God, and faith — the things that mean the most to me!

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