LYNN ELBER Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Bonnie Hunt’s approach to comedy deserves a patent. She’s hilariously outspoken but reliably kind-hearted, giving viewers credit for her intelligence, as evidenced by pretty much everything she’s starred in, written in, or both.
What Hunt has done for adults in projects like Jerry Maguire, Dave and the TV series Life with Bonnie, she generously extends to children – and the adults who love them – with Amber Brown.
The new 10-episode Apple TV+ series, which premieres Friday with 10 episodes, is based on the mop-top character created by Paula Danziger and is written and directed by Hunt, who also serves as showrunner.
While she has acted and spoken in kid-oriented films such as Jumanji and the Toy Story and Cars franchises, Amber Brown is the first such project she has owned. But Hunt says she always envisioned a family audience when writing, and sees storytelling as a privilege.
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“I grew up watching TV and movies and I know how powerful it can be as a kid,” she said. “When I saw my parents watching something like ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ or ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ … they were just in those moments, free of stress and worry and just laughing.”
Family is key for Hunt, a former oncology nurse. She is a devoted aunt to a large number of nieces and nephews and credits her mother with encouraging her to write for children. Alice Hunt, who died last November at the age of 95, became known to television viewers for her weekly video visits from Chicago to Hunt’s 2008-10 syndicated talk show.
“She’s in everything I write with all her humor, her wisdom. My mother raised seven kids in the city without help,” Hunt said after being widowed at an early age. “I think all my siblings are good, kind, decent people and that’s quite an achievement. I always told her that.”
Hunt had started writing a series about an eccentric aunt when she met an executive at a production company that owned the rights to the Amber Brown books. They bonded and Hunt was introduced to the family of the late author, who died in 2004 at the age of 59.
“When we first met, Bonnie seemed a perfect fit to fill Paula’s very large (and sequined) shoes,” Carrie Danziger, the author’s niece and inspiration for the Amber books, said in an email. “Like Paula, Bonnie is a very devoted and loving aunt” and has the comedy savvy to capture the spirit of the books.
Hunt has made changes (with family blessings, she notes) that soften some of the harder edges of Amber’s life. The young woman still longs for her divorced parents to be reunited, but their relationship is less bitter than on the site and they are a little more attuned to their daughter’s feelings.
Amber is two years older than her 9 year old book version and is entering middle school. She’s also an aspiring artist, “almost a scholar,” as Hunt puts it, expressing her deepest feelings in vivid sketches that come to animated life and show what she can’t say.
“But she also has a video journal, so we have what she can and can’t say out loud,” Hunt said. The combination gives the show a fresh look, but there’s a deliberate effort to avoid the overly hip and hypertonic tone of many tween programs.
“I wanted a little bit of that ‘Andy Griffith’ quality that I can still see today, the timelessness, the pace, the heart and soul and the humor that comes from the truth,” she said.
Race is not an issue on the show, but Amber’s family is multi-racial and the cast is diverse. Her father is played by Michael Yo, who is of black and Asian descent, with Sarah Drew (“Grey’s Anatomy”) as her mother. Carsyn Rose, who boasts a luscious crown of curls, plays Amber, who is portrayed in the books as a freckled white child with a mass of red hair.
When the casting call went to agents, Hunt said the characters were only identified as “Mom, Dad, Friend” with no further description. At Rose’s audition, she displayed “such a beautiful quality, very authentic,” and Hunt was later impressed by Drew and Yo.
“They became family,” Hunt said.
As the entertainment industry is finally opening up to diversity and inclusion, “Right now I just want to show it. I don’t want to say it,” Hunt said. “It’s just because it’s beautiful and it’s a part of us.”
Hunt is a regular writer and voice actor, but has been mostly off-screen in recent years, apart from a few scattered roles like in the Escape at Dannemora miniseries. She has made spending time with her family circle a priority and lived with her mother in Chicago during the pandemic and up until her last days.
Hunt longs to return to acting, and those familiar with her work know that she brings even a small role or a single text to life. These include the cynical sister of Renée Zellweger in “Jerry Maguire” or an imperious White House tour guide (“We’re walking. We’re walking. We’re stop”) in the satire “Dave”.
But even a youthful-looking actor knows that middle-aged roles are hard to come by, especially when you’re a woman.
“I really miss acting,” she said. “It would be nice if the right thing came along, a great storyteller to write me something. I would love it.”