Holly Hunter and the Saving Grace cast

Holly Hunter and the rest of the "Saving Grace" cast
In TNT’s new drama, "Saving Grace," Grace Hanadarko (Academy Award-winning actor Holly Hunter) is a hard-talking, fast-living police officer who unexpectedly meets her last-chance angel, the wise-cracking Earl (Leon Rippey of "Deadwood"), after a night of heavy drinking, when she accidentally kills a man while driving--and then begs for help from God to change her life. Earl offers a chance at redemption, but it won’t be an easy journey for either of them.

Creator Nancy Miller, a practicing Catholic, sees "Saving Grace" as her chance to explore the ways faith, religion, sin, and choices intersect with each other. Her faith sometimes complicated her work on the show, she tells Beliefnet, in an interview that also touched on the angels she sees living all around us, and her belief that God is a healer, not a rule enforcer.

Grace is an unusual character, a kind of a wild woman who is pushed into asking for redemption. How do you think viewers will to relate to her?

I hope that they're able to see pieces of themselves in her--the pieces that are questioning, that are afraid, that have been shattered and aren't put quite back together yet. I also hope that they relate to her joy of life, her love of her friends and her nephew, and of fun, [like] when she takes [her nephew] for a ride in the police car. So it's all of those different aspects of Grace that I hope people see and relate to.

You have said that Grace is the worst and best of us rolled into one character. What are those best and worst parts that can be found in all of us?

I think that probably wasn't a good thing to say, because there are a lot of people who are a lot worse than Grace. But it’s about when we're hurt, when we're hurt by someone who we trust, who we respect in everyday life. There's a moment in our first episode, a little moment that we all encounter in our lives: She opens a door for a guy, and the guy doesn't say thank you. And it's those little things that we experience everyday that make up our character.

And Grace’s character as a human being is very good. I would trust Grace with my life, without a doubt. But she has struggled. And we all have struggles. The happiest person in the world has struggled. And none of us are perfect. And people can judge. There’s so much judgment going on. And I just don't think that's what God's about.

What inspired you to come up with the idea for this character and this show?

I wanted to take a look at God, faith, religion, and sin through the eyes of a woman who has pieces of all of us in her. Originally I was developing [the character of Grace] as a TV reporter, and it was Michael Wright at TNT who said, "Let's make her a cop." And once I started working that way, it was just perfect because of what she sees every day.

I know that reporters also see horrendous things every day, but they're observers. And Grace is an active participant and has to talk to killers and act like she's their friend to get the information. So the world of police work and a woman struggling with belief, I just think it's perfect.

These are really heavy themes that are being tackled in a one-hour drama. What do you want viewers to take away from it?

We don't try to explain anything, because we don't have the answers. I think Earl doesn't have the answers. He's an employee of heaven and God--whatever you want to think. And I hope it's a fun ride, a fun, surprising, wild ride with some depth. And I think a lot of us have thought about God. If I had God sitting across from me, what would I ask him? That's the sort of thing that we want to explore. But we're not going to have any answers because we don't know. And that has to be enough.

How could life be a test if we had all the answers?

Exactly. And I think that's what God wants. We need him, and we're so weak. I think he just cracks up and cries at some of the stuff we do. I'm from Oklahoma City, and there's a statue across from the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building of Jesus. It's called “Jesus Wept.” And I love this statue because it's a statue of Jesus with his head in his hand. And his sadness and his pain at some of the choices that are made here--that just breaks his heart.

What role does that faith play in your own life?

I'm a practicing Catholic. And faith is very, very important to me. It was pounded in my head as a kid, and I hated it. And I sort of lost my way in my 20s and part of my 30s, and then found my way back. And I don't know what I'd do without it. It's huge in my life.

I also think religion can have humor. And I don't think it's sacrilegious. I don't think it's wrong to make fun of some of the stuff that we think and we do. And we don't ever want Earl, Grace’s angel, to preach. That's not his role. He doesn't have a rulebook that he's walking around enforcing. He's a healer. And I think that's what God is.

Earl is unlike most visions of angels typically seen on television. What made you decide to make him the way he is?

I said, "What would I want my angel to be?" And this is the kind of angel that I would listen to. I'm not going to listen to Michael Landon or Roma Downey. But I will listen to Earl. And other people will listen to Roma Downey and Michael Landon. But for me, I can relate to Earl. I can relate to an angel who chews tobacco, who’s kind of smartass. Some people won't be able to. But that's who Grace will respond to, and that's why Earl was picked for Grace.