Hurt made her film debut as one of three emotionally tormented sisters in Woody Allen's starkly dramatic "Interiors" (1978) and followed up with her first feature lead in "Head Over Heels" (1979).
Because of her theater commitments, Hurt's film career has not been especially prolific, but she has regularly appeared in features. Her lack of movie-star beauty has kept her largely in supporting roles, but she seems to prefer offbeat parts which register prominently just the same. Although she has played a number of uptight, emotionally strung-out wives, mothers and friends, Hurt's intensity is one of the few unvarying qualities to her work. (Indeed, an early stage appearance in "More Than You Deserve" (1973) cast her as a 98 year-old Vietnamese man.) She played Garp's wife in "The World According to Garp" (1986) but was outshone by the other, more outlandish characters peopling novelist John Irving's world. She compensated, however, with an unusually flashy performance in the surprisingly good genre thriller "Defenseless" (1991). A number of Hurt's films have called for urbane sophistication, including the darkly satirical "Compromising Positions" (1985), the period drama "The Age of Innocence" (1993), and the contemporary comedy of "Six Degrees of Separation" (1993). Mother roles have ranged from her fretful, frighteningly conformist homemaker of the outrageous and bleak "Parents" (1989) to the sensitive parent of a prematurely born, severely impaired daughter in "Baby Girl Scott" (1987), Hurt's TV-movie debut. Formerly married to actor William Hurt, she achieved success while they were together and subsequently has kept his surname professionally; she later married writer-director Paul Schrader, for whom she acted in "Light Sleeper" (1992).