Holly Hunter, <EM>Saving Grace</EM> Holly Hunter, Saving Grace

Following in the footsteps of Kiefer Sutherland, James Spader and, yes, Kyra Sedgwick, Holly Hunter is but the latest film vet to have her head turned by the increasing quality of the smaller screen. Yet the Academy Award winner’s much-touted trek to television — TNT’s Saving Grace (premiering tonight at 10 pm/ET) — was not necessarily by design. “As soon as I read the character, I went, ‘OK, I really don't care where this is happening,’” she shares with TVGuide.com. “I knew I wanted to get into it, period.”

On Saving Grace, Hunter plays Grace Hanadarko, an Oklahoma City police detective who seems to break as many rules as she enforces. She drinks... to excess. She’s an exhibitionist. She’s adulterous. And on one fateful night, in the first episode, a confluence of her myriad trespasses finds her racing along a seemingly desolate road until she mows down an innocent pedestrian. It is then that she is afforded a most unlikely second chance, in the form of an atypical angelic figure named Earl (Deadwood's Leon Rippy). The lady cop, though, is not immediately ready to tone down her hard-living ways. The result is vivid and oftentimes edgy fare, hence its home on TNT. “I mean, I knew this could not happen on network [television]. That was for sure,” says Hunter. “There are too many risks taken. Grace’s world is a pretty wide world, and it would have been narrowed up considerably for network. So I was excited about the fact that it was taking place on cable. But I would have done it no matter what.”

Still, Hunter — who acknowledges that “it’s an ambitious thing to undertake, the one-hour drama” — sought some reassurance from friend Dylan McDermott, who braved the TV grind for years on David E. Kelley’s The Practice. “I called Dylan pretty quickly and just said, ‘OK, man, how do you do this? How do you do this? How do you survive?' He just said that the most exciting thing about it is that you have to be very spontaneous, that you have to live a somewhat different life in front of the camera. You might get a day to memorize the lines, or have to memorize them the day you're shooting them. He found an incredible amount of liberation in that [this was something] you might never have anywhere else.” As fate would have it, Hunter was hungry to be liberated as an actress. “The day can take you,” she says, reflecting on her Saving Grace run thus far. “The shooting can be really intoxicating.”

Of course, Hunter’s first series-regular TV foray has the added bonus of leading out of another drama about a strong-willed female detective, and one played by another transplant from feature films. But Hunter relishes the good company. “What they've done with The Closer is phenomenal,” she nods, “and what Kyra has done is really fantastic. They have kind of an unprecedented thing going on. So yeah, I think [the time slot] is a vote of confidence by TNT. We're all pretty excited about it.”

Is Saving Grace divine? Preview the new series using our Online Video Guide.

Fans of such fare as Heroes, Smallville and Kyle XY can find super scoops in the Sci-Fi Preview double-issue of TV Guide. Try four risk-free issues now!

Send your comments on this Q&A to online_insider@tvguide.com.