Kris Hunt tells stories inspired by his colorful upbringing in the Upper East Side of Texas. He’s committed to changing long-outdated stereotypes of Southerners as rednecks, hicks, and hillbillies.
People from our region, he says, are just as likely to be worldly, educated, or otherwise well rounded.
“Some Texans may wear worn-out clothes, have strong country accents, and drive old trucks. But they also may speak four languages, play the piano, and tell you all about fine wines.”
Hunt once met with someone from a major TV network and laughed out loud at the executive’s narrow-minded view of Southerners.
“He told me, ‘We might want to work with you because we’re talking about getting into hick humor,’” Hunt says. “That is how narrowly people think about places they’ve never visited.”
Hunt is determined not to cave to those false perceptions.
“That’s not what I do. I create more nuanced characters like the real ones I know.”
He is sticking to the inspiring, funny, smart, gumption-filled characters he’s experienced in the region — not only from places like vineyards, art galleries, and bookstore coffee shops, but from farms, pool halls, gravel pits, rodeos, and flea markets.
But it’s not easy to swim against the Hollywood tide.
“The thing about sticking to your guns is it’s not an immediate return on your investment of time,” Hunt says. “It takes a long time to get the right attention and hopefully these nuanced characters will connect with people.”
His persistence is starting to finally pay off.
His feature-film script, Cowgirl’s Last Ride, is currently in pre-production by Resonate Entertainment, formed by Susan Cartsonis (What Women Want), Suzanne Farwell (The Intern), and Brent Emery (The Stanford Prison Experiment). They are hoping to start filming later this year.
The story is about an aging, but still-rebellious Texas cowgirl who escapes a Dallas nursing home to make a perilous, soul-searching journey back to her native East Texas. Starring as the lead character, Fay, is Oscar-winner Geena Davis, star of Thelma & Louise among other hit movies.
Though far away from his life in Los Angeles now, Cowgirl is set in the place he still considers home.
Hunt comes from a long line of East Texans — eight generations or so — from Longview, Lufkin, Terrell, Quinlan, Jacksonville, Kaufman County, and Lake Palestine to name a few of the places embedded in his memories.
“I have family all over East Texas. My cousins live in Lufkin. My aunt lives in Greenville. Many come from Terrell. My grandpa had a tractor repair shop in Quinlan and was a water witcher. Another grandpa was a bass fisherman, often on Lake Palestine.”
In between time with relatives around East Texas, he spent much of his childhood living in and out of motels and trailer houses on the east side of Dallas.
To help pay rent, Hunt and his older brother collected cans and rummaged through trash piles for things they could sell including used vacuum cleaners, a boom box, and old carpet. They mowed yards and did whatever they could to contribute.
“We even went door-to-door selling candles in scents like Vanilla Bean and Snickerdoodle,” Hunt recalls. “I learned to hustle, in a good way.”
He loved skateboarding until concrete and asphalt gave way to soil when the family moved to rural Royse City, Texas.
There, he found a new way to pass time sitting on old piles of wood out in the pasture.
“I’d write poetry against the low hum of the Southern Junction dance hall just down the road.”
While he developed his creativity in the boonies outside Royse City, he struggled in high school to fit in and to keep up his grades.
One day his class was going on a field trip to visit a college.
“My grades were bad so I couldn’t go,” Hunt recalls, but says college was something that had never really crossed his mind anyway. No one in his family had attended and it wasn’t a topic of conversation as they worked hard to scrape and save for necessities.
In a fortunate turn of events, Hunt says one of his teachers, who recognized promise in his writing, pushed for him to go on the trip.
“I had to sit in the front of the bus with the teachers,” he recalls, being that his circumstances were different than the other students.
He says he was more than impressed with the college campus — he’d never seen anything like it before.
“I remember the smell of the English department,” he says, no doubt getting a whiff of thousands of new books. “It stuck with me.”
During his teen years, Hunt discovered he had a talent for comedy as he hung out with his cousins and watched closely all the nuances of relatives and “the old guys.”
“I started clowning around and learned how to improv on the porch or on a tailgate with these crazy characters,” he says, noting it helped him feel valued. “Even if you have pimples and crooked teeth you can get laughs, and that’s awesome.”
He bought his parents’ old car and drove to Dallas to The Back Door Comedy Club on Greenville Avenue at the age of 16 to perform at an open mic.
“I was nervous, but I got laughs,” he recalls. “That got me stoked and excited enough to know in some form, I’m going to keep doing this. It was enough to plant that seed.”
At the age of 17 he dropped out of high school and started working in factories alongside his parents during the day and performed in Dallas at comedy clubs at night. But that trip to the college campus a couple of years earlier had left an impression he couldn’t shake and he started wanting more for himself.
“I saw too many people in my family struggling. They are all hard workers. We’d do good for a couple of years, then not so good.
“I’m not going to screw around and get in trouble,” he said to himself. “If I stick to it, maybe I can help my family.
“I lucked out with a bit of intelligence somehow and decided I should do whatever I can to make things better even if it takes a long time. And do it with something I love — writing, TV and film industry, performing comedy.
He eventually earned his G.E.D. and spent the next summer begging his way into college.
The first in his family from both sides to go to college, Hunt graduated from the University of North Texas in Denton. He majored in theater and anthropology and earned an unofficial minor in billiards. Shooting pool became a life-long hobby and sometimes profitable side hustle.
A big influence in his life came when he saw the movie Sling Blade, starring Billy Bob Thornton.
“I saw a guy who sounds like me and who wrote and starred in his own southern-set film,” Hunt says. “It blew my mind — that even though it took him a long time, he did it.”
After college Hunt spent a few years working as a copywriter and at Dallas country clubs. He dabbled in a few TV spots and working on documentaries, while keeping his dreams of writing about — and performing — authentic Texas characters.
In 2009, a good friend enticed him to move from Texas to Los Angeles.
“I lived on a boat in Marina Del Rey, waited tables and performed my outlandish characters at comedy clubs,” Hunt recalls of his early years in California. One such character was a country boy abducted by aliens who communicates through slam-poetry. Other performances included stints at The Comedy Store and Improv Olympic. While also doing copywriting on the side, he got to know a lot of movers-and-shakers in the industry.
With “absurd, silly comedy,” now firmly in his comfort zone, Hunt is now developing numerous TV and digital projects. The Texas Triplets is a faux documentary centered on adult brothers who meet for the first time to find their birth parents. Rednexpert is an animated series about a redneck jack-of-all-trades who specializes in everything from drywall to marriage counseling — the series is illustrated by Mississippi-based artist Kyle Hilton.
Another film in the works is A Poor Girl From Texas.
“It’s loosely inspired by my own experiences as a teenager living in motels and working day labor jobs with my parents,” he says, noting that the film isn’t autobiographical as the lead character is a teenage girl.
Hunt plans to play the girl’s dad, who is autistic. That hits close to home.
Two years ago Hunt was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
“Stories like Poor Girl are never written by — and definitely not played by — people who are actually on the spectrum,” he says. “It’s a gritty, dramatic story that incorporates humor. Hopefully I can inspire other people or kids with ASD who are out there struggling.”
Hunt admits his life might have been different if he’d gotten the ASD diagnosis when he was younger.
“I definitely see how it affected me in school. If I was interested in a subject — like English or wood shop — I would excel. But if I didn’t care about the subject, I couldn’t process anything the teacher was saying and often flunked the class.”
The struggles he had as a kid are the same he has today including trouble concentrating, understanding tone, remembering things, and stimming (repetitive or unusual movements or noises).
“For many people, it’s an invisible disorder,” Hunt says. “You can’t see how much a person with ASD may be struggling unlike someone who, say, has physical impairment. But while having ASD is an aspect of my life, it’s only one thing that defines me. I’m also a husband, fun friend, co-owner of an old shih-tzu, writer, performer, skateboarder, pool player — and very proud Texan.”
Like his own layered personality, Hunt says he’ll continue to do his best to create fully realized, flawed, and nuanced Southern characters for his stories.
“I’ll take you there,” he says, “to see my view of the region. It’s where I come from and all my relatives come from. It’s what I know.”
In 2013, Hunt married Stacey Wilson, an entertainment journalist who has written for The Hollywood Reporter, People, The New York Times, and New York magazine, and others. He frequently tells her about growing up in Texas and they visit as often as they can.
“I don’t get back home as often as I’d like, but after I’m gone a while I yearn to come back. It pulls on my heartstrings.”
He has a fondness for the trees.
“If someone blindfolded me and took me to Northeast Texas, I would know I’m back home because of the smell of the trees — the combination of them is like no other scent.”
He also loves seeing things now in the Upper East Side of Texas that he didn’t see before. Like the County Line Magazine, he says, more public nature offerings, and other fun things to do.
His wife loves First Monday Trade Days in Canton, he says, and they stayed at a bed and breakfast in Tyler a while back they really enjoyed.
He still has relatives scattered over the area and his parents live in the Cash community near Greenville.
“The last time I was home we picked up my parents and drove to a winery called Los Pinos (Pittsburg). There was a light sprinkle falling over the pines and we had a whole day together going through Winnsboro, Sulphur Springs, and back to Greenville.”
These are the kinds of things he wants Hollywood and the rest of the world to know about East Texas as well as the many artists who are calling it home.
“I wish that was more celebrated. I know there are a lot of storytellers back home in the form of music, visual art, acting, and film.”
He also says he appreciates that people have different viewpoints and that it’s okay to think differently, but he draws the line at narrow-mindedness from both those in and outside his Texas home.
“Stereotypes tend to lean into us as racist and uneducated; that the Southern accent isn’t enlightened. And we know that’s not the truth. I know people that live on a dirt road that are very enlightened.”
Hunt adds, laughing, “I’ve got some strong-ass accents in my family, but that doesn’t make the people stupid.”
Narrow-minded people are inside the Texas borders too, Hunt says.
He remembers during his teenage skateboarding years that some people equated the sport to being a “thug” and didn’t like his hair either. He was told, “Cut off that damn long hair. You’re never gonna amount to anything.”
“As if the length of someone’s hair amounts to their potential success,” he says, dismissing the notion.
Getting his first script produced now has Hunt right were he wants to be in his own quest for success.
“It’s amazing and strange,” he says, thinking about all the work he’s put in to get this far.
Hunt says he’ll continue selling his Southern stories and is working on “some really cool stuff.” He plans to be in Texas as much as he can, surrounding himself with the characters he loves and sharing them with audiences around the world.