Helen Hunt talks to Jeremy Kay about playing a sex surrogate in The Sessions.

Helen Hunt admits it did not take long to commit to the role of sex surrogate Cheryl in The Sessions. “There are so few good parts for woman,” says the 1998 Oscar winner for As Good As It Gets, “and this jumped out at me.”

She had not met the film’s star John Hawkes before they started shooting the true story of the late 38-year-old polio victim Mark O’Brien, who hires a sex surrogate to lose his virginity.

“It was perfect because the fact is we didn’t know each other so it felt real,” says Hunt of the palpable awkwardness in the scene where Cheryl and O’Brien first encounter each other in a hotel.

Hunt confesses she felt anxious about the on-screen nudity but adds, “I am an actor and I am thinking about the scene. We did no rehearsal and no reading. I asked where the cameras would be so I didn’t have to worry about that and then we began, so most of the homework I did before the cameras rolled.”

Speaking of homework Hunt boned up on her subject and got to know Cheryl Cohen Greene — the actual surrogate, now in her 60s — upon whom her character is based.

“I spoke to her several times. I don’t have high expectations because it’s often not helpful to talk to real people, but more than ever before I devoured everything she said.

“She talked about her work with great enthusiasm, as if she were talking to her granddaughter. She was very fond of Mark. It was really lovely to be around her.”

Hunt will receive the Spotlight Award on January 5 at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Previous winners include Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain, who both went on to receive Academy Award nominations in the year they received the award.