02/19/2009 AT 5:25 PM ET
Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt returns to the Oscars on Sunday – but not this time as a nominee.
Hunt directed a commercial for Frito-Lay’s TrueNorth brand, which held a contest eliciting stories from people around the world who have discovered their own “true north” or passion in life.
The actress was drawn to the gig after completing her own passion project, last year’s film Then She Found Me, in which she starred, wrote and directed.
“This came very out of the blue. I wasn’t in the world of commercial directing, but it was really fun,” Hunt, 45, a best actress winner for As Good as It Gets, tells PEOPLE. “Thousands of people sent in their stories of following their life’s passion, and I was part of the group that chose this really fiery, passionate woman. I really felt inspired by her.”
The 60-second ad features Lisa Nigro, an ex-Chicago police officer who founded Inspiration Café, which feeds and supports the needy.
“She’s a very unlikely hero,” Hunt says. “She doesn’t look like Mother Teresa but she started giving people sandwiches and bagels out of a red wagon and now is the leader of this organization that provides so much support. It’s incredible.”
The actress will next be seen in the film Every Day, costarring Liev Schreiber. – Julie Jordan