Skip to main content

Kathryn Hahn On Taking The Spotlight At Sundance And Bringing Back The Mini-Van

If you don't recognize the name Kathryn Hahn, you're certain to recognize her. She's worked with pretty much every other funny person working in the last ten years, and usually steals the scenes from under them, in everything from Anchorman to Wanderlust to the last seasons of Girls and Parks and Recreation. But every scene-stealer deserves her chance to take the spotlight, and she did it in style at the Sundance Film Festival last week in Afternoon Delight, the comedy from director Jill Soloway that premiered last Tuesday.

The movie may sound like a classic case of "white people problems," but bear with us. Hahn plays Rachel, a woman who's quit working to raise her young son, and is feeling understandably stifled by the gossip and peer-pressure of her world in the hip, rich Silver Lake area of Los Angeles. She and her husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) barely have sex anymore, and when they go out for a night at a strip club in an attempt to spice things up, Rachel winds up befriending one of the strippers (Juno Temple) instead. Next thing she knows she's invited the stripper to come stay in her guest bedroom, and has unintentionally upset her entire social order-- and made herself even lonelier-- in the process.

Soloway was a surprise winner of the Directing award in the U.S. Dramatic category, but for my money, Hahn is the one who deserves all the attention, taking a character who might be hard to like and making her sympathetic, funny, and totally real. And Hahn seemed to be enjoying her accomplishment at Sundance, attending the festival for the very first time and taking more than a few deep breaths to make sure she enjoyed the premiere… and didn't pass out. I talked to her last week about taking the lead role for the first time, about how improv strengthened the scenes, and about the hilarious and heartbreaking "women and wine" scene, in which Hahn and her amazingly funny co-stars (Annie Mumolo, Michaela Watkins, Jessica St. Clair, Suzy Nakamura and more) gather their group together for a night of drinking, and Hahn's character Rachel winds up embarrassing herself and baring her soul instead. Read all about it below.

Is this wild, being your first Sundance?

Yeah it's really trippy, very heady. Last night was the first time I had ever seen the Eccles theater, walking into that premiere. I had to take a lot of deep breaths, "Just remember this." It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime [things]…

There are lot of moments in this where you really reveal yourself. Do you have limits for showing your body onscreen, or have you become comfortable with anything?

What's hilarious is I really had not been asked that often before having two children. I don't know why it had to be after having two children. But after you have kids, you're like 'Everyone's seen it all." Of course there's limits, and this was so much more about emotional revealing to me. That was the more vulnerable part. In the lap dance, when she [Juno Temple] captures me with her eyes, and I feel seen for the first time in so long. That was actually much scarier. The emotional stuff is a little bit scarier than that stuff.

Of all the vulnerable scenes, the one that really stuck out was the drunk scene, with the big group of women. It's usually an opportunity to go nuts, but it's so sad, and feels really raw.

That day, it was a crazy, crazy week. We shot all that in one day, and we had to do it in the daytime. So they rented this amazing mansion in Hancock Park and blacked out all the windows and handed us these big goblets of that fake, disgusting red wine. It's vile, and just gives you the worst breath on the planet. They set up two cameras and we all just sat around. We broke it into three chunks, basically three stages of her mental unraveling and sobriety. It was this amazing group of women, and the hardest thing for me coming from the comedy world, that was hard for me to put a tamper on it. I really wanted to get in there and play because they're so brilliantly hilarious. It was hard to kind of stay separate from that. I felt very lonely that day, which I had to. It was hard, really hard.

Well when are you ever going to get a group of women that funny in one room.

I know. And each one of them is like ridiculous. Annie Mumolo, you cannot even pan to her face without getting a big laugh. That was a real hard and amazing day. And that cloud speech, which I love so much. That's basically word for word Jill. We improvised a lot of it, but I have to give props to that being word for word.

What kind of improv were you doing?

There was a lot of it. I was the one with the responsibility of keeping the script. They would riff and I would have to drop back to where it was in the script.

Did that happen in other scenes?

That happened in a lot of scenes. There were a lot of scenes that were completely improvised. The women and wine stuff, we did like 26 minute takes. It was heaven, heaven heaven heaven.

As someone who gets to play a lot of different parts, you pop up in a lot of different things as someone different. But have you ever played a character so central to the story?

This was new. In theater, I guess I have, but in film, I have not been asked to do this. It was the best feeling. I did theater, I went to graduate school, and I hadn't felt what that in it, deep deep in it for that amount of time. I felt like going back to school. That passion, that amount of investment, I hadn't felt since I was a kid, I feel like.

Is that you and Jill really putting your heads together to make this?

Yes. I feel like I walked off the set the first day, and Jane Lynch was like "Oh my god, that's a little Jill Soloway." How I dressed was exactly like Jill.

This was obviously written from someone who knows this world. Is that your world too?

Yeah, I live in Silver Lake, like two blocks from where we shot. It was my hot Honda Odyssey [in the film].

Your character's car was your car?

Yes! I'm going to bring back the minivan. They rented something, but it was the only car that they could get the camera in the back. I think it makes her loneliness a little louder, because, what is wrong? Everything is so perfect.

God I love that house though.

I want that house. I love that design so much. I think that woman's journey is really relatable, and that relationship with her husband kills me.

I assume you and Josh Radnor spent a lot of time figuring out these people too.

It was a three and a half week shoot. The first half was Juno-heavy, and that was really profound. And I wondered how we were going to top it. He could only do the second half because of his television show. We would shoot for six days, and he would come in on the seventh day just to rehearse. I'm really proud of it, because I feel like it's just specific, and not like a cliched marriage. We know those people. I have so many friends who are Rachel and Jeff.

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend