Jill Soloway

Kathryn Hahn Loves Playing the Unlikeable

But the ‘Afternoon Delight’ star—and comic genius—tells DAME she gives a good bear hug.

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“I’m sick as a dog,” Kathryn Hahn says, when I catch her by phone on Valentine’s Day. “My poor husband had this romantic meal planned and I’m like, uck, dude, you better call it early tonight.” I’ve caught the 40-year-old actress post doctor’s appointment on her way to pick up antibiotics, but you’d never guess. Besides an occasional sniff and cough, she’s downright boisterous. The undercurrent of likeability that runs through all of her characters, even the not-so-likeable ones, shines tenfold in real life (I’m not at all surprised when she tells me she’s a hugger: “I love a bear hug that lifts you off the ground at the end, like a little hoist”).

The L.A.-based Hahn has a serious drama background (she went to Northwestern and Yale for theater) but has stolen scenes in comedies from Anchorman and Step Brothers to Our Idiot Brother and Wanderlust. She’s also a master television guest star, making memorable recent appearances as a working mom on Girls and as a manipulative campaign strategist and Leslie Knope’s foil on Parks and Recreation. But it was her role as the lead in Jill Soloway’s feature film Afternoon Delight (which debuted at Sundance last year and won Soloway the Dramatic Directing Award) that knocked audience’s socks off and has viewers clamoring for more. In the film, which comes out today on Blu-ray and DVD and is available for streaming on iTunes, Hahn plays Rachel, a stay-at-home mom who’s hit a point of life-altering malaise in her marriage and (no longer existent) career. When she meets McKenna, a young sex worker (played by Juno Temple) at a strip club, she unearths a new purpose in life, not to mention her dormant sexuality. After bringing McKenna home to live with her and her family, things unravel rather quickly, but Hahn’s incredibly authentic and moving performance is riveting throughout. Hahn, who can elicit tears as masterfully as she can a laugh, spoke with DAME about getting older, being a bitch, and satisfying her inner anarchist.

Let’s talk about ‘Afternoon Delight.’

I’m so, so proud to be in this movie. And the making of it was just the holiest experience, I think all of us walked out of this feeling just like a little bit broken open and changed.

I can’t say I know anyone who would bring a stripper home to live with her family.

Really? [laughs]

And yet the film rang so true. Did it hit really close to home with you and your friends?

Oh my god, yes. I live in Silver Lake [where the film is set]. It’s my minivan they used in it, I have two kids that are now in school—it could not be closer. Also just the idea of what that woman is experiencing with her womanhood in that particular juncture of her life—it made so much sense to me.

I’m not quite at that point in my life yet, but I felt like I was getting a glimpse of my future. And it was weirdly comforting.

That’s a really awesome response. I have gotten so many responses like, ‘Oh my god, if marriage is that terrifying.’ Friends have had different responses. A lot of it is just, like, how scarily close it is to the experience of what they’re going through, if you subtract the stripper quotient. But you can hold onto yourself, like, it’s still you. I mean I’m 40, I have two kids, I’ve been married for 11 years and I still feel absolutely inside like that awesome 36-year-old who’s got no kids, even like the 24-year-old I was back in New York. That’s what surprised me about getting older—I thought I would grow older along with my body and that doesn’t always work.

I feel the same way. Like, depending on the time of day I could be using my teenage brain, my 20s brain—they’re all still in there.

When we first moved to L.A., we lived in this awesome neighborhood called Whitley Heights, in this little apartment. Our landlord was not a young woman back then, and she still always writes us a very sweet Christmas card. This year she was like, “I just turned 74, can you believe it? I don’t feel a day over 59!” I started bawling, it’s the sweetest thing to hear. I love that that’s her young barometer now—59. God willing we’re all able to get there.

What was comforting about ‘Afternoon Delight’ was seeing Rachel weather this phase in her life and come out at the end, changed for the better. Have there been any movies that prepped you for a future period of your life?

I was going to say ‘A Woman Under the Influence,’ but hopefully that’s not what I’m looking at in my future. The heroines I had were like the James Brooks women. I loved Holly Hunter in ‘Broadcast News’; I loved Teri Garr in anything. But to answer your question, there wasn’t a movie—I wish there was—that I could say, “That’s what I hope my life looks like that at that age.” Those characters were not aspirational to me. I’m trying to think…do you have any other ones in your craw?

I wouldn’t say Rachel was an aspirational character for me.

Pfff, I don’t know why.

I loved you in ‘Anchorman,’ and in ‘Our Idiot Brother’ you played such a good bitch. Did that come naturally?

It came very naturally, which I was a little bit uncomfortable with. [laughs]

You play a rather unlikeable character on ‘Parks and Recreation,’ too, and we don’t often see many unlikeable female characters. Do you feel like you’re taking one for the team?

I don’t know, lady. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t mind playing unlikeable people. I really don’t. Maybe it’s because there’s so much good energy in my real life—I think I am a good person, I love being a mom. So I think it’s fun, like the little anarchist in me somewhere underneath this Catholic school girl—it’s a little bit lawless, the comedy world, which I love.

You were recently working on a pilot for Showtime with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hearing of his passing was heartbreaking. I can’t imagine what it was like to lose him, while being in the midst of a project with him.

It has not been fun the last couple of weeks, at all. It’s devastating. He was an amazing … It’s all been said, but I’m still a little bit raw talking about it. The pilot is the least of it; it’s just a devastating loss.

You’ve just finished filming ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ with Tina Fey, and worked with Lena Dunham on ‘Girls.’ And Amy Poehler, of course, on ‘Parks and Recreation.’ You’re very much involved with the comic actresses and writers responsible for this golden age of television for women.

They’re such incredible women, all of them, and they’re so unbelievably collaborative and open and so smart and so witty. And also, you know, women’s women. Cream does rise to the top. All is right in the world when the good people are rewarded, ’cause they all deserve all of it. And they work incredibly hard.

The same could be said about you. You’ve had this amazing career and now you’re getting some well-deserved recognition for it.

Honestly, I’m still so excited that I’m a working actor. From Cleveland Heights, Ohio. It’s so crazy to think like, ‘Gosh, I might not have to work at a hair salon again,’ ’cause that still scares the shit out of me. [laughs]

That’s what surprised me about getting older—I thought I would grow older along with my body and that doesn’t always work. Kathryn Hahn

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