Women and Hollywood got the chance to interview Jill Soloway about her film Afternoon Delight, which she wrote and directed. Afternoon Delight opens in theaters on August 30th.
Women and Hollywood: You said in the press notes that the one clear thing was that you were going to make your directing debut with this film. Why were
you so emphatic?
Jill Soloway: I really don’t know, I think I was just READY. I wanted it so badly. I went to Sundance with a short and watched a bunch of features that
were good but not mind-blowing. I think I recognized that in some ways I’d been paying more attention to negative feedback than positive. I’m a naturally
open person — some might say radically open. And if one person or one actor or one producer thought something I’d created wasn’t good enough for them, I’d
be ready to jump ship and move on.
So many features at Sundance seemed to be powered more on the director’s need to be a director than any particular story. I guess it just so happened that
at the moment I had that realization — move forward at any cost — this was the script that was in my hands.
In addition, although I’d come up through television with some great experiences as a writer, executive producer and showrunner, I realized that if I
wasn’t responsible for every detail of the final product, I wasn’t really punching above my weight as an artist. All of these elements came together at
just the right time and the forward motion felt undeniable.
WaH: The story came out of your creative restlessness. Why do you think this is the story that came out of you?
JS: There’s a lot of me in Rachel’s journey. I’ve never brought a stripper home, but I’ve always loved reading the memoirs of strippers and sex workers. I
feel like they’re the war reporters for women. They go to the front lines of a very particular kind of extreme conflict and live there, then write about it
so we can experience it with them.
I’ve noticed that women are always punished for their sexuality in popular culture. Prostitutes are welcome on TV if they’re a corpse on CSI and someone is
pulling a DNA sample out of their ear. If this movie was approved by the paternalism that reigns in the creative powers that be, a child would have needed
to die at the hands of the hooker — everyone would have needed to be punished so that the “lesson” would be learned. I really think that lesson is so much
more about our own relationship to shame around sex than any true threat sex workers wield. To that end, I’ve always had a driving need to create a
character who was not a good girl, yet let her get out alive.
I guess in that way I’m much like Rachel. One aspect of this project was that I wanted to rescue and protect sex workers from the trope of getting thrown
under the bus, while Rachel wanted to bring McKenna home and save her.
WaH: You wanted to do different things in this film in terms of your leading character. You wanted to take her out of the typical female conventions.
Do you believe there is more freedom for male characters? How can we give more freedom to female characters in he future?
JS: My purpose as an artist is to heal the divided feminine in our culture. Well, okay wait, that sounds incredibly cheesy and like something a massage
therapist might do at Esalen. My purpose in any given moment is actually to be funny. But I realized that my comedy works in service to this notion:
That inside every woman are many women.
There are so many moms who don’t want to be mommed to. And there are sex workers who make great caretakers of children or who are moms themselves. The
Madonna and The Whore complex is alive in all of us, it is a necessary complexity rather than a competition. I hate the way women get waylaid from the
possibilities of our power by taking up ground in opposing camps. Every Real Housewives episodes centers around who is or isn’t a slut or a ho or a
husband-stealer — or whatever it is that distracts us.
When I was trying to get Afternoon Delight made, some people read it and said, “This movie can either be about motherhood or sex — it’s just too confusing
if it’s both. I knew that it had to be about both — at the same time — or it wouldn’t work.
WaH: Why is Hollywood so obsessed with women being “good” and “likable?”
JS: People like their women in boxes — the good mom, the bad stripper. Or even the good stripper and the bad mom! For me this movie was about pulling all
those walls down and letting multiple parts of women’s identities live in one place. In the film, sometimes Rachel is heroic, and sometimes she’s the
villain. Sometimes McKenna becomes a mother to Rachel and sometimes she loves being the most dangerous person in the room.
Audiences — and producers — are so used to feeling safe in the notion that ultimately women are good and are interested in love and beauty. I even found
that as a director, the darker things I wanted to keep in were having a hard time staying in the movie once I brought my trademark openness to the editing
process. People said, ‘take out the abortion’ stuff,’ or ‘take out the period sex’. But I really wanted the movie to represent real women — human, real,
deep and funny — and occasionally awful.
WaH: What did you take from being a writer into being a director?
JS: They’re really different head spaces. I really got rid of my attachment to holding onto any of the words. It helped when I read that Woody Allen tells
his actors they don’t have to say the word. Now I think of the script as a starting place: it’s a tool that is a map that tells production where to put the
I show up on set and work to ground myself so that I can connect with my actors emotionally. I think if you’re concerned about getting your words right,
you’re in trouble. I instead focused on creating a safe space where every technician present could “yes, and” each other, where we could all enter
our risk spaces and create something new in each moment.
WaH: Talk a little bit about the difference in writing for TV and in writing for film.
JS: At this point I actually feel very little distinction. Content is content. Viewers just want a story to resonate. It can be a ten-minute short or a
two-hour movie or a whole season, if something can hold your attention in this age of constantly divided focus, it’s a win. I aspire to create content with
authentic comedy, sexuality and emotion. I think if you can hit all three in one space, you’re on to something.
WaH: Kathryn Hahn has been in so many movies and TV shows yet never had to carry a film in this way before. Talk a little bit about Kathryn and what
made you hire her for the role.
JS: My goal was to cast someone who could make me laugh so hard that my stomach hurts, then break my heart five seconds later. Kathryn is such a brilliant,
fearless actress, she’s an absolute master at embodying all parts of that divided feminine. She’s beautiful, sexy, smart, raunchy, strong, vulnerable and
so funny. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.
WaH: In your recent piece “17 reasons why chicks actually make better directors” one of the reasons was “the vagina’s got a lot to say.” You have been
very vocal about the lack of opportunities for women directors. Do you think things are changing? What are the biggest challenges to come on this
JS: I do think things are changing. I look at Orange is the New Black and Girls, at Nicole Holofcener and Lisa Cholodenko and Lake Bell,
at The New Girl and Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler — and I just see this incredible passion. I feel like there’s an “Arab Spring”
approaching when it comes to content and feminism — women are ready to create their own stories and studios are noticing that people are buying,
I actually think the biggest problem is more of an interpersonal one. It’s that thing I mentioned in one of those first paragraphs about my openness. In a
world where are born into the notion of being seen — through the male gaze — as part of our value, I think we’re overly available to negativity. Whether we
know it or not, the question of whether we’re likable or good or hot or beloved is always trying to jump out in front of urge to create art. The fact that
the word ballsy is about men is proof that the thing that gets you moving has been incorrectly branded as being gender-specific. We need to change it to
eggsy. Would that be weird?
WaH: What advice do you have for other women directors?
JS: If you don’t resonate with some of the traditional notions connected to the idea of being a director, fear not. Sheryl Sandberg talks about leaning in
within this context of a jungle gym instead of a ladder. We should reach in all directions all around us at once instead of climb to the top frantically.
To this end, I guess, I don’t feel like you have to deny what is feminine about you to be a filmmaker. Being able to multi-task while staying emotionally
connected, receiving and allowing things to happen is what, it turned out, I was built for. Before directing Afternoon Delight, I think I had this
fear that because I wasn’t running around like Spielberg with my Super 8 camera as a child, I wasn’t really a director. The truth is, I was building the
directorial skills I needed when I was playing with dolls as a child, or being a community organizer, working on the board of the local JCC, and being a
WaH: What’s the biggest challenge in making this film?
JS: Going back to my real life at home where I didn’t get to tell people where to stand, what to say, and how to say it.
WaH: We have seen many mega Hollywood films with male characters at the center in the early part of the summer and now in August we are seeing smaller,
women centric and women directed films. How do we get people to take material about women by women more seriously?
JS: Box office. Women should get out there opening weekend and see these films. Convincing a mostly male industry to spend money on our stories to be nice
to us isn’t going to work. They have to see the profit. So invite a bunch of girls and go see this film as a group!
WaH: What do you want people to take away from this film?
JS: If one disconnected couple goes home and has an eyes-open-orgasm, I’ve done my job.
WaH: What’s next for you?
JS: I’m super excited about making my first original pilot for Amazon called Transparent. It’s about a Los Angeles family, gender, sexuality,
secrets and food. I’m directing and we’ll be shooting in September. I’m also writing my next film, and producing a musical and a web documentary about it!
I’ll also try to take a nap sometime soon.