Even though her scenes in “Step Brothers,” “Anchorman,” and most recently “We’re The Millers” rank among those films’ finest and funniest moments, actress Kathryn Hahn had, until recently, never landed a proper starring vehicle to showcase her considerable chops. The occasion took another talented presence looking to branch out — “Six Feet Under” writer/producer Jill Soloway with her feature directorial debut, “Afternoon Delight” — to see Hahn not just in a comedic lead role, but one that presents her stunning dramatic range as well.
“Afternoon Delight” stars Hahn as Rachel, a restless mom in the upscale Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake who attempts to break through a sexless, uncommunicative barrier with her overworked husband, Jeff (Josh Radnor). On a friend’s advice to loosen up Rachel visits a strip club and finds an unexpected form of friendship in McKenna, a young stripper played by Juno Temple. As Rachel draws McKenna back into her family and community, the move precipitates a slow unravelling of her life and the result is a dark, affecting work that left us very impressed at Sundance, where it won the Best Directing award. Recently we sat down with Hahn to talk the uncomfortable truths of Soloway’s script, maternal anxiety, and her role in Peter Bogdanovich‘s next film, “Squirrel To The Nuts.”
How aware were you of the Silverlake sub-culture that Jill is capturing in the film before taking on the role?
Well I have two little kids, and we’ve been in Silver Lake for close to ten years now. I live so close to Jill too, and in the film we actually used my minivan — my hot, sexy Honda Odyssey. Our kids went to classes at the JCC [Jewish Community Center] there, and I think [Jill’s script] captured a very specific bird of mom and human. I just spent the summer in New York on the Upper East Side, and I saw a lot of the same genre of mom there too.
At least with Rachel, she is very privileged with time that most people do not have to examine her feelings. She has the luxury of reading all the parenting and design blogs, and finding that it doesn’t quite feel the way that most books say. She is just so over-educated with parenting advice, and I love the montage in the film of Rachel window-shopping during the day; it really moved me, because she just looks so lost.
Being embedded in that community, were there many times reading the script where you confronted aspects of yourself in the role?
Yes, absolutely. I think that motherhood came a little easier to me than Rachel, but certainly it didn’t feel like what the books say. And that feeling of wanting to love your child with everything you’ve got — we live in such a child-centric culture right now, so certainly that’s going to set up a level of expectation that you’re never going to meet.
So you think that aspect of anxiety among mothers is a new phenomenon?
I don’t know if it’s a new thing, but I think every mother now just wonders, “What the fuck am I doing? Who am I?” And this film is also really about viewing your sexuality after having a child — how you’re seen, how you see yourself after that event happens.
That dynamic is really conveyed well among the group of friends in the film, especially in their wine-soaked gathering towards the end where everything just spills out.
Oh, that scene… Listen, I belong to a book club in Silver Lake and I love all of the women in it, but I will tell you it is rare that we ever read the book — it’s just an excuse to get together and get wasted and eat cheese. But mostly drink. And I keep reading all these articles about “The Secret Life of the American Wife” now, and that cocktail hours are getting earlier and earlier. So that’s why that whole scene was just real close to home; Rachel is talking about things that are just awful, but alcohol unhinges her and she’s only able to say them out loud under that guise. And she’s not having fun in that moment — [SPOILERS] she’s not even connected to the fact that she was basically raped in college. She’s not even connected to it. [END SPOILERS]
Jill’s directing style never seems haphazard, but it does retain an off-the-cuff quality that follows the conversation, like in that scene.
That’s [DP] Jim Frohna. His intuition and collaboration with Jill was amazing — regardless if it was improv or not, he’d know where the focus of the scene should be. In that scene, there were two cameras going, and we did like twenty five-minute takes.
It was all scripted?
About 80% of it, yeah. We had to then find the life around the dialogue to make it so rich and lived-in. And I’m also proud of the cast in that scene, because not one of us had a sip of alcohol the entire day. It was, like, that fake wine that gives you ass-breath. So there was just a lot of gross, dehydrated, ass-breath trapped in one room. [laughs] No wonder we were saying a lot of awful things. We kind of emerged into the daylight afterwards and said to each other, “What just happened in that room? No one shall speak of this again.”
Have you noticed that nerve-touching reaction among others in Silver Lake who have seen the film?
I’ve had some good pals that have gone to see it, and were nervous going in because Jill lives amongst them — a lot of her pals are in the scene in the beginning where they’re packing lunches for the homeless. It’s a great community, but yeah, my pals were nervous walking in; afterwards though they were really, really moved. There’s this fantastical element of the stripper character involved, but the depiction of Rachel really resonated which I was happy about. I love that she’s not a completely huggable, loveable person — there’s a part of her that is really incredibly self-absorbed and can’t see how good she has it.
Neither does her husband, by the way; I don’t think Jeff gets out unscathed. He’s been in his own world too. But I was thrilled that women — and men too — have found something to connect with about this particular subject. There’s so much that happens to a marriage after you have a kid, and speaking from someone who’s married and has two kids now, it definitely shifts and changes. Rachel’s marriage was definitely on the road to a huge divorce — not a loud one, but Rachel would’ve been the polite, detached mediator ironing it out, and letting it all happen to her. So of course when she brings a stripper home, something horrible’s going to happen. She’s a bomb — a gorgeous, vanilla-smelling, cupcake bomb.
Along similar stripper-bombshell lines, you were just in Peter Bogdanovich’s latest film “Squirrel To The Nuts.”
Yes, that just ended. I came home yesterday from it, so it is real fresh. My job on this movie was to make Peter laugh by saying the most inappropriate things I possibly could, and it worked. He’s really hilarious.
Who do you play in the film?
I play Delta Simmons, who’s the actress married to Owen Wilson‘s character — she kind of loses it when she finds out he has a bit of a hooker problem. It was so fun, like “What’s Up Doc” — old-school farce, with the same kind of timing. It’s a different type of comedy than I’ve been used to; I did a big farce on Broadway a while ago, “Boeing Boeing,” and this felt similar to that engine-wise. The timing is so similar to that, so much more technical, with hotel doors slamming at the right moment. But making it was so heavenly, and Peter was on it — short days, he always knew what he wanted, and the cast — I mean, he got Michael Shannon to do three lines, Tatum O’Neal‘s in it…the cast of characters is insane.
“Afternoon Delight” hits theatres on August 30th, and expands on September 6th.