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‘Mrs. Fletcher’: Kathryn Hahn’s Brilliant Performance Stems From a Key Change to the Book

The actress tells IndieWire how a crack team of talented women built Eve Fletcher's first-person journey in HBO's excellent adaptation.

Kathryn Hahn Mrs. Fletcher HBO

Kathryn Hahn in “Mrs. Fletcher”

Sarah Shatz/HBO

When first reading Tom Perrotta’s 2017 novel, “Mrs. Fletcher,” Kathryn Hahn was struck by what proved to be a telling choice by the author.

“It was the dual stories that really intrigued me — and that fact that she was written in the third person and the son was written in the first,” Hahn said. “There was something very interesting in that to me, the fact that this was something [Perrotta], a man, would want to dig into: the interior life of this woman.”

The author’s book, which formed the template for HBO’s critically acclaimed limited series, switches perspective with each new chapter. The story starts in Eve Fletcher’s perspective, as the single mother packs up her only child, Brendan, for college, but it’s told through a disembodied narrator: “Eve cried most of the way home.” “All she’d wanted, from the moment she opened her eyes in the morning, was a chance to let Brendan know what was in her heart.”

The next chapter starts in the first person, literally with the first word: “I was a little dazed when we headed out to dinner,” Brendan says, and everything that follows is from inside his head: “I’d been dreaming about the ability to do what I wanted”; “…my mom”; “…four of us.” But for the show, both Perrotta and Hahn knew they needed to balance out those two viewpoints.

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“If we could figure out getting from Eve’s third person in the novel — if we could squirrel it into the first person together — that was going to be a really interesting collaboration and journey,” Hahn said.

“That was a real concerted effort and very much a focus of Kathryn and the directors: It is a show about this woman’s intimate life and there a lot of sex scenes, often solo, and it was just really important to say, ‘This is not a show that’s going to cater to a male gaze. They’re sexual scenes, but they’re not sexy or titillating,'” Perrotta said. “I was totally on board with that, but I think in terms of what those scenes actually looked like, they were really figured out between Kathryn, the director, and the intimacy coordinator. And I was pretty much like, ‘That sounds great.'”

Kathryn Hahn in "Mrs. Fletcher" HBO

Kathryn Hahn in “Mrs. Fletcher”

Sarah Shatz/HBO

The author and actor quickly earned each other’s trust, meeting over lunch to discuss the part — “I remember all I kept saying to her when we met was like, ‘I know what you can do. I know that you’d be great at this.’ I just wanted to know that she wanted it!” Perrotta said — and each growing more excited about the adaptation through the other’s engagement.

“I was enormously bolstered by his curiosity,” Hahn said. “I knew he was aware that [the production] needed to be surrounded by a lot of women and a lot of diverse voices. Knowing how aware he was, I was enormously bolstered by that. [But] because he’d written it, I was very excited by his curiosity.”

Hahn also had confidence in herself. At a time when awareness of who’s writing women’s roles is at an all-time high, the actress wasn’t worried about Eve’s story stemming from a man’s imagination.

“It wasn’t [a concern] to me because I knew that if was cast in it, then it would be me as the person,” she said. “I knew by the time it got to my [character’s] personhood, it would be a collaboration. So I wasn’t worried about that. I knew I would take care of myself. And at that point, I knew Nicole Holofcener was around to direct the pilot, and I also knew there was going to be an incredible group of women writers.”

Also a producer on “Mrs. Fletcher,” Hahn worked closely with her directing team (including Holofcener on the pilot and Liesl Tommy, Carrie Brownstein, and Gillian Robespierre helming the other six episodes) and the predominantly female writing staff to focus Eve’s perspective in each scene. As Eve becomes more curious about the wide world of internet pornography and starts to put her wants first in the bedroom, Hahn made sure the scenes showing her character’s porn habit were purposeful and clear.

Mrs. Fletcher HBO Kathryn Hahn

Kathryn Hahn in “Mrs. Fletcher”

Sarah Shatz/HBO

“We wanted to make sure what the porn was giving her was landing in a specific way into the real world; how were they releasing out into the world in a specific way, what she was gaining in specific ways, or what they were teaching her — how they were moving her forward or into new paths,” Hahn said. “It’s such a personal relationship with porn that one has, usually. Sometimes there’s a partner who you can share it with, but usually it’s such a deep and personal path, and for her it really was. It was something that was so taboo and something that she thought she was never allowed to look at; it was such a Pandora’s box to open up, so a lot of it was digging into what that relationship actually meant.”

That started with Eve’s first glimpse of it, as she lays in bed, mindlessly scrolling for ideas of what to do with all her new free time, and she accidentally clicks on a porn site.

“That’s such an important moment because it’s the first moment for her on this path, and that was definitely Nicole and I playing with [her reaction],” Hahn said. “[It’s] not like Eve is turned on, but more like she’s drawn in to this light. It was a new world of possibility more than it was [just porn]. It feels a little bit more existential to me. Porn is such a jumping-off point for her search for authenticity or just who she is underneath it all. So a lot of those scenes of her by herself, the thing that was imperative to me and all of us, that it was just her finding pleasure for herself and not anyone else. I was very proud of that.”

Through thoughtful consideration like this and her astute attention to emotional details, Hahn has made Eve’s journey into more than just a mid-life sexual awakening. Her instincts lead her to make new friends, go after new opportunities, and expand her appetite for life, not just sex. In quick, addictive, half-hour episodes, Hahn and the team around her build incredible empathy and excitement around a personal, internal story. The interior life of Eve Fletcher is as fully realized as they come — a first-person experience that everyone can share.

“Mrs. Fletcher” airs new episodes Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.

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