Kathryn Hahn, Two Decades Into Her Career, Is Getting the ‘Juiciest and Most Complicated’ Roles of Her Life

The actress tells IndieWire about the intimate drama "Private Life," and opens up about the advice she'd offer her own younger self.
Transparent actress Kathryn Hahn
Actress Kathryn Hahn
Daniel Bergeron

After nearly two decades in the entertainment industry, Kathryn Hahn is upending a host of beliefs about being an actress in Hollywood: She’s a mom in her 40s, and her career is better than ever. “It is no small thing that the juiciest and most complicated roles of my life have come post- having two children,” she said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “And that is something to listen to, and something I hope younger actresses can hear and listen to. Your creative life can continue to just turn inside out and evolve in ways that you can’t possibly imagine, whether or not you decide to be a parent. It doesn’t matter.”

She added, “The further you walk on, the further you grow and age, it doesn’t matter. I was so surprised by that. Really, this is a huge surprise to me.”

Best known for quirky comedies like “Wanderlust,” Hahn got her start by appearing on a local Cleveland puppet show, “Hickory Hideout.” She went on to attend the Yale School of Drama, and  got her first big break in 2001 when she was cast as a series regular “Crossing Jordan.”

It wasn’t until 2013 that Hahn nabbed her first leading role in Jill Soloway’s Sundance premiere “Afternoon Delight” as a disaffected housewife. It earned Hahn a Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Breakthrough. Since then she’s starred in Amazon series “I Love Dick” (with a memorable run as a rabbi in “Transparent”) and in the high-earning “Bad Moms” franchise.

Hahn’s career was slow to grow, and that’s not lost on the actress. “I would never have thought in my twenties that this is how my life would’ve unfolded,” she said. “I think I was trying to fulfill an outside idea of what I think the business, or the industry wanted, instead of just embracing what I wanted to do, or what I knew I could do, and that’s a big difference.”

Hahn’s latest role allowed her to play yet another juicy, complicated woman. In Tamara Jenkins’ “Private Life,” Hahn stars with Paul Giamatti as a couple attempting to have a child at a relatively late stage in their lives. The story was inspired by Jenkins’ own struggles to have a child.

"Private Life" starring Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti
“Private Life”Sundance

“It was very obviously deeply personal for Tamara, and she has such integrity, such integrity,” Hahn said. “The detail and the specificity that she put in, just even in our apartment. She would bring boxes of her own books from her apartment and just put it in, just stuff. Every corner of every corner had to just feel real. … We just were kind of able to like walk into this world, this womb, no pun intended, and just to be able to do our work there. There’s such specificity in these humans that she wrote, that there was not way out but through them.”

She also wanted to do justice to her co-star. “I just wanted to impress Paul Giamatti in some way, because I was such a fan,” she said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Oh, please, let me not screw it up in front of Paul Giamatti.’ And he made it so easy, so fast. He just puts you at ease immediately, and thank God. Tamara was just talking about how you put these teeny casts together and you just pray for chemistry. It’s like a science experiment.”

The intimate nature of the “Private Life” spilled over into the group’s pre-production. “She invited us all over to Paul’s house for dinner, which is hilarious, and he was like, ‘Oh, okay,’ I had never met Paul before, and she made us a huge pasta dinner, and it was just Paul and I and Tamara. We read the script, and she had us look through these donor-egg websites, which is a Pandora’s box that I didn’t know existed. We just kind of chatted and talked, and eased into it.”

Hahn views herself as “not a big talker,” but as she reflects on her career she’s got plenty to say about the starry-eyed theater nerd who arrived in New York City eager to break into the biz. If she could go back and tell that Kathryn Hahn what this Kathryn Hahn knows now, she’d like that a lot.

“If I could’ve shaken hands with that awesome, insecure, passionate, 22-year-old that moved to New York, I would have told her that same thing,” she said. “The person I knew who knew could do it, who was really passionate. I knew she wanted to do plays and she wanted to rehearse ‘Hamlet’ at 2:00 in the morning and was all messy and passionate and chain-smoking in some theater group, but thought that she just wasn’t quite polished or good enough to make it in the business. Because you’re trying to be somebody you’re not, instead of just being who you are.”

“Private Life” will be available on Netflix and in select theaters on Friday, October 5.

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