ABOVE: KATHRYN HAHN IN AFTERNOON DELIGHT
Kathryn Hahn is probably best known for small but memorable parts in movies like Anchorman, Revolutionary Road, Step Brothers, and this summer's We're the Millers and roles in television shows like Parks & Recreation and Girls. But it is her lead role in Afternoon Delight that we're confident will have critics and audiences taking notice like never before.
Hahn plays Rachel, an upper-middle class wife and mother who finds herself completely disconnected from her life. She has a chance encounter with a stripper (Juno Temple), whom she impulsively brings to come live with her family, and tries to center herself while her world begins to spin out of control. We caught up with Kathryn Hahn to discuss her preparation for the role, her touchy-feely side, and her odyssey.
JAMES OSTIME: I loved this movie so much, and all I want to do is talk about it.
KATHRYN HAHN: Oh, I'm so happy! I'm so proud of this movie, this makes me very happy.
OSTIME: Afternoon Delight starts just at the point another movie might end at happily ever after. Your character, Rachel, is married to a great guy and has a cute kid; she appears to be living a charmed life. But when we meet her, she's really at loose ends. Was it important for you as an actress to create a backstory for this character, or do you just work from what's on the page?
HAHN: I think it depends on the project. It was definitely imperative that we not work in a vacuum. I felt like Josh and I and Jill [Soloway, the film's director] wanted this marriage to feel real, very specific. Like they've been together forever. We kept talking about that idea of being together forever, the ways you behave. The way you let your stomachs hang out, for instance. We had soft bellies around each other, we kept returning to that idea of soft bellies, those parts of yourself you only show your partner. Backstory is huge, it's so important, and I love that stuff as an actor. It was definitely important in this that such a thing be there. We worked really hard on that together.
OSTIME: Rachel befriends a stripper named McKenna and invites her to live with her family--
HAHN: As you do.
OSTIME: Yeah, as anyone would. [both laugh] She's being charitable, but one senses she's trying to fill a void in her own life—saving herself by playing savior. Can you identify with that impulse?
HAHN: Absolutely. It's ridiculous because being on the outside of something like that, watching someone make a risky decision, it's so easy to judge someone for that. But when you're in it, it's impossible to see it. What I really related to with Rachel is that she has these feelings despite having a really enviable life. She lives a crazy privileged life, doesn't need for anything. But this is a woman who's put all her energy and time into being a mom and then found she wasn't particularly good at it. They had money to pay for help, so she kind of gave the baby away. I think she's less-than after her child gets older; she's not needed anymore and is kind of by herself. She has no center, no idea who she is. She feels like her life has no purpose, and there's something in this encounter with this young, angelic stripper, she gets this lap dance and is captured by something. Something is awakened in her that has been dead for so long. She wants to rescue her, save her, mother her. There's a profound connection between them, from Rachel's perspective. All of the sudden, her life has meaning.
OSTIME: Have you had people try to mentor you in your own life? Have people tried to guide your trajectory in show business, for example?
HAHN: I mean, my awesome career has been nothing but chaos. Whatever comes toward me feels like the right thing to do in the moment and that's great. There have definitely been people along the way, I guess, but I think I've mostly just seen it happen to others. People want to give advice but can't take it themselves. I've seen girlfriends fall for the wrong guy or girl, heard the same refrains, and you just think, "Oh it's never gonna happen! He's never gonna leave her!" and it's maddening. But I feel close to Rachel. I have two small kids, I live in the area [where the movie was filmed], the minivan we use in the movie is my minivan.
OSTIME: No way!
HAHN: Honda Odyssey, baby, I'm bringin' it back. But yeah, I have such an empathy for that woman. There are generations of women who left the workforce to be moms, and their kids grow up, and they think, "Well, what now?"
OSTIME: Afternoon Delight has so much to say about touch and connection. It seems like every character touches each other at some point in this movie, and there's a recurring motif of looking someone in the eye. Are you a tactile person yourself? Is it important for you to connect with someone in those ways?
HAHN: I'm very tactile. I'm a big hugger, one of those huggy people. You're right, there's so much about this move that's about being seen. There's this whole idea of, "Look at me," and I think my character feels so invisible. She's so detached, completely detached from herself, her sexuality. She's this shell. And I think that's why the scenes of touch and eye-contact are so important in this movie.
OSTIME: There's a great scene where the husbands get together for a poker game, and the wives have that wine party. It's so striking that the men all hug when they see one another, but in contrast...
HAHN: The women don't touch at all! It's so funny that you bring that up, I hadn't even thought about that. You'd think it would be the other way around. That's really interesting.
OSTIME: This is your first lead role in a movie, but you've certainly taken on iconic leads in theater, like Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Sally Bowles in Cabaret. What do you find more daunting, taking on a well-known character or creating a new character no one has ever seen before?
HAHN: Creating a new character, definitely. Taking on an iconic character is difficult, sure, people associate different actors with a character that you're playing, but there's something in rehearsing and developing a new character. Jill Soloway is so awesome. She was so good at working with me and Josh and our whole cast. We didn't feel outside pressure creating this together. This was like an amazing, intense summer camp and there just happened to be a camera there. I don't think there's anybody else on the planet who could have made this movie. We discovered it together and it's such a credit to her confidence as a director.
OSTIME: Not to give anything away, but there are moments in the film where Rachel could choose a different path for her life, but she stands to lose so much that is important to her. As you look at your own life, what is the most important to you? What keeps you on your path?
HAHN: My children and my husband. Absolutely. As you get older, the circle gets tighter and tighter, what you hold dear. Those little muffins and their daddy. That's what matters.
AFTERNOON DELIGHT OPENS IN SELECT CITIES FRIDAY, AUGUST 30.