Kathryn Hahn had standout character roles on TV shows like “Parks and Recreation” and movies like “Anchorman.” And she’s won major acclaim for bringing some of filmmaker Jill Soloway’s best characters to life. She starred in Soloway’s debut feature “Afternoon Delight,” and played Rabbi Raquel on her Emmy-winning series “Transparent.” Now, Soloway has given her the lead again in her new series “I Love Dick.”
It’s based on the fictionalized memoir by the feminist author Chris Kraus, Kathryn plays Chris. A filmmaker who travels with her academic husband to the artist enclave of Marfa, Texas, where she becomes sexually obsessed with a macho cowboy artist named, yes, Dick. When Rico met with Kathryn, he asked the actor what about the book grabbed her interest.
Kathryn Hahn: I’d never heard of it. Of course I was immediately drawn to the title. Picked it up and devoured it. And then I was so blown away by the voice– Chris Kraus’ voice is so unapologetic, and fearless, and messy, and maddening, and complicated, and self-sabotaging, and petty, and passionate. All of it as an actor… you just wanna chew on. So I would say the thing that attracted me the most was this woman. This woman’s [the character’s] voice.
Rico Gagliano: Which is not an easy character to play because for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. But she’s also going through basically every crisis imaginable. She’s got a mid-life crisis going, she’s got an artist’s crisis going. Her marriage is in crisis. So her identity is kind of fluid.
What was your foothold on this character who’s changing basically from the moment we meet her?
Kathryn Hahn: I mean, it’s such an embarrassing set of circumstances that we find her in at beginning. Like yeah, like you said, she’s financially dependent on her husband. I think as an artist she’s always, she had really great taste, but that she never could quite make, you know what I mean? So the stuff always felt really pretentious and not good… Crap. OK, I can say that.
And she knows it, but she’s jealous and petty of other women filmmakers. Like she’s just a mess and her marriage is co-dependent and tightly fused, but like for sure the sexual energy has gone and–
Rico Gagliano: So what part of that were you able to grab a hold on and go, “There! I understand that.”
Kathryn Hahn: Right. None of it. I don’t understand anything! No, there was something about her forward movement that I grabbed onto because there was no shame or guilt. Like, that felt very strange to me.
Rico Gagliano: To not have shame or guilt?
Kathryn Hahn: Yeah, I guess. It’s not a familiar place to not be apologizing for behavior. I mean, I’m like a recovering Catholic from Cleveland. And so it was great to walk into somebody that has, is just flinging herself forward over and over and over again. Something like really interesting, powerful about that.
Rico Gagliano: What was your favorite thing to do that you maybe wouldn’t do in real life?
Kathryn Hahn: Oh my God! There’s so many things. She doesn’t care how she’s perceived. Like when she bum-rushes the class that he’s teaching.
Rico Gagliano: Yeah, she’s trying to get Dick to praise a film she’s made.
Kathryn Hahn: Yeah, it’s like foreplay.
Rico Gagliano: It’s an intellectual form of artistic foreplay.
Kathryn Hahn: Yeah. You would think that someone that was like obsessed with wanting this man to turn and look at her and not only respect her as an artist, but see her as like attractive and a sexual human being. You would think in that circumstance that she would just make herself like small or attractive, but she doesn’t. And that was really, really fun to play.
Rico Gagliano: This show does not pull punches when it comes to its portrayal of the academic world or artists and their kind of ridiculous, pretentiousness. There’s a point where Dick actually says he hasn’t read a book in 10 years because he’s, “Post-idea.” Whatever that means. As someone who spent their whole life in the arts, how true does that ring?
Kathryn Hahn: In the farts. It does, yeah, you know, that’s also like a Soloway special, is that she will poke fun at anything, any kind of preciousness or pretense. Which I love and appreciate because it can get really precious. “Art academia.” You know? You know what I mean? It’s just like-
Rico Gagliano: I’m hoping for an example from your personal life.
Kathryn Hahn: I mean, there’s so many. Like, it was embarrassing to me, like, “Call yourself an artist.” I was really hesitant to even– that’s just an embarrassing word for some reason. Even though like, I guess like I make stuff. But it’s just still always feels like, “Oh God. Oh brother.”
Rico Gagliano: I know Spalding Gray actually once mentioned in a monologue that in Britain they actually call actors on the set the artists. “Would the artists like to break for lunch?” Things like that and it felt weird to him.
Kathryn Hahn: Sometimes they’ll like, on here, you know, there’ll be sets and they’re like, “Bringing the talent in.” And you’re like, “Well, I mean, here’s hoping.”
Rico Gagliano: Yeah, “I’m talented. Sure.”
Kathryn Hahn: “I hope so.”
Rico Gagliano: “If you say so.”
You’ve worked more with Jill Soloway than probably any other actor. Has she told you what it is about you that she’s attracted to? I’m always interested in these kind of creative teams at and why it brings them together.
Kathryn Hahn: No. I still can’t believe she’s just not exhausted by me at this point. But like, we just have like a flexibility together. Like an ease. I know what she is thinking and she knows what I am.
Rico Gagliano: Do you remember the moment when that first presented itself to you? Where you-
Kathryn Hahn: Well, no, like it never was like, “You’re mine and I’m yours forever.”
I do remember during “Afternoon Delight” that there was a scene where the amazing Juno Temple — she plays like a stripper that I kind of take home to mother.
We have a scene where we’re like walking and we share a cigarette. And I just remember something happening in that scene that I could see something click, for Jill and for all of us in the crew that have ended up sticking around. Like most of them are still in “Transparent” and still worked on “Dick,” into like a new way of thinking and working. I remember that happening.
It just felt immediately… I don’t wanna sound precious about it, but it just feels like what it felt like when I was in theater school. It just had that same purity to it. A sense of like an ensemble, a sense of like performance, and just feeling was kind of prioritized over machines. There’s like an awaking in that scene for Jill, certainly, and for all of us.
Rico Gagliano: Let me ask you our two questions we ask everyone on the show. First one is: if we were to meet you at a party, what question should we not ask you?
Kathryn Hahn: Oh my God. What question should you not ask me… I don’t like when people ask me to quote things, that’s always annoying as hell.
Rico Gagliano: Meaning like when?
Kathryn Hahn: When people are like, “Ah, do your thing from…,” you know? And I just feel like a monkey in a circus. It’s not like that happens like ever. No, but it has happened a few times and I’m always like embarrassed.
Rico Gagliano: I wouldn’t be surprised if people were constantly asking you to do stuff from “Anchorman,” that is a very quotable film.
Kathryn Hahn: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Yeah.
Rico Gagliano: So don’t do that, is what you’re saying?
Kathryn Hahn: No, well just ’cause you’ll be disappointed.
Rico Gagliano: Here is our second question: tell us something we don’t know and that could be about either yourself or about anything in the world.
Kathryn Hahn: I was at the Natural History museum in New York City with my son and we were in the reptile room. And there was a frog, a toad, in it, which I have to find the name of. But this toad lays eggs, the eggs swim around into slots in the toad’s back, like thirty slots. They burrow in.
In the back of this toad, there are like small toads swimming around in these pockets with like a fold of skin over it. And then they crawl out. And I was like, “This is a nightmare.” But it also looks like it would feel kind of satisfying. [Ed note: it’s called a Suriname sea toad, and it’s not for the easily squeamish.]
Rico Gagliano: It would be like having your back itch, constantly.
Kathryn Hahn: Yeah, like all the time. Like I’m kind of repelled by it and also like, “Eh, maybe it would feel good.”