Transparent’s Kathryn Hahn on Raquel and Josh’s Chemistry and How She Fits in With the Pfeffermans

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Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty Images

This interview contains spoilers up to episode six of Transparent's second season.

With all the chaos that surrounds the Pfeffermans, there’s one ray of sunshine: Rabbi Raquel. Portrayed warmly and delicately by Kathryn Hahn, “the Rabbi,” as she’s affectionately known, began her arc late in season one as a potential companion for man-child Josh before becoming a key character in her own right in season two. At every turn, though, there seemed to be a cloud of malaise following their relationship, and supposed moments of joy (her pregnancy despite her older age, Josh’s constant declarations of love) came with a subtle undercurrent of sorrow. Still, that didn’t prepare us for the new familial tension brought on by Josh’s long-lost son Colton, Raquel’s unexpected miscarriage, and Josh’s continued immaturity, which sent Raquel packing for good. Vulture recently chatted with Hahn about playing Raquel, her chemistry with Josh, and why they’re not right for each other.

Were you sad that the relationship between Raquel and Josh ended, or does it seem right that these two people shouldn’t be together?
Well, I knew … at the end of last season it was also bad. We also knew that we found something really exciting, the chemistry between them, and there was just too much to not explore a little bit further. I was really thrilled that we got to jump in there together again. But it’s an impossibility, the two of them. Jill [Soloway] always talks about it as the Luke and Laura [of General Hospital fame] of the show. They can’t be together, and they can’t be apart. That’s going to become a constant throughout the entirety of the show. They constantly miss each other; they’re just not ever at a place where they’re ready. He’s not ready, she’s not ready, and they just keep missing each other. That’s the fun stuff as an actor, too – because they’re so right and so wrong for each other at the same time. She’s so together, so smart, and such an amazing woman. I love Raquel. I wish I had it together. There are so many of us who have their shit so together, and then there’s that one person you meet and all that falls away, and you’re just listening with your “down there” area. [Laughs] And then you forget it all.

Do you think Raquel was too good for Josh?
Oh, yeah. But I also think they met at a particular point. If they had met at another time in his life, he wouldn’t have found her attractive, you know what I mean? They met at a very specific time in his life. I also think they’re an island for each other – a perfect, beautiful, clean, quiet island that’s like time and life standing still. It’s more profound than anything she’s ever found. When she gets pregnant it obviously complicates everything because she’s all of a sudden got a lot of explaining to do to God, to herself, and to her congregation. She’s fucked a little bit. It’s everything she’s ever wanted. And it’s with a beautifully complicated person.

How much do you think Rita influenced Raquel’s decision to leave?
I don’t think that had much to do with it. It had more to do with after they lost the peanut, and when they’re in bed. She says, “We could just try again,” and he says, “Or we can take it slow.” In that moment she realizes it’s not real and it’s just some smoke and mirrors; he’s playing a pretend dad, and it’s a pretend idea. It’s not about her. In that moment, she realizes that this is all they had.

Do you think that Josh is an inherently good person?
I do. I want to believe it! Maybe that’s a better answer. He wants to believe it, I want to believe it. Josh has been abused and has not looked at it at all. Rita abused him and no one in his family looked at it and appropriately helped him. It’s awful.

His parents even knew about it and tried to cover it up with some hush money to the church in Kansas.
Yeah. Horrible! And he’s trying to be a dad with his son. I think that’s when it starts to be very complicated. Seeing Colton paying more attention to this stranger than to his family in Kansas. You never see him touch my belly ever again after that scene; there’s no affection with him. There’s so much playing pretend. I even felt like that in the first episode, with that scene in the bathroom about not mailing the marriage certificate for Sarah and Tammy. The wedding was playing pretend. For a rabbi to say that, it’s to see that this family doesn’t take that holy vow seriously. If there’s nothing in marriage that even matters, then what am I getting myself into? Is nothing sacred? Nothing is holy to these people at all. I’m not standing on any solid ground, I don’t know who I am, and I’m losing faith. It’s a mess, a big, big, mess. And he puts that dumb ring on my finger.

It’s a beautiful ring, which made me angry.
It’s gorgeous! Such a hot ring, I’m really into that ring. That would be a really groovy wedding ring. It’s a big pearl. And you’ll later find out the genesis of it, too.

What have you found most fulfilling in portraying Raquel?
I have, historically speaking, been asked to play the “unhinged one” or “the one who’s searching or looking.” It has been very satisfying to play someone that’s a sinner. It’s a new feeling for me, which has really been an amazing feeling. I was brought up Catholic; this is new to me, a whole new world. I don’t practice anymore, though. It was an overwhelming responsibility to be handed a rabbi title. Hundreds of thousands of years’ worth of history and responsibility. It was a very overwhelming amount of work. I met with Susan Goldberg, who’s a friend of Jill’s. She’s the rabbi I was studying with in Los Angeles, and who Raquel is mostly modeled after. She’s a gorgeous, beautiful mom and a modern dancer, a rad thinker, and a progressive and beautiful feminist soul. She had such gorgeous and direct eye contact – she would just take you in and not let you off, but you felt so nurtured and seen. And I thought, okay, this is going to be my way into Raquel, just as an actor. That’s been really satisfying, to just not be the hurricane, but the ground, the anchor.

You described Raquel as a “sinner.” That’s interesting – I never perceived her in that regard.
Oh, wow, did I say that? Maybe because I’m a recovering Catholic. I think there is a dark energy to this family for her, for sure. I certainly don’t think fucking Josh has been a sin, and I don’t think any of that romance has been a sin. Falling in love with him has not been a sin. Anything Maura has gone through has not been a sin. I don’t think anything Raquel thinks about at all is sinful; it’s funny that I said that. But I do think there’s a darkness to this family that’s palpable. It’s not bathed in light. Rita is dark. She has this monologue when she talks about the mold that’s growing and spreading in her kitchen, this black mold. I’m thinking to myself, she’s like a black mold that’s taking over my life. There are so many factors that are encroaching so much bad news. Sarah’s energy, Ali’s energy, everyone’s energy doesn’t feel clean. I had that rash all over my body. Everything’s just like, uuuuuuh. I love that it manifested itself physically on me.

Her body is physically rejecting Josh and the Pfeffermans.
I know. Isn’t that crazy? You just know it. It’s so heartbreaking because even that good news of their pregnancy was not ever truly good news. I knew it at that wedding; it didn’t feel joyful between us, and I doubt it was ever going to.

On a lighter note
— After that super-fun talk about onscreen miscarriages!

Any particularly memorable moments during filming?
In season one, Jay and I laughed a bunch. During our big sex scene, the crew was lighting it and we were in position, and they had just called “second meal.” Two feet from my face the show’s amazing DP was eating a pulled-pork sandwich, just as we were about to have sex. I was like, really? This close to my face. He was like, “I’m so sorry, I’m starving.” Meanwhile, I was half naked. He didn’t drip on me, or it would’ve been awesome. We also laughed about Raquel’s amazing ensembles this year. I love her clothes, they’re actually really great. We have the greatest costume designer of all time. She gets it so perfectly perfect. A stacked-heel penny loafer is perfect for her.

Oh, yeah. She could be an Anthropologie model.
Yes, yes! I feel like that’s where she shops. Her life is a midi-length skirt. She loves a good midi-length skirt with an elastic top. Colorful but not too vibrant. And how awesome is Gaby’s braid? She’s got really, really good makeup game this season, too. Hot damn.