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Jane Adams on Why Hung Is More Than Just a Penis Show

On HBO’s Hung, which starts its second season on Sunday, Jane Adams plays Tanya, a mousy pimp who has lost control over her lone prostitute, Ray (played by Thomas Jane). Tanya’s like that annoying mosquito you just can’t kill — she’s needy, nerdy, and socially awkward. And yet her scenes are the highlights of the entertaining half-hour comedy, both for their painful funniness, and, often, their emotional depth. We spoke to Adams about playing such an irritating lady, what initially drew her to a show about a dude with a big penis, and where she’d like Tanya’s life to go.

When you first got the script, were you worried about starring in a penis show?
It’s so surprisingly not about that, considering the title. I was visiting my parents up in Washington state, and I got the script and I looked at the title, Hung, and I was like, Uh, God. Really? But then I saw that Alexander Payne was directing the pilot, and I thought, Maybe this will be okay. And I read it with my mother, actually; she helped me learn the lines. And my mom liked it! And that was my first clue, like, Oh, okay, it’s not just a penis show. There are metaphors operating here that my mother was liking.

Metaphors like …
The more we shoot, the more it is to me, almost startlingly, about business. And about interpersonal relationships and how to work with people, in general, whether it’s a friendship or marriage or a business partnership.

Tanya is not a very effective pimp. But at least she’s funny.
Oh, good, I’m so relieved to hear that! ‘Cause I never know, I never know. I just hope — you shoot the stuff and cross your fingers. People respond to things that I didn’t even think of or see. I don’t know what it is until I’m getting feedback.

Do you like Tanya? I sometimes can’t stand to watch her, to tell the truth.
I feel like there’s a fine line that we’re walking — there’s awkward and there’s pathetic. Awkward interests me, and if the needle goes too far into the pathetic zone, I want to pull it back. That’s a discussion we have a lot. What’s interesting to me is when she’s effective, against all odds, in her own awkwardness. There are lots of very effective people who are like that. That’s what’s funny to me.

Sometimes she’s with it, and sometimes it seems like she’s insane.
There are things that happen this season when I said to [co-creator] Collette [Burson], “Does Tanya’s alarm go off ever? Does she realize she’s dreaming?” That schizophrenic quality is a challenge. It’s not my show, that’s what’s interesting to me as an actress. I’ll throw out my ideas, but they’re balancing a lot of different characters.

Were you worried about how the show would be received, given its racy topic?
No, I was pretty confident that people would like the show. I just looked at Thomas and was like, “Who’s not going to want to watch that? Just light him well and put him on Sunday nights.” And it’s really dealing with women’s feelings. Like, I love that scene last year, when Ray goes to the client played by Margo Martindale, and she tells him he can go, but he decides to stay [even though he’s not attracted to her]. It’s unconventional; it’s not a sex scene about two hot people.

People always seem to harp on Ray’s kids, played by Charlie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee, who aren’t as conventionally good-looking as their parents.
I can’t tell you how many people get upset about them! That they’re overweight and unattractive and not as pretty as their parents. But, it’s like, that happens!

Jane Adams on Why Hung Is More Than Just a Penis Show