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Kathryn Hahn on Sundance’s Afternoon Delight, Abortion Jokes, and Orgasms

Kathryn Hahn. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

You might know Kathryn Hahn as Adam Scott’s bossy campaign manager on Parks and Rec or as Jessa’s nanny client on Girls. You might also know her from any one of the supporting roles she’s played in comedies in the last nine years (Anchorman, Step Brothers, Our Idiot Brother). If the Sundance acquisition gods are good to her movie Afternoon Delight (and we suspect they will be), you’ll soon know her best as the woman who takes in a young stripper (Juno Temple) in the name of so-called charity — but more as a jumping-off point to explore her own stifled sexuality. Directed by Jill Soloway, the film lets Hahn show off her dramatic and comedic chops. We spoke to her about her breakout role, abortion jokes, and orgasms.

Afternoon Delight is a funny movie, but you play a straight role. Had you been looking to do something that’s a little more serious?
No, I mean, I was trained — I went to Yale. I’ve always done theater. I’ve never thought of myself as a comedic actress in any way. Anchorman kind of cracked that open. When I got a small part in Anchorman, I didn’t know it was possible on camera to improvise. So I was like, “What’s happening?” It felt so anarchic and [director] Adam McKay just kind of cracked that open for me.

A lot of the jokes in this movie are inappropriate in a terrific way. There’s abortion. There’s masturbating to the rape scene in The Accused.
I mean, that was so good! I just feel like a lot of women probably have masturbated to that.

The audience definitely seemed to pause with the abortion joke. Like, “Should we laugh or can we laugh?” [Her character asks her friends if they wonder what their aborted babies would look like.] Were you expecting that?
It just seemed so like what women talk about, what moms would talk about and say when you’re approaching 40. It didn’t seem like it was being scandalous. It was just a bunch of awesome ladies sitting around talking. It didn’t feel like it was going to be like, “Oh, this is gonna be really hot button.” It just felt like women sitting around, talking about their sex lives, the life that they had before children. Now they have these responsibilities and dying marriages and all those things.

The movie ends with an image of you having what looks like an amazing orgasm.
Yes, I really orgasmed. [Laughs.]

Method acting, right? Did you nail that in one take?
As it were. [Laughter.] Yeah, I mean that was the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. That wasn’t in the original script, and I was like, “Of course, I will jump into it and try, and we’ll see what happens. Let’s see what happens.” And thank God [co-star Josh] Radnor was such a safety net and that my husband is understanding. The night before the premiere, I hadn’t seen it since it was on a screen this big [indicates the size of a computer screen], and I was with my friends at dinner here and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I think maybe the last minutes of this movie are gonna have my nipples!” And I was like, Well, it’s not the end of the world. But I think it’s such a beautiful, joyful way to end, especially with someone who could not be more disconnected from her body and her sexuality.

There’s a running joke about having eyes-closed or eyes-opened orgasms. Did Jill Soloway really poll everyone on the cast and crew about their preference?
I thought that was hilarious. I was like, “Have I ever really had an eyes-open orgasm?” I love that scene where Josh and I are trying to have sex. She’s trying to get back up on the horse and she just thinks maybe if they look at each other, that will do something. And it’s like, “Actually, no, close your eyes. I can’t! I can’t!”

[Josh Radnor walks by and she flips him off very slyly.]

I saw that.
I’m just scratching my nose!

Speaking of Josh, what was it like doing love scenes with him? How did you guys prep?
Eh, not “prep,” but, I mean, it’s always awkward. We’ve known each other socially for a long time and we just kind of giggled and jumped in.

That makes it worse, right? If you know the person?
He knows my hubby! They’re good pals. But we also just didn’t have the time to get weird or embarrassed.

I think some people are going to call this your breakout role. Although, as far as I’m concerned, your breakout moment was in Step Brothers when you accosted John C. Reilly in the bathroom.
I love that movie so much. Just all about securing my children, you know, something for them to be proud of for the future.

As you said, Anchorman was your first real comedy. The role got you in with the whole McKay, Will Ferrell, Judd Apatow crew.
Well, I think it was more so Step Brothers, because I really had to audition for that. I definitely had to work hard to get that part. Same with the David Wain movie [Wanderlust]. It was all through auditions.

What was the Wanderlust audition like?*
I just knew exactly the way in when I read it. I was on vacation with my family when I got the scripts for Wanderlust and I was trying to work on the audition while I was on vacation. I remember a big gust of wind blew the entire script into the pool, so I had to dry it with a hairdryer. I thought this must be kismet because also we were somewhere where we didn’t have computer access, so we had to literally facsimile the script. It cost probably $49. And I got a parking ticket while I was going into the audition, so I was like if I don’t get this job [laughs].

At this point, do you feel like you might have a lifetime membership with these guys?
Oh, I really, really hope so. I love those guys so much. They’re such quality people as well as incredibly talented people, so I would just be forever excited to be a part of that crazy company.

You were on the show Free Agents before it got canceled. Can you tell me about that experience?
Yeah. You know, I love Hank Azaria and John Enbom, who wrote that show and created one of my favorite shows called Party Down. It was an impossible slot. It was like Wednesdays at eight or something. A very hard, difficult place to put a comedy that was a little bit sex-based.

But then you probably wouldn’t have gotten Girls or Parks and Rec if you had done that show.
I know, exactly. So, you never know. Free Agents was an awesome experience. I never play the glam girl in anything, so that was a new experience. I would walk into one of my trailers and it would be like Spanx, a spray-tan gun, and chicken cutlets. I would have hair extensions. It was hilarious. Every day felt like I was turning into an awesome drag queen.

*This post has been updated: Hahn was talking about Wanderlust, not Step Brothers.

Kathryn Hahn on Abortion Jokes and Orgasms