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Kathryn Hahn on Afternoon Delight, Drunk Book Clubs, and Her Onscreen Stripper Lust

Kathryn Hahn. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty

Films about female midlife crises invariably use the same device: Older Woman Has Affair With Younger Man. Afternoon Delight invents a slightly different rubric: Older Woman Adopts Younger Stripper. Kathryn Hahn plays Rachel, a Los Angeles housewife who has lost herself in the process of caring for her son and husband (a terrific, surprising Josh Radnor). At a friend’s suggestion, Rachel visits a strip club to spice up her marriage and becomes entranced with a wide-eyed lap dancer named McKenna (Juno Temple). Soon, McKenna is moving into Rachel’s spare room, where, in a different comedy, she’d probably teach the suburban mom how to get her groove back. Suffice it to say, Afternoon Delight goes someplace much more interesting. The Sundance hit is anchored by Hahn’s raw, fearless performance — all the more impressive since she’s known mainly for comedies (Anchorman, Parks and Recreation, We’re the Millers). We talked to Hahn at Sundance, but checked in again to discuss drunken acting, the surprising similarities between Afternoon Delight and ET, and her character’s attraction to a stripper.

Afternoon Delight is the second movie I’ve watched this week directed by a woman, about a woman. I feel like I’m living in this wonderful alternate universe of film.
I am so proud to be a part of this movie, Gwynne. I am so, so forever grateful that [director and writer] Jill Soloway was like, “Kathryn Hahn should be Rachel,” because I hadn’t been afforded this kind of part in my movie and television career. I hadn’t worked that way since I was in drama school.

All the marriages in the movie are believable. I love that the husbands are all kind of schlubby and unshaven. They look like people who had kids.
Yeah, exactly, AND people that are that comfortable in the marriage. We were talking about that loosening in the belly you have when you’re around your husband. I’ve been married forever, we have two kids, and there’s that kind of like, exhale that you can have around your partner that you’ve been with for so long. You just feel like you can like release the belly, just not hold it in in front of each other.

I want to talk about the ladies’ wine party scene, in which your character has a drunken breakdown. Is there a difference between playing drunk in a comedy and playing drunk in a drama? I know a lot of actors find it a challenge to strike that balance between a little loose and over-the-top.
The ladies will all say this with a great amount of pride: That was the most completely sober shoot. We didn’t have one sip. We were so proud of us. We were drinking that fake red wine, and we started at nine in the morning and we kind of emerged from that room at six, like, “What just happened?” It was four or five really long takes. And — let me try to answer this. I think definitely, it’s gonna come from a different place if it’s comedy or drama. But in this case, it was like a loosening. These people are friends, but it’s kind of a fake friendship, it’s so much about appearances, and as the cameras kept rolling, it just got looser and looser and looser. Everything was just kind of stripped away to the id, to what was underneath, at least for Rachel. She has this epic public meltdown in that scene. Which I always thought was so brilliant in Jill’s script, that it was the same night of McKenna’s poker scene. Because, do you remember in ET when ET gets drunk at home and then Elliott gets drunk at school? Like, he feels it? I always kind of equated those two scenes together like that. Whatever McKenna is going through, she just kind of takes it on. All of a sudden, they’re so connected that she just feels it. But again, it was just long, long takes, using mostly Jill’s dialogue, and then of course, just going off and improvising. And she was so open to whatever we would improvise.

The uncomfortable monologue in that same scene about Rachel being date raped felt very organic. Was that part of the script?
It was definitely improv in and out of the beats, but it was in the script that she kind of volunteers this information. What I love about it is that Rachel is so outside of herself, and so does not know herself — she’s almost 40 but still has no idea who she is. Even when telling this story, she doesn’t believe that it was rape. Which makes me so sad, that something like that happened to her, and there’s an aborted child somewhere that maybe McKenna could be something like? It killed me. Especially in that monologue, there’s a couple of really, really politically incorrect jokes that we kind of let fly because it’s a bunch of women drunk. And a bunch of kind-of strangers sitting around over the onus of this “wine-tasting” — which of course, it never happens, everybody just gets wasted. I’ve totally been to those evenings. Like, I have a book club in L.A., and I’m telling you, we rarely read the books. It’s basically just an opportunity to go, you know, “Let’s just get drunk.” I think it happens all over. Makes total sense to me.

Why do you think your character singles out this particular girl as somebody that she wants to connect with? We get a lot of clues, but did you feel there was a specific reason, something that dominated everything else?
In the middle of this strip club, she sees this pink cream puff, this little angel. I think what’s happening in that scene is definitely like, Rachel wants to be her, she wants to mother her, she wants to save her, she wants to fuck her. She wants all of these things at once. I think “rescue” is the predominant one. Because that’s totally tied in with mothering. And I think she’s turned on. And I think there’s also something that when Rachel looks at her — Rachel’s so closed off to that part of herself. She’s dressing like a boy. She’s completely shut down that feminine side of herself. She can’t access her sexuality in any way. And she also has nothing to do with her days but browse stores online. She has this unbelievably enviable life, and it’s empty.  Her son doesn’t need her that much anymore; her husband obviously doesn’t even know what her days are. I think that McKenna becomes a purpose.

At Sundance, you spoke with Vulture about your final orgasm of the movie. I was curious about one of the other sex scenes in the movie, which is the one where you and Josh are both talking directly into the camera while you’re having sex with your eyes open. Walk me through the setup of that scene. I’m really curious.
I was basically on Josh, and then there was just Jim, the cameraman, shooting up right from behind him. It was so perfect, because it was also like, Oh, this could not be a worse angle. The lighting could not be worse. It was like, ugh, let’s just close our eyes! It was very hard for us to – like, there’s a whole other movie in there that is so much broader. I had to take a drink of water at some point. We really made ourselves giggle about what that work is. It was like, “ugh, I mean, I know we have to do this, but just the thought of it is so exhausting.” Oh my God, it made us laugh so hard. And Josh just killed me, just staring. And then at a certain point, to make the motion happen, somebody else was pumping his legs up and down. It was ridiculous.

Kathryn Hahn on Her Onscreen Stripper Lust