Kathryn Hahn On Pinterest, Motherhood, And What It’s Like In Jill Soloway’s ‘Pussy Womb’

A quirky, best-friend, ‘scene-stealer’ no longer

Kathryn Hahn is perhaps the only person capable of being completely delightful while stuck in standstill airport traffic. “I don't remember it taking an hour to get to the airport back in the day!” she says cheerfully at the beginning of our interview. Indeed, by the end of our 20-minute chat — in which she gamely reflects on everything from parenting to frequent collaborator Jill Soloway’s “pussy womb” to why Pinterest makes her want to kill herself — Hahn confirms that she’s moved only infinitesimally closer to her destination. Where most humans, including myself, would be several Xanax deep, Hahn is merely amused. “We've made such a small dent traveling, it’s hilarious,” she laughs. “We're so, so, so far.”

It’s exactly this sort of amiable breeziness and preternatural patience that’s brought Hahn, 43, to her current career zenith: She’s starring as one of the titular imperfect parents in Bad Moms, a raunchy comedy written and directed by the men behind The Hangover, out July 29; playing opposite Viggo Mortensen in the indie drama Captain Fantastic, in theaters now; continuing her reign as the uncommonly decent Rabbi Raquel on the upcoming third season of Soloway’s Transparent; and eagerly anticipating the August premiere of I Love Dick, Soloway’s new pilot for Amazon, which Hahn is, for the first time, headlining. It’s a long-awaited and much-deserved moment for Hahn, who’s been described as “underserved,” “underused,” and a “scene-stealer” ever since she made her movie debut as Kate Hudson’s perpetually dumped best friend in the perpetually bewildering How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

You’re often cast as “the unhinged one,” and your part in Bad Moms is no exception — is that something you like to add to your characters, or are you attracted to parts already written like that?

Kathryn Hahn: Oh, I think I must be, somewhere, incredibly attracted to that [laughs]. I don’t know where that comes from. But it’s so fun to play something that feels reckless — not all the time, but I really must be acting out something that I can’t do in real life. You can probably ask my husband, and he might tell you differently, but I feel very much like I’m kind of cautious in my real life.

Bad Moms was written and directed by two dudes. Did you feel like they accurately captured the way women communicate with each other?

Hahn: To be sure, when I first saw that it was written by two gentlemen, I was like, “Oh, we’ll see. We’ll see, fellas.” And I was so excited — even just the third line, I think one of the women is talking about another woman, and she says, “Oh my god, that woman is fucking cancer.” And I was like, “What?! OK, this is gonna get really hard really fast.” I was so into that kind of subversion. My kid goes to school with one of the writers’ sons, and, coincidentally, the costume designer’s daughter, so we know one another as parents. And I know his wife, and she’s so rad, and this is such a romantic, adorable testament to her. Both Scott [Moore] and Jon [Lucas] did not at any point pretend to know anything or everything about what it was to be a mom. They were incredibly open and humble and hilarious, and they really kind of stepped back and trusted [me and costars Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell] to find it. They happened to write something that was so crazy on-point with such specific voices that we really didn’t need to go far.

You're now in two movies — Bad Moms and Captain Fantastic — about the idea of adults relentlessly judging one another’s parenting skills while sort of secretly struggling themselves. Afternoon Delight also dealt with the contradictions inherent in womanhood and parenthood, as does Transparent. Is that through line something you considered when taking on all of these projects?

Hahn: I’ve had chapters in my work life that have kind of coincided with the place I am in mine. I had the best-friend phase, and the pregnant-woman phase [laughs] — for a while, I was pregnant in every movie. For now, I just happen to be blessed enough to play complicated moms, not just sitting with a pint of ice cream. [In most movies], there’s either this sainted halo around a mom, or, like, “I don't know how she does it!” — she’s a working mom pulled in all directions. There’s something about the moms I’ve been asked to play that have been much more complicated than that. Or, if not more complicated, then extreme. And that’s also really fun.

You’re right, it’s so about expectation. Same with Captain Fantastic — there’s such a crazy social expectation now that we put on ourselves and on each other about what motherhood is supposed to look and feel like. And it’s impossible to live up to those standards. You’re setting yourself up for failure at every possible turn. You know, you look at Pinterest, and you’re like, “Oh my god, I want to kill myself, there’s no way my bathroom is ever gonna look like that.”

So you’ve felt those sort of frustrations as a mom, too.

Hahn: Oh, there’s so many. Especially as a new mom. I have two kids, and when my oldest was first born, it was the most vulnerable feeling in the world. I remember taking him to his first doctor’s appointment, and on the sheet, it said “mother,” and I put my mom’s name [laughs]. I was like, “Oh, right, I ... I’m the mother!” You just feel so vulnerable. And it’s because we live in a society now where it’s very rare for your parents to be around. It used to be like, your mother, grandmothers, your family around would help. Now, you're surrounded by other moms and friends and it’s really disorienting, because there’s such varying, crazy, different points of view and advice coming at you. Everyone’s just trying to justify their own decision-making and the way it comes out is judgment toward others, because it’s like, “If you're doing it different than me then I’m doing something wrong, and that’s impossible!”

Women just get really hard on each other. And at that moment in my life, I was reaaaaal vulnerable to it. I felt like, “Oh, my kid’s head is too big, he’s not rolling over fast enough, he wasn’t nursing the right way.” You know, I wasn’t doing cloth diapers, he wasn’t into wood toys. You just feel like, “Oh, I’m failing already.” I wish I could go back to that period and be like, “Shut up! Who cares? It’s such a short time that you have a newborn. Just enjoy it.”

This movie is rare in that all three leads are women — and moms. Was that refreshing for you, after doing so many of your earlier movies with mostly men?

Hahn: Absolutely. I just feel like, culturally, I’m lucky to be able to ride the wave into this next chapter, which feels fresher. That was the comedy scene when I was coming up: two dudes in the lead parts with a couple of women around. The women were either, like, the gorgeous image that you could project all of your fantasies on, and if she did have edge or quirk, it was really minor, and certainly didn’t affect her looks. Or it was the quirky character, the funny lady. I always fell into that department. I’m really happy that this happens to be coinciding with my life post-40, and post–having children. It’s nuts. Terribly unexpected. It’s funny because I feel like I’ve been able to be my true self and discover what I can honestly bring to the table by working with other women.

Right — there’s traditionally been this idea of you as this “scene-stealer,” someone who hadn’t really broken out yet, or has yet to reach her full star potential. Do you feel like that part of your career is over?

Hahn: I don’t know if that part is over or if I just don’t care [laughs]. I feel like I am so blessed — I just like to work. To be able to do these kind of jobs has been the dreamiest. Yes, I do definitely feel a shift, for sure. But I also don’t feel like I’m trying to be something that I’m not anymore, which really feels great. Again, something I wish I could tell my younger self.

What was the turning point for you?

Hahn: Jill Soloway, and working on Afternoon Delight, for sure. And that wasn’t till I was much older, but I feel like I just let go. I felt more beautiful than I ever have. I can’t describe it — I just felt like myself, in a way that I just hadn’t been asked to be on camera, to bring my full self. I was given permission in that environment to really expose myself. And I think I had been, up to that point, either trying to be something I wasn’t or putting something on. You know what I mean? I was tap dancing my heart out.

Was it something in particular she said to you?

Hahn: I think it was just the general vibe. She created an environment that had the same feeling I had when I was back in school rehearsing plays at 2 in the morning, barefoot on a stage with other scrappy, sweaty actors. That’s why I got into this mess in the first place: making something out of nothing. And it wasn’t pushed — our only job was to tell the truth. If it was funny or not funny was none of our business. That was really revolutionary for me.

I interviewed Gaby Hoffmann late last year, and she told me that Jill “directs from the pussy.” What does that mean to you?

Hahn: [Laughs.] She’ll tell you that! How I see that is that when I feel her eyeballs, you know your image is being taken care of by a woman, by someone who is empathetic — it doesn’t feel like there’s another lens on you and you’re being judged. It feels like there’s this camera looking at you with understanding and empathy and heart. In that crazy pussy womb, you’re able to do your safest, most fearless work.

Can you think of a specific time she pushed you to that fearless level?

Hahn: Let me take a second to think. In Afternoon Delight, there’s a scene where I get a lap dance from Juno Temple. It was in an old strip club called Cheetahs, which is now closed, on Hollywood Boulevard. We sort of took it over and it was just us in this place, and a lot of gorgeous background artists that were strippers themselves, and it really felt like we were in that world. Jimmy [Frohna, the DP] and Juno and Jill and I went into a booth to do the scene. She plays music really loud sometimes to get us in the mood, and there was some sort of music playing, and Jimmy had to sort of lean on Jill to support his hand with the camera, because Jill closes the set to make sure it’s completely safe. And it’s just the four of us in there, dancing. And at some point, we all started bawling. And there was nothing intense or vulnerable about the scene, it didn’t read that way on the page in any way — it was kind of light and a little funny on the page. But it took a direction we never could have anticipated emotionally. That was really, really thrilling for all of us.

There are so many of those examples. Every time I drive home from working on a set with her, I feel open and worked in a way that’s why I wanted to be an actor in the first place. I don’t feel like I’m going back over lines or a specific moment. It’s more experiential. That’s the only way I can describe it.