Just last week, Private Life director Tamara Jenkins told Refinery29 about belatedly discovering Kathryn Hahn's extensive body of work after casting her as the lead in her film.
"There’s a huge cult of Kathryn Hahn," she said. "She's in the category of Gena Rowlands, Diane Keaton; those great actresses that [are] capable of playing temporary women that were flawed and funny and relatable and beautiful, but not from Hollywood treatment. And I don’t think there’s a lot of them."
To celebrate the October 19 release of his directorial debut, Mid90s, Hill and A24 are putting out a zine called Inner Children, featuring candid Q&As between the actor-director and prominent figures he looks up to. As Hill's favorite actress — she shares the title with his sister, Beanie Feldstein, and Edie Falco, who were also interviewed for the project — Hahn was an obvious choice. The series of interviews center around the person's experience of their early teenage years, the same period of time represented in the film. What were they like then? What did they care about? What did they fear? What were they most ashamed of?
Mid90s stars Sunny Suljic as Stevie, a lonely 13-year-old alienated from his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges), and single mom Dabney (Katherine Waterston), until one day he comes across Motor Avenue Skateshop, and the group of older skaters who hang out there. What follows is a coming-of-age journey tracking Stevie's attempt to navigate one of life's most difficult periods, and find his tribe.
It's a struggle that Hill personally related to. "I became famous in my late teens and then spent most of my young adult life listening to people say that I was fat and gross and unattractive," he writes in the zine's introduction. "It’s only in the last four years, writing and directing my movie Mid90s, that I’ve started to understand how much that hurt and got into my head."
"I really believe everyone has a snapshot of themselves from a time when they were young that they’re ashamed of," he continues. "For me, it’s that 14-year-old overweight and unattractive kid who felt ugly to the world, who listened to hip hop and wanted so badly to be accepted by this community of skaters."
Read on for the exclusive interview between Hill and Hahn.
Kathryn Hahn: "Jonah, I'm sorry. I had to stop and pee, but now I'm fine. I've got a clean bladder."
Jonah Hill: You do whatever you need to do to feel happy and comfortable.
"Thank you. This means a ton."
When we were coming up with the list of people, you were the only person on it I don't know very well. And I was like, "Kathryn Hahn is my favorite actress, so maybe she'll do it." But I had no idea if you’d say yes.
"Oh, my God, I'm so super flattered. You are the sweetest. I'm pleased. Next time we'll have to do it over alcohol.
You, my sister, and Edie Falco are my favorite actresses. You’re one of my favorite artists, 360. I literally showed my nephew Anchorman last week, and you don’t have one of the main parts in Anchorman—
"I mean I have two lines."
But I wanted to know your character's full story. That's how I feel when I watch you onscreen: your characters are always so well rounded and so human and so perverse. Even if it's one line, you create a whole being. I've seen you do that in heavy dramas and really broad comedies, and I think you are someone who very clearly is in touch with humanity, and human feelings.
"I don’t know. I grew up Catholic, so I think that's deeply in my fabric, for better or worse."
"I mean I don't practice it. I don't believe in it now, but I think what stuck with me is the idea of a sacred space — the idea of keeping something holy. Hopefully this doesn't sound crazy douchey, but what I love most, most, most about [acting], is feeling like you're in a bubble. You know that feeling? When all of the sudden, wherever the camera is, whatever it’s pointing at, and wherever everyone is standing, there's something in the room that's an alchemy shift, and it just becomes sacred. It's like a church. To me, it’s that same feeling, of just creating that kind of intensity.
"It can happen in whatever genre, but I feel like I'm always on the hunt for that feeling. I just love that sacredness. Even when it’s funny, if the rubber band — between the two people speaking, between the director and the DP, between the director and you, mostly between you and whoever’s eyes you’re looking into — if the rubber band is taut, that’s the connection I’m always looking for."
Rubber band, man.
"It's still flexible, do you know what I mean? It's not a string, like shit's gonna change and it's an organism that you can't predict. That's what I love about it, that feeling of when it's taut and holy."
But still malleable.
"It still has to be malleable because it’s an organism that has to breathe. What I hate is when I'm just dutifully shooting the thing that's written. Most of the first half of my career on camera was me trying to be the good girl, but then the unexpected shit just wasn't rising, and the surprise wasn't happening. You just couldn't feel that taut connection between the people that were on camera, I guess."
It didn’t feel alive to you. I think what you're saying, which I relate to, is the moment of creation. The process of something being created with other people, right?
"Yeah, that to me is the church of it. That’s when I feel like, 'Oh man, I can’t believe I get to do this.' You just get these heightened moments in these spaces where you get to actually focus on connecting, and what a crazy, stupid gift that is. I love creating. I need it.
"I'm a mom, too, so I've been through it. Childbirth, it's like the same thing. That idea of just having to let go is so important to self. Self-love or self-care is just the idea of surrender: what are we holding onto that's not serving us?"
Well that I can definitely relate to, because I have a massive problem with anxiety and control.
"Oh, so do I. Big time."
Is there a moment where you teach your kid a lesson or you connect with your kid in a way where you feel like, "Wow, we're creating"?
"Oh, yes. My kids are 9 and 11 now, and I just took my son Leonard to New Orleans for a weekend for a pre-birthday thing, because he’s obsessed with World War II, and that museum there is so profound. He kept looking at me like, 'Are you crying?” and I was like, “Noooo.'
"Just to be able to look at his beautiful, 11-year-old brain and watch him process that filled me with such deep satisfaction and love."
That’s amazing. That’s a feeling I’ve yet to experience, which I imagine is way more fulfilling than even a moment of creation with someone you’re working with.
"I don’t know. Not everyone’s a parent, like I am still trying to figure this gig out, but I do love that surrender into it."
Do you ever worry about the world hurting your kid or your kid feeling pain? You know what I mean?
"Of course I do. But I also grew up in Ohio where I never saw my parents until dinner, and then I would run off again. It was a mess. It wasn't an ideal vibe, but the freedom I had as a kid — I wish that my kids could experience that. You just have to keep it so tight here. I live in Los Feliz and, I mean, I've picked up used condoms."
That didn't happen in Ohio?
"No, nobody used protection in Ohio. We were Catholic. We just do it. Growing up, I would go explore abandoned houses. Who gets to do that? I wish they could do that. I wish that they could have that breathing room. I've been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder to my daughter, those Little House on the Prairie books, and Paul always says at the end of the night you've got to circle the wagons. To keep your little family unit safe, you'd circle the wagons against the wildlife, and I just think that's such a beautiful expression. We just love to circle the wagons. There’s danger out there."
My big question to everyone whether it's you or anyone else I interview is, “What was the hardest time in your life?” Basically, I think we all have this person that we're most embarrassed of, right?
Who is that person for you? If there's a mascot of the most embarrassing version of yourself that you want to hide from the world, who is that person?
"It's so interesting to talk to you about this because I feel like I've been doing a lot of work thinking about this recently. Instead of trying to deny or separate myself from that person, I'm really trying to be more gentle with her because I was so hard on her for so long."
Who is that?
"You know, my family, it all looked great — suburban little house in Cleveland Heights. But we had a lot of shit going on inside those walls. My family was very good at pretending to be something, we're all like professional liars. And so in my mind, I was like hunched because I hated having boobs. I have two brothers and I just didn't want to be female. But I didn't want to be male. I didn't want to be looked at or embraced. I just hated myself. I was constantly lying to try to fit in or snake myself into different groups of people that ultimately weren't my tribe."
Lying about achievements, or bragging, or just lying about experiences?
"Just lying about who I was like, 'Oh yeah, yeah, totally, totally.' Getting in on shit-talking someone, you know what I mean? Like 'Yeah, I'm into that,' and I was holding back my deep self, which loved playing with dolls in my room until I was too old. All I wanted to do was be reading a book in a silo with the Amish. I was hiding all these parts of myself because I was trying to be something I wasn’t. I'm like fuckin' 45 and I still feel like I'm trying to make friends with that girl and being like, 'You did not need to be that hard on yourself.'
"We're so hard on ourselves. And the ego is so loud at that age. Everything is you-centered. And it's that horrible pull of wanting, needing. It's that feeling that is so universal of not wanting to grow up, but needing that separation of the umbilical cord, which has become so tight. That feeling of between worlds. Like you’re in a weird purgatory. We have to like, knock shit around and destroy stuff to become. That’s just part of it."
Try and love that person as opposed to forget they exist, right?
"Yes. Or to deny them."
Yeah, just be gentle and not judgmental of that person you're trying to hide from the world. Accept it and sort of love that person.
"Yeah, try to fold that person into yourself because that also made you you. Thank God for that person, you know what I mean? Why deny that? Fucking so awesome."
It’s nice to hear that your approach is being gentler towards that part of yourself. If you had one way to sum it up, what do you think's gotten you to be able to be easier on that person?
"I would say time, and just getting outside my own shit. I would say it's letting go, and just breathing. We look back on our life and we see little flash images of these different people that'll look like strangers, and for some reason to me it's important to try to integrate them all into one, instead of trying to cut off parts of myself. It doesn't help with your sanity, and it certainly doesn't help with anxiety to compartmentalize those things. I don't know if that makes sense, I can't sum it up. It's so hard, though."
Yeah, it's literally so hard, but I think that's said perfectly for my ears, and I think you're a genius.
"Oh stop it, I can't wait to see your movie, I'm so excited for you."
Thank you Kathryn. And I really appreciate it.
"I hope our paths cross soon."