Meeting Jill Soloway on Afternoon Delight—a 2013 indie shot in Silverlake—Kathryn Hahn felt herself in the midst of a career high point, unaware of the true impact this professional collision would have on the course of her career. A muse for Soloway, Hahn would follow the writer/director on to two critically acclaimed television series—first, as a beloved member of the Transparent ensemble, and later, on I Love Dick, as her star.
Sadly, there will be no sign of Hahn’s Rabbi Raquel Fein, as the Pfefferman family packs up and heads to Israel. The irony of the Rabbi’s omission from this sacred voyage isn’t lost on the actress. Having Raquel tag along “would’ve been maybe too on the nose,” she says. But worry not: Raquel will most certainly be back.
Speaking with Deadline following her first Emmy nomination, for a complicated arc in Transparent‘s third season, Hahn discusses a creative relationship that has meant everything to her, and the compelling opportunity she’s had to work with one of TV’s great repertory companies.
You’ve now traveled with Jill Soloway and crew through one film and two television series, all acclaimed. What has this relationship meant for your career?
When we did Afternoon Delight, it was like three and a half weeks, maybe. I think all of us that were involved would describe it as a life changer, for sure—the amazing James Frohna, and our costume designer, the Emmy-nominated Marie Schley.
It kind of forged this rep company for all of us that I feel like we’re now in. Jill has a knack for hiring such amazing humans, and it’s widened in such a beautiful way.
This idea of a TV rep company feels very of the moment. What is it that is compelling to you about that notion, as an actor?
I think it’s such a hard thing to find someone that speaks your creative language. If you continue to be turned on and curious about what that person can bring to the table, then why not?
There’s something very moving about growing up alongside somebody in this kind of creative way. We actually do kind of keep our social and creative lives separate.
I think that helps because it always feels so fertile when we’re together.
What were your thoughts, reading scripts for Season 3?
Season 3 was a pretty profound journey for Rabbi Raquel, for everybody in that group. We had talked a lot about the speech that she gives in the first episode—she talks about the idea of going through the desert, finally arriving at the desert after those 40 years. Then, it’s like, We’ve arrived. Now what? Now that there’s a clarity of who I am, what’s next?
I think that everybody’s in that place in Season 3. The Pfeffermans are a hard family to quit, for sure. I think there’s unfinished business with her and Josh. She’s a rabbi, so if anyone knocks on the door, she’s going to answer it, no matter who that human is, or what triggers are attached to them. It’s when she opens the door and sees Sarah there that she knows it’s going to be trouble, and it’s probably not going to end well.
Of course, she’s a rabbi. How can she not? I also think it’s a subconscious way of staying connected to Josh. For me, as the rabbi, it was in her stillness and her patience that I was able to tap into Raquel, not that she’s not flawed. It’s very rare to see a religious figure that’s this brought down to earth, I guess—and is a woman.
Three seasons in, Transparent has maintained a powerful connection with both TV Academy voters and its broader audience. Why do you think that is?
I think the reason this show has gotten all sorts of under peoples’ skin is because you feel like you know these people so deeply. It feels like you’re watching your own home movies, almost.
Even if on the surface you might not have a way in—if your parent isn’t transitioning, your family isn’t Jewish, or your family doesn’t come from the Palisades—there is something on a cellular level that is so human and recognizable. It really does feel like it kind of seeps into your bones.
What guided you in your choice of episode for Emmy submissions this year?
There was something about Episode 7 that I was very proud of—I felt it was the culmination of Raquel’s journey in that season.
There was such a cathartic purge in that scene with Sarah at the gym—it felt like so much of the season was leading up to that moment for Raquel, and, dare I say, for a lot of the audience, to just want to take a Pfefferman, look them in the eye, and be like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” [laughs] There was something very cathartic about that release for me.
This season, Raquel is in crisis, in conflict with Josh, with Sarah and with her faith. What were the other defining moments for you this season?
This season, there is a struggle. She’s in a little bit of a crisis of faith. When you’re a rabbi, I can only imagine that’s a very confusing place to be. I feel like she is kind of lost in the wilderness, spiritually, when we see her at the beginning of the season.
She’s grieving this miscarriage, she’s grieving the breakup with Josh, the loss—even if it was pretend—of this kind of family of Colton and Josh, and this unborn baby. All great stuff for a comedy submission. [laughs]
I think it really did rock her faith to the core because she’s mad. She’s pissed that she lost that baby, she’s really pissed that her body has betrayed her, she’s pissed that this relationship didn’t work out. Now, she’s pissed that she has to take care of his older sister, and pissed at herself for letting it happen.
There’s just a lot of anger in Raquel when you see her at the beginning of the season. Then, Sarah’s undeniably hilarious and charming and charismatic, as is the genius Amy Landecker. I think that relationship felt fun, and I think she was excited to help Sarah on this journey, even though part of her was, like, “Danger, danger.”
She tries to start a relationship with somebody else that is good and earnest. It doesn’t feel as sexy, of course, because he probably is such a good and earnest and holy person. She’s mad at herself for that.
My other favorite episode is 305, where she and Josh finally see each other. She’s leading the Hineni, she’s created this evening with Sarah, and she is able to finally mourn. I feel like when Maura says the Kaddish, she’s mourning her unborn baby. That scene destroyed me. She’s trying to reintroduce herself to her faith, and she’s trying to clean the Pfeffermans off of her; at least that’s what you think, in that season.
What is your preparation and process, looking at a character arc that is defined by these difficult emotions?
It still makes me laugh and tickles me so hard that my first Emmy nomination is for a show in which I have a miscarriage and I’m mourning the loss of my faith. [laughs] It’s so awesome and unexpected.
As with any of these gigs, I was lucky enough to be able to walk into it with a history, so I had all that behind me, walking into the season. I wasn’t trying to get stuff out of thin air. We had already felt so much in Season 2 between Josh and I that we knew we could build from there.
It’s just this crazy, lucky, beautiful chemistry with these people that I get to do these scenes with, and just listen to. Chances were, if you just listened, you were emotionally right where you needed to be.
You’re someone I came to know through independent films. In the period between Afternoon Delight and I Love Dick, that indie spirit and energy has seemed to shift more into TV. What has been your response to that change?
I totally agree. Independent film is forever a passion of mine—I hold those memories so dear to my heart. Some of the most formative creative memories were going to the Cedar Lee, which was our art house in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and seeing My Life as a Dog, or Smoke, or Wild at Heart.
These things are burned forever in my creative memory and the soul of who I am as a person. I felt woke—that felt more religious, for me, certainly than sitting in mass, being in those theaters and feeling those feelings. There is nothing to me like seeing it on a big screen, in a community. Finances being what they are, it’s hard to get something that you really believe in and really love seen and distributed.
At that point [in 2013], Afternoon Delight was the greatest thing that had happened to me creatively, the thing that I was most proud of as a performer. Like, two people saw it—it was teeny tiny. [laughs] I love that movie, and I think more people have found it now that there are places to see it online.
Again, I’m crazy grateful. I don’t know, if I Love Dick had been a film, if I would’ve been cast as the lead. I don’t even know, honestly, if I Love Dick would’ve been made five years ago. It’s crazy exciting that it even exists—that shows like I Love Dick exist. I think the reason there is at least light shone on them is because of the platforms they’re on—I think it maybe would’ve been different had this been a tiny movie.
It’s hard to package a little, tiny movie that doesn’t have a crazy genre attached to it. I don’t know. I showed my kids Stand By Me the other week. I was like, “It’s so good, and probably wildly inappropriate for them, but that was a huge hit.” That was four kids…
Was the experience on I Love Dick wildly different?
Yeah—it was new for all of us. Jill Soloway could have just very safely stayed within a certain set of parameters that she knew had worked beautifully for Transparent. For her to take such a creative risk with this, I’m in awe of her.
It’s hard to find real, honest-to-god risk-takers that will take a swing at the rafters, It’s really crazy exciting that stuff like this can happen and get made. It was a grand experiment for all of us—I could not be prouder.
The way of working was the same: It’s the same crew, with the same kind of digging for emotional truth, finding what is true in the moment, and that sense of discovery. Sometimes, you’re going down a road in a scene and it lands somewhere that you didn’t expect.
I think, visually, some big swings were taken that were really exciting. I think using the idea of an all-female, or a gender nonconforming writers’ room, there was a sense of using the series as a placeholder for other women’s work that you might not be familiar with.
That felt new and exciting. We pushed a little bit harder on the comedy pedal, I think, than we do sometimes on Transparent. Guts-of-it-wise, it felt the same; that sense of space, though, in Marfa felt very different. There was nothing about Chris that felt like Raquel at all, and that’s the actor’s dream.
Can we expect to see more of Raquel, down the line, in future seasons of Transparent?
The rabbi will for sure be back. We don’t know where or when, but we knew that Raquel needed a break from the Pfeffermans. We were joking that she disappears into the mikvah, comes up into the cistern, next to Kevin Bacon in Marfa, Texas, has a weird, kind of amazing sexual trip, and then goes back into the cistern, and back up through the mikvah in Season 5. [laughs]
But—Jill would say this, I think—the two shows actually do feel related. It’s identity, and gender…There’s something that makes it feel like they’re related.