Hannah Einbinder is one half of Hacks’ dynamic duo, starring as Ava, a punchy, down-on-her-luck TV writer drafted in to freshen up the act of old-school Vegas stand-up Deborah Vance (Jean Smart). Einbinder admits she initially found the job “intimidating.” which seems more than fair, given it was her first ever major acting role. But actually, Einbinder is no comedy newbie. At age 23, she was the youngest person ever to perform stand-up on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. And now, in Hacks she more than holds her own as she slowly reveals Ava’s soft underbelly opposite comedy legend Smart.
DEADLINE: What was your reaction the first time you ever saw the script?
HANNAH EINBINDER: I was so incredibly blown away by how funny the jokes were, almost immediately. And really how beautiful the art direction was written. Every element that is communicated on screen struck me on the page. It felt like such a vivid and real world and the characters felt so incredibly relatable and personal and vivid and fleshed out, that it excited me but more than anything, I really loved the jokes in the script, and they made me laugh out loud, which is not something I had really ever experienced when reading audition sides.
DEADLINE: This is your first major acting role on TV and you brought so much authenticity to Ava. Tell me about jumping into such a big role opposite Jean Smart. Obviously you’ve done a lot of standup before but this was a huge new thing.
EINBINDER: It was definitely intimidating and frankly, I was pretty anxious for a good deal of it because I’m an anxious person, generally. And so, attempting such a huge part, it definitely got in my head. But really, my saving grace were the people who were around me… I felt that they all made me feel so comfortable off screen and on, that day after day, my anxiety was losing the battle because there was all of this overwhelming support to counteract it. And it was such a lovely gift, working with them, because it really helped me to attempt something that is crazy and huge and a big responsibility. And first and foremost, it’s important to me that I’m honoring Paul (W. Downs), Lucia (Aniello) and Jen (Statsky)’s work and making sure they’re happy with it and they feel that Ava is how they expected her to be. So yeah, it’s pretty nerve wracking but I feel so much differently than I did the day I started and that is a total credit to my peers and my collaborators.
DEADLINE: Who was Ava to you when you first approached her and what do you feel you brought to the character?
EINBINDER: To me, she was someone who was talented but had lost sight of what was really important. It’s easy for people who move to Los Angeles from other places to get caught up in the lure and the pace of things here, and I think she’s absolutely one of those people. But that to me, is not a fixed quality. I just always saw potential in her because I think everybody who, as we see in Episode 10, is drawn to this work, is coming at it out of a necessity, a place of needing the work, needing comedy, needing this thing that is ultimately filling or attempting to fill a void internally. And that I have a lot of empathy for, I definitely experienced that. I feel like what I imbued into Ava was, I think it’s there in the script, certainly, but I tried to emphasize this person who is difficult, deserves compassion and sympathy and is capable of being better. That’s my hope at least.
DEADLINE: I love that we see her go from being so defended that she sabotages herself continually to really opening up. But then she sabotages things again in the finale episode. I can’t wait to see Season 2…
EINBINDER: I haven’t heard a single thing, I’m waiting right there with you. I’m so beyond invested and so curious to see how it plays out.
DEADLINE: As a person who writes your own comedy, how much did you bring to the dialogue yourself? Were there opportunities to just go with Jean into this riffing zone? It looks so authentic and organic.
EINBINDER: Yeah. There must be hours of footage of Jean and I, and really everyone else with each other, doing that off-the-cuff riffing. A ton of it made the final cut and Paul, Lucia and Jen were so open to it and really encouraged it, which was so nice. And I hear that’s not often the case.
So, it was just such a blessing because, like you said, as someone who writes my own comedy, I started to get in Ava’s head and jokes she would make started to come to me. In fact, I stopped writing my own standup for the entire duration of shooting. I did not have any ideas for myself. The only jokes I was concerned with were Ava’s, so I just was thinking in her voice really and so they let me toss in a couple. It was really nice.
DEADLINE: Can you recall any that made the cut?
EINBINDER: Yeah. There’s, “F*ck you, Lemony Snicket.” There’s, in Episode 5 in the basement when Ava and George run into Deborah and she’s drunk there’s, “You look like you let your tailor loose in an antique carpet store.” There are a few more, but those are my favorites.
DEADLINE: Jean told me a story about how, when you auditioned, she knew you were right for the role, and you just had this chemistry right away.
EINBINDER: From the very start, Jean and I, from the screen test, we really speak the same language as people. Ava and Deborah, they eventually get to a place where Jean and I started out at. We share their language. It’s never as vicious as they are, it’s fun and playful and sometimes sort of roasty and diggy, and it’s just a joy, it’s the best thing. Like Deborah says, “It’s really exciting when you find someone who, when you share a sense of humor with someone, it’s like you speak your own little language.”
DEADLINE: There’s a speech Deborah gives to Hannah about how she doesn’t know how hard life is. Deborah has come up in a male-dominated world of comedy long before #MeToo. How did what she said resonate for you?
EINBINDER: I have to say, it is an experience that rings true for almost every single female comedian or non-male comedian on planet Earth. Aside from your everyday misogyny, I have really had a very privileged path in the game. I think that I’ve been really, really fortunate to work with mostly women, especially on this project, mostly women and queer people. And as far as stand-up, I found a really supportive, loving group in Los Angeles after a couple months in the open mic scene where I was kind of a loner… I started in really the height of the #MeToo era, which I benefited from a ton because it really rightfully made men a little bit more conscious, especially men in Los Angeles, a little more cautious about the way that they behaved. There are so many women who came before me and women today who did not benefit from the same experience and that is definitely highlighted in this show.
DEADLINE: You come from a successful comedy family (Einbinder’s mother is SNL original cast member Laraine Newman and her father is comedy writer Chad Einbinder), but no one knew that about you when you were coming up doing open mics. You’ve done this on your own.
EINBINDER: I came up in the LA scene and there are a lot of really good friends that I have, and they know me and they were with me every night of the week in the shitty open mic in the bar. And they saw me there and I was there with them and that’s real and it happened, and that was my path.
And like you said, no one knew that I had showbusiness connections because there’s never been a time in my life that I have used them. Not that there would be any to really use. I mean, not for stand-up, you can’t, you know.
DEADLINE: No. Either you can do it, or you can’t do it, right?
EINBINDER: Yeah. One can help me when I’m standing alone on stage in front of 800 people. When it comes to my sense of humor and who I am, I think like a lot of people, I get my comedic sensibility from my parents, from watching them, from humor being our love language. From the movies that I saw as a kid, from the TV shows that I saw as a kid, from the cartoons, from everything. And so, I owe who I am to them, certainly. I definitely do…
DEADLINE: In Hacks Deborah says there’s something she loves about having her stand-up act bomb sometimes that’s kind of compelling? What do you think about that?
EINBINDER: It’s honest and at least for Deborah, she’s at the point in her career where she doesn’t bomb and she doesn’t bomb because she’s doing safe jokes. I think she comments on the fact that she misses the process. Part of the process is bombing, it really is. Part of the process is believing in an idea and committing to it despite failure, despite that rejection. And it’s an exciting thing because she faced rejection early on so much, but then she found her little pocket and it was good for her. But really going back to her roots, that’s the exciting place where really important work starts to happen, I think.
DEADLINE: It’s so perfect how Ava gives her back her love of that process. And Deborah gives Ava so much too.
EINBINDER: The qualities that at first make them butt heads, end up being what brings them together and it’s just so beautiful. Especially to see it as a relationship between two women of these different generations. It’s so powerful and so needed, I think.