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Actor Kathryn Hahn Says The Best Part Of Her Career Came Post-Kids

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Kathryn Hahn stars in the Disney+ "WandaVision" which combines classic 1960s sitcom TV and Marvel Comics. Hahn plays the sitcom staple the nosy neighbor.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WANDAVISION")

KATHRYN HAHN: (As Agatha) Hello, dear. I'm Agnes, your neighbor to the right - my right, not yours. Forgive me for not stopping by sooner to welcome you to the block. My mother-in-law was in town, so I wasn't.

(LAUGHTER)

HAHN: (As Agatha) So what's your name? Where are you from? And most importantly, how is your bridge game, hon?

ELIZABETH OLSEN: (As Wanda Maximoff) I'm Wanda.

HAHN: (As Agnes) Wanda. Charmed.

DAVIES: Hahn also starred in the HBO series "Mrs. Fletcher" as the divorced mother of a teenaged son who becomes an empty nester, adapted from the novel by Tom Perrotta. And she's known for her roles in the TV series "Transparent" as Rabbi Raquel and in "Parks And Recreation" as Jennifer Barkley, an aggressive political operative. Hahn also starred in the films "Bad Moms" and "Private Life." Terry spoke to Kathryn Hahn in 2019.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: So I don't know. It seems to me - and I don't know if you would agree with this - that you're kind of part of the first generation of women who came of age with women screenwriters and directors - and I mean more than one or two - that you had a cohort. And you've worked with some of them. I mean, you've worked with Nicole Holofcener, Tamara Jenkins, to name a few. And I'm wondering if you agree with that, that you're part of the generation - one of the first or maybe the first that had a cohort of women writers and directors.

HAHN: Oh, God. I mean, that sounds terribly thrilling. I think I do feel like the most - that the most satisfying work I've done has been with women for sure, that the most complicated and messy roles I've been able to get have been offered through women. It also is terribly exciting to me that it's older women - you know what I mean? - that it's not just women that are - you know, when I was a young actor, I thought that having kids would be - I was terrified to have kids and...

GROSS: You thought it would end your career?

HAHN: Yeah. Yes - or change it. Or I'd be stopped being seen or whatever. I'm just so buoyed and galvanized that the juiciest part of it has been post-kids. And not that that is even a choice for everybody. No one even has to have children. But it's just - it's - I think it's more of an age thing that it can - it's the most satisfying is like post-40 is just - I never anticipated that. So that's terribly exciting.

GROSS: So you're 46 now. And some of the roles you've been getting in your 40s are about women dealing with fertility issues.

HAHN: Yes.

GROSS: So I want to play an example of one of those films. And this is "Private Life," which was written and directed by Tamara Jenkins. And you play - you and Paul Giamatti play a married couple who've been trying for years to conceive. And you've tried like every kind of fertility treatment. And finally, your doctor says to you, you should try an egg donor because none of these fertility treatments are really working for you.

And so in this scene, you've just left the office after getting that message from the doctor. And that is about the last thing that you want to hear. You do not want to use an egg donor. And you and your husband, played by Paul Giamatti, are having a quarrel about that. You speak first.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PRIVATE LIFE")

HAHN: (As Rachel Biegler) We talked about this. We swore we would never do it.

PAUL GIAMATTI: (As Richard Grimes) No. You swore that you would never do it. I kept my mouth shut because I didn't want to pressure you into something that you were going to have to live with for the rest of your life.

HAHN: (As Rachel Biegler) Wait. So all this time that I'm assuming that we feel the same way about this, you've been having secret fantasies about egg donation?

GIAMATTI: (As Richard Grimes) It's not a secret fantasy.

HAHN: (As Rachel Biegler) It is to me. I didn't know about it. I thought that we had decided together as a couple that we would definitely draw the line at science fiction.

GIAMATTI: (As Richard Grimes) It's not science fiction, Rach. It's pretty primitive, actually. They do it with farm animals all the time.

HAHN: (As Rachel Biegler) Well I'm not a goat, OK?

GIAMATTI: (As Richard Grimes) Bad example. I'm sorry.

HAHN: (As Rachel Biegler) Oh, my God. You're like so gung-ho right now. It's freaking me out.

GIAMATTI: (As Richard Grimes) I am not gung-ho. I'm just pragmatic. Look. If we do another IVF with your eggs, we've got - what? - a 4% chance of getting pregnant? With a donor egg, we'd be going from four to like 65%. So the gambler in me just wants to put my money on the better odds.

HAHN: (As Rachel Biegler) Oh, my God. You're Guy Woodhouse.

GIAMATTI: (As Richard Grimes) What?

HAHN: (As Rachel Biegler) The husband in "Rosemary's Baby," John Cassavetes, that's you.

GIAMATTI: (As Richard Grimes) Yeah, right. That's me, standing by while you're raped by a satanic demon. I am just suggesting that we listen to our doctor and look into all the options. We're already signed up for adoption. What is the big deal?

HAHN: (As Rachel Biegler) Well, for one, I'm not putting someone else's body parts into my uterus. Excuse me.

GIAMATTI: (As Richard Grimes) Sorry. Look. I know it's more complicated for you.

HAHN: (As Rachel Biegler) Isn't it more complicated for you, too?

GIAMATTI: (As Richard Grimes) Of course it is, yes. yes. But you heard him. There's a lot of positives. You would get to carry the baby.

HAHN: (As Rachel Biegler) Whoopdie-doo (ph). What does that make me, the bellhop?

GROSS: Yeah. That's Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti in a scene from "Private Life." So when you were in your 20s and wanting to act, did you think that when you were in your 40s, there would be roles like this, of - you know, of women in their 30s or early 40s dealing with fertility issues in a way that so many women could relate to?

HAHN: No.

GROSS: 'Cause so many actresses have thought, like, once you reach your 30s - or certainly by 40 - your good roles are behind you.

HAHN: Exactly. No, I did not. I had no - you know, Terry, like, I - it's funny because I never thought of myself doing anything else with my life. I had no idea of what it would look like or how it would unfold, of course. Like, I never had any kind of grandiose, like, dreams of success or - I just knew - there was never a question that I wasn't going to be an actor.

When I got to LA, when I started to see the roles that were available to me and what I was being seen for, I definitely thought - I knew that there was something, which I'm sure all actors have - it's like, you think, oh, I wish - this is just such a small part of me that's being seen. I wish somebody could see more of what I can offer. Like, no one is giving me this opportunity. Like, I just never thought that those roles would start to happen. So again, it has been a real crazy turn of events for me that this has even been able to happen.

GROSS: How old were you when you had your first child? And I'm wondering if in your mind there was an age that you thought would be, like, the right age, the best age, to have a child?

HAHN: I was, I think, 35 - maybe 35 when I got pregnant, I think, maybe 36 when I had him. And it took a second for us to get pregnant. It was definitely not as easy as we thought. And we - I was called a geriatric mother. I'll never forget that.

GROSS: By your doctor.

HAHN: Yes (laughter).

GROSS: Because you were considered at risk.

HAHN: Yeah, yeah, because I was over 35. And I'll never forget. When I found out I got pregnant, though, I was on my way to work, and I was, of course, thrilled. And I - but I was - I went to a Starbucks, and I got a latte, and I said, oh, I guess you better make it decaf, and I burst into hysterical tears (laughter).

GROSS: Why were you crying?

HAHN: Because it was just - I was on my way to, like, a night shoot for a show, a television show I was on. Like, it's all - my whole world - like, also, you just never - it was all just - I was - I felt so young and old at the same time. You know, you're never ready. It was like, I was so grateful, but I was also like, you know, an actor. And you're like, is this really going to change - like, what's - it was all so much. I'm so glad that we did it when we did. We have now two kids, and they're 10 and 13, and I just want to sob thinking about how fast it's going, Terry. I can't handle it. It's just too much. I mean, I cried when his umbilical cord fell off. I don't know what I'm going to do when he goes away to college.

But we were definitely ready when we - I wasn't exactly where - neither of us were where we - anywhere near where we wanted to be creatively. And it was that feeling, I think, that on the other side, I wish I could have looked back and told that 35-year-old crying in Starbucks, like, you have no idea how exciting it's going to be on the other side. I just had no idea. I just thought, oh, well, I don't know. Like, I just - it's over (laughter). Or, like, that's what they tell me. Like, but I wish I could have, you know, told her, like, just relax. Like, it's going to be - it's actually going to be so much juicier on the other side; you have no idea.

DAVIES: Kathryn Hahn speaking with Terry Gross in 2019. She stars in the Disney+ series "WandaVision." She also starred in the HBO series "Mrs. Fletcher" and in "Transparent," "Parks And Recreation," "Bad Moms" and "Private Life." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's interview with Kathryn Hahn, who stars in the series "WandaVision."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: You knew you wanted to act when you were very young, and you got involved with the Cleveland Playhouse, which was regional theater in Cleveland.

HAHN: Yes.

GROSS: And as - when you were young - you could tell me how young - you were a Curtain Puller. So tell us how old you were and what it means to be a Curtain Puller.

HAHN: I was a Curtain Puller at the Playhouse starting at around - in around kindergarten, I started taking classes there. And I - a Curtain Puller is what, much to my chagrin, is just in name only. It had been an actual curtain-puller back in the day, but it was - it just became - that's just what they called the young kids' company there now. And I'm - it's - I think also just my - saddens me to say, I think that that original space is now, I think, part of the Cleveland Clinic. But to - it was the most - talk about a holy space and became kind of the holiest space for me. It was those - that series of buildings. Yeah.

GROSS: Did you like being on stage in front of people?

HAHN: It always terrified me. I never had the, like - have to be on stage. It still terrifies me. But it was like I just had to do it. I loved the ensemble. I loved the feeling after. I loved the feeling right before, as awful as it was. I - and I loved the feeling of being on stage in the - weird choice of words, but in communion with the audience. I just loved that feeling. Even at very young, like, it just - it felt very - I loved the feeling of something, like, heightened and holy.

GROSS: You were a regular on a children's show called "Hickory Hideout" that...

HAHN: Talking about heightened and holy.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Yeah. It was produced out of the Cleveland NBC affiliate and shown on a lot of...

HAHN: Yes.

GROSS: ...Other NBC stations. Would you describe the show and your role in it?

HAHN: Oh, please. It was called - yes - called "Hickory Hideout." And it was a - about a (laughter) - a clubhouse in a tree in, I think, the Metropark in Cleveland. And it was about two squirrels named Nutso and Shirley Squirrely. There was a puppet called Know-It-Owl, who also lived in there. And it was a couple of adults and a bunch of children that would kind of use it as their clubhouse. And I played a character named Jenny.

GROSS: I thought we should hear a clip of you. And...

HAHN: Oh, should we?

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Yeah. And I think you're around 12 or 13 when this episode was made. And so you're talking to two squirrel puppets.

HAHN: Yes.

GROSS: And the squirrel puppets are worried about getting a new baby sister or brother.

HAHN: (Laughter) Oh, my God.

GROSS: And they're ready to run away. OK, so here's Kathryn Hahn and two squirrel puppets.

HAHN: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HICKORY HIDEOUT")

HAHN: (As Jenny) What's all this stuff?

NANCY SANDER: (As Nutso Squirrely) Oh, we're running away from home.

LINDA WELLS: (As Shirley Squirrely) Yes. We don't want a baby.

HAHN: (As Jenny) Oh, now, wait a second. You're just going to love having a new baby brother or sister. I just came from - back from Pam's (ph) house, and she wants you to come over and meet her new baby sister. You'll just love her. She's so cute.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Dwayne) No, I want that crayon there.

HAHN: (As Jenny) What's going on in the hideout?

SANDER: (As Nutso Squirrely) That's Cassie (ph) and Dwayne (ph).

HAHN: (As Jenny) Oh, that's right. Cassie was going to let me come and watch her babysit so I can learn.

SANDER: (As Nutso Squirrely) Ha. You'll learn all right. You'll learn you'll never want to be a babysitter.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: You went to Yale School of Drama in your late 20s. And I may be wrong, but I think that most people who go to Yale School of Drama do it...

HAHN: (Laughter) No, you're right.

GROSS: ...Like, right after college or, like - yeah.

HAHN: Most people go when they're, like, ingenue. Right, exactly. No, I knew going in - like, I remember somebody saying, like, you're missing out on all your ingenue years. Like, somebody told me - and I was like, I'm not an ingenue anyway, so it doesn't matter. Like, and I just knew that I wanted to go. I just was like - I had been working at a hair salon, which was a ball but clearly not what I wanted to do. And I was doing summers at Williamstown, which I loved.

But, like, I just was tired of struggling. Like, I just was - it was a constant - you know, it was those years in New York. I didn't have an agent. I didn't have - like, nothing was happening. It was, like, a lot of, like, no-pay jobs. Like, it was like - and I was just tired of struggling. But, again, I just had no doubt in my mind. I wouldn't even explore another question of a job. Like, there was no other job.

So I just was like, OK, I'll just take out, you know, a ton of debt. And I'll just go to - try to get into a grad school somewhere. And at least I'll have, like, three years (laughter) until the character roles start coming in. And I'll just have, like, three years of at least being able to just take a breath and just work. And...

GROSS: Did it work out how you wanted it to?

HAHN: Well, I just remember I did a play there, this Jon Robin Baitz play. I wish I could name - remember the name of it, and - but anyway, he talks about having a rigorous and monastic experience. And I just feel like that's what it was for me at Yale, like, where it was just - I didn't have a television. I lived in one room. Ethan stayed back in New York and kept our apartment, and I would take the train back on the weekends. I'd just hear, like, next stop, you know, Stanford, Conn. I loved how they said Connecticut.

GROSS: (Laughter).

HAHN: And I - it was - yeah, that was the best. We would be rehearsing at 2 in the morning, and I'd get up and get my muffin and my iced coffee and watch my beautiful classmates perform scenes in - for roles we'd probably never get in real life. But it was just, like - I just knew that was the only time in my life I would have a chance to really, really just do that.

GROSS: So then you had to go on auditions. What were some of your worst?

HAHN: I had so many, but I mean, I also remember even in my last, you know, semester at Yale, we would go literally from - I would take the train in to 30 Rock. There was a Banana Republic at the base of 30 Rock. I would go into the Banana Republic. I would buy a suit, go up, audition for a pilot, go down, return the suit at Banana Republic and then get on the train and go back...

(LAUGHTER)

HAHN: ...Promptly get on the - and never get the gigs, but...

GROSS: Why did you need a suit?

HAHN: You know, because it was, like, all those pilots where you had to, like, look polished, and I just didn't have any of it, you know? I had nothing. I just remember my agents running, like, yelling after me down the hallway, run a brush through your hair, before I would go on any audition...

(LAUGHTER)

HAHN: ...Because I would just not - just, like, deodorant everywhere. There were so many.

GROSS: Kathryn Hahn, it's been a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

HAHN: Terry - a dream, really. Thank you so much.

DAVIES: Kathryn Hahn speaking with Terry Gross in 2019. She stars in the Disney+ "WandaVision" series as the nosy neighbor.

On Monday's show, the amazing lives of migratory birds. Author Scott Weidensaul talks about the millions of birds flying unseen over our heads in the night sky, how the bar-tailed godwit can fly more than a week over water without stopping and how new tracking technology may help with strategies to keep them alive. His new book is "A World On The Wing." I hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Al Banks (ph), Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.