Longtime friends and performers from the Chicago improv scene, firstime writer/director Jill Soloway and Emmy winning Jane Lynch turn in a real winning effort with “Afternoon Delight.” When Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) invites young stripper McKenna (Juno Temple) to live in her home, her life gets turned upside down, threatening to tear her marriage with Jeff (Josh Radnor), apart. Helping with Rachel’s woes is her therapist, the intellectually dry Lenore, played by the wonderful Jane Lynch. I recently sat down with the director and co-star, who offered amazing insight and perspective about the world of comedy, the “revolutionary plot” that centers around the female anti-hero, and much more. Special thanks to Ginsberg/Libby.
CINEMACY: What made you decide to shoot in Silverlake? It felt like such an intimate portrait of the city.
Jill Soloway: I live in Silverlake, and at some point as we were getting closer to shooting it was like, you know I think my first dream was to shoot it in Chicago. I had an idea of Jane and I going on a victory lap, shooting the movie with all of the people from The Annoyance (Comedy club in Chicago where both performed)
Jane Lynch: Right, yes. Hiring and firing them randomly. “No! Yes! Yes! No!”
JS: Go back and rule Chicago! Then there was a moment where it was like, “Oh, what if it was in San Fransisco?” And they did a rewrite, and then it was like, “Nope, the movie’s gotta happen in LA. And I thought, “OK, What do I know of LA? My neighborhood, Silverlake,” and I wrote it in Silverlake and it was actually the best version of it cause I knew every little nuance and every little detail.
CINEMACY: And also, congratulations on winning the Directing Award (In the Dramatic Category at Sundance Film Festival).
JS: Thank you.
CINEMACY: We were just talking to Josh and Kathryn, and they said that they had to fly back before you received it?
JS: That’s right they didn’t get to be there.
CINEMACY: So you received it by yourself?
JS: Yeah, my producers were there, everyone was gone!
CINEMACY: What was that experience like?
JL: You were almost gone!
JS: Yeah, I was thinking about leaving, actually.
JL: And they said, “Don’t go…”
JS: Yes, somebody gave me the heads up not to miss the awards ceremony. I tell people that Sundance is like being inside of a dryer with a shoe, it was like GUNG-GUNG-GUNG-GUNG-GUNG! (Onomatopoetic license taken). So that was the moment where somebody took me, took the shoe out of the dryer. They were like, “And that’s all!”
I think as artists, and you (to Jane) probably know this feeling from winning your Emmys, I think we’re all in some ways waiting for that moment where you’re on stage holding our award in the air. “I did it!” You know?
JS: And to have that moment for the first time on this movie, and to have that “I did it” moment, I think when we’re little kids watching the awards ceremonies it’s almost like what makes us even get into this business.
JL: Were you able to take it in?
JS: Yeah, afterwards!
JL: Cause when I won the Emmy I could not, I didn’t take it in.
CINEMACY: (To Jane Lynch) What was going through your head?
JL: Oh, let’s make this about me for just a second!
JS: That’s fine! I’d be happy to!
JL: It was kind of like, I felt I should give it back, and they do have you give it back, because they give you the real one later, I think that’s the Emmy.
But yeah, that’s why I was interested, because I would’ve been surprised if you were to say that you weren’t present for it, because you were so present in the making of this movie.
JS: Oh, thank you lady.
JL: I was, without sounding condescending, very proud of her, because she did it in a really organic way. And she empathized with every character, she was right there with you, it was one of the safest places to create and go to emotional places you never thought you would. And it was kind of a love fest, and you were so present for that, that I bet you’ll never be un-present for anything like that in your life.
JS: Oh, lady, you’re so sweet! Yeah I think afterwards I danced my head off at that big party
CINEMACY: Was there a stripper pole? (Laughter)
JS: There was no stripper pole, but um, a lamp post outside in Park City had to do the trick that night.
CINEMACY: I think I read that one of the things you were interested in was taking these established comedians, specifically, and giving them a deeper role, which made me think of what Jerry Seinfeld once said, that comedians are always wanting to be taken, for as funny and hilarious they are to everyone, seriously?
KS: Well, we come from from this improv world in Chicago, which is a “Yes, And…,” “Be in the moment,” “Safe space,” “Anything can happen,” We’re playing,”…in fact we were playing. Our first play together, we were pretending that Jane was Carol Brady and we were doing the Brady Bunch, just this feeling of play, play, play. And then you get in the TV business and comedy gets sort of reduced down to, the joke is on the page, did you hit the joke or not. And I just got excited about coming to a place where we were marrying sort of the past and the present, which is marrying this sort of improv-y feeling of Just be present, these are funny people, you can write jokes or not write jokes, you can cut the joke or not cut the joke, they can quote-unquote land the joke or not land the joke, they’re funny, if they play it real, the movie will be funny, as way of just kind of reinventing process for ourselves.
JL: And I think that “funny” people, people who do comedy and are kind of adept at that, are your better actors anyway, if I can claim that. I think there’s a certain amount of risk-taking and jumping off the creative cliff that happens when you’re a “funny person.” You know, cause sometimes it doesn’t work, and you have to get back up and do it again, and I think if you just are schooled in drama, I don’t know how you’re able to portray life’s ironies.
And the truth of anything, unless you can also dive into what is funny about yourself, and what is maybe not so attractive about yourself, and you have to be more open to exposure, and so I think that I will take someone who knows their sense of humor, and is naturally funny, over someone who can maybe, shed a tear.
CINEMACY: Comedy almost seems like it’s on the opposite side of the coin, or it’s just one push away from being totally tragic.
JL: That there’s a rawness and a vulnerability that I think was so clear in this movie that people walk away, everybody that I know walk away from this movie says they find themselves so invested, and there’s such a particular flavor that really inspires an emotional truth in people, and I think you get that from people who aren’t afraid to make a fool out of themselves!
CINEMACY: Jane’s character is so particular down to where she puts her feet on the foot rest, and her glasses; can you guys talk about how you crafted that, and is she based on somebody that you know?
JS: My real therapist! That’s my real therapist’s chair, and foot rest. We went over to her office and got the chair and the foot rest the morning that we shot. And we even, one of those lines, “Baccarat Crystal,” “Clear Mirror,” that’s something my therapist has said. And then she’s kind of Lenore Benny Smith! Jane and I, before the days of viral videos, we were making viral videos that no-one ever saw.
JL: And I always played a very particular, kind of, (in character) precious, female empowerment person, be it a lawyer in one scene and a therapist in the next. Or a talk show host.
JS: Professor of feminist theory.
JL: Yes, exactly, and every time Jill talks about this character, “her voice does this.” And she’s a very particular…one of the hardest scenes to shoot because we kept laughing was, “I brought some quinouae.” (Laughter) That was her line, in her little container.
JS: Yeah, we were very specific about her container.
JL: Yeah! Remember you had to go out and get the right-
JS: I had to go out and get another container. Well, because Lenore would have a certain kind of, actually Lenore is also my middle name, so I think in some ways, this character is my shadow, very serious feminist. And I get some of my best moments when I’m falling asleep or waking up and I just had this moment where I was like, “Tilda Swinton! Hair in the air! Hard glasses!” I’ve never seen Jane like that. Hilarious! Just that, swept back, diva, intellectual, academic diva. It was a home run for her.
CINEMACY: Did that inspire any additional conversations between you and Lenore, making a movie about your real-life therapist? Did she say, “Now let’s talk about why you’d want to make a movie about your therapist…
JS: We definitely have talked about it.
JL: Yeah, we flung the depths every time.
CINEMACY: Another thing I found really interesting about the movie was the presence of that strong female voice. When we’ve seen a lot of these male comedic characters as flawed people. Do you think the playing field is even among both genders? Can women have the same issues of being…
JL: Lost in what it means to be a woman. Yeah absolutely, I think that the culture just doesn’t pick up on those stories. We love them for men, and their long suffering wife standing next to them, and it’s great that they’re getting their story told. But I think that it’s just as important for women to tell their particular stories, you know, what it’s like to be a mother, where you feel like you have to sacrifice everything in order to be a wife and mother, and the way she (Rachel) breaks out is she goes to a strip club…
It’s kind of like the Madonna/whore complex, is alive and well in so many women. It’s like, I’ve gotta shake out of this so I’m gonna go see how sex workers do it.
CINEMACY: We were talking earlier that usually in movies when we see Kathryn on screen, she’s hardly recognizable, or really comedic in her appearance, so to see her in this movie, very vulnerable and stripped down and very raw, it’s amazing. So how did you come to the point where you knew you wanted to cast her, and how did you guys kind of craft that character?
JS: Well I’ve been a longtime fan of hers, and she definitely fits into that paradigm we were talking about of like funny people who can play it straight. And I had a Skype with her, and she was so emotional about how much she loved Rachel, that I felt like the way Kathryn felt about Rachel was the way I knew Rachel was going to feel about Mackenna. She was like, “I know her! I know this woman, I can feel her!” And Kathryn’s so empathetic.
JL: Yes, she is.
JS: She’s just, she lives empathy as a person. And you know, it is a bit of a bye, you have to be on her side as she goes back to the strip club and brings a stripper home. When you talk about the heroes that we’re used to, the bumbling, they’re anti-heroes, they fuck up. They do the wrong thing. Even “The Heartbreak Kid,” which is sort of a movie that has been made twice, which is a classic movie about men, his wife’s hanging out in the hotel room, and he’s sort of out there chasing this “blonde object,” you know we’re rooting for him, we’re used to that story. It’s the Philip Roth story, it’s the Albert Brooks story, it’s the Woody Allen story. Ok, what does it mean to take a Jewish woman and make her the person that’s going after this ideal of youth, this ideal of other, and potentially harming her marriage, you know, putting her marriage at risk by this flight of folly. Well men can do it, the anti-hero can do it. To have Kathryn do it, to have our lead do it, as odd as it seems, it’s revolutionary. As odd as it seems, it’s a revolutionary plot to ask audiences to root for a woman who’s doing something that’s…
JL: Maybe not the best for her wife and children, for her husband and children.
JS: Yeah, and then to ask audiences to root for her and to still love her when she’s risking her kids and her husband, I think that it feels like we’re doing important work even if it wasn’t funny. If it was just a documentary, kind of be like “America needs to see this!” But luckily it’s also funny.