Kathryn Hahn in the HBO series “Mrs. Fletcher.” (Source: Sarah Shatz/HBO)
Kathryn Hahn in the HBO series “Mrs. Fletcher.”

Source: Sarah Shatz/HBO

Kathryn Hahn talks taking the lead in HBO’s ‘Mrs. Fletcher’

October 30, 2019

It may seem like false modesty when Kathryn Hahn (Communication ’95) calls the new HBO series “Mrs. Fletcher” an ensemble piece.

After all, she is Eve Fletcher, a divorced middle-aged mom who finds herself in the middle of a sexual awakening when her only son sets off for college. And even when the show digresses to follow the fumbling of her son or a small crowd of supporting characters, it’s really all about Eve.

Nonetheless, Hahn dishes out plenty of credit. First goes to Tom Perrotta, the novelist behind “Election” and “Little Children” and now a first-time showrunner for his most recent novel on domestic life in “Ms. Fletcher.” As a fan of “Little Children,” Hahn picked up Perrotta’s latest book immediately after getting the script for the show and was sold on its setting and central character.

“It feels like there’s this deep subject matter beneath this gentle veneer (of satire),” Hahn said.

Hahn said she identified with Eve’s loneliness, drawing a comparison between Eve’s empty nest and her own children’s forthcoming departure.

“It’s so encompassing, and you feel like your whole world is (your children),” Hahn said.

Hahn has played a lot of moms enduring varying degrees of distress, in situations ranging from ludicrous (“Step Brothers”) to melancholic (“Afternoon Delight”). The latter introduced her to producer Jill Soloway, who’d go on to cast Hahn in “Transparent.” Hahn received her first Emmy nomination in 2017 for her role as the central family’s sympathetic rabbi.

The two roles marked a seismic shift for the actor from consistent bit player to serious star: “Kathryn Hahn is Nobody’s Sidekick,” Vulture proclaimed in 2017. She soon took on major roles in critically acclaimed dramedies “I Love Dick” and “Private Life.”

“It’s finally finding the people that work with me and that I want to work with. It’s getting older and it’s getting braver and it’s getting more confident,” Hahn said. “I’m just an actor, and this chapter I’m in right now has been incredibly fulfilling.”

Much of Hahn’s recent success has come from production teams that buck Hollywood’s plethora of straight men: Soloway is non-binary and gender-nonconforming while “I Love Dick” showrunner Sarah Gubbins (Communication ’97, ’08) is a gay woman.

That distinction extends to “Mrs. Fletcher.” Most of the writers and producers are women, as are all of the directors.

“It’s very exciting to look around and see all the work that women are doing, and not just women –– diversity of all kinds,” Hahn said. “It’s a very exciting time for art. I’m a very excited audience (as well).”

Even as a leading lady, getting on HBO was still a big deal for Hahn, who grew up watching the network’s pedigree productions. She called the opportunity to play Eve “a bucket list item.”

Eve would probably see it differently. The series protagonist is locked in a purgatory of late motherhood, dealing with an apathetic son, an infuriating ex-husband and a grating job as a nursing home administrator. Seeking release, Eve finds a decidedly NSFW solution: internet porn.

Replete with actual adult videos, it’s an ice-water shock for character and audience that transitions into a recurring cold-open gag as Eve sets her sights on taking her living-room experimentation into real-life satisfaction. That mission becomes manifest in a female coworker as well as a community college peer who last shared a classroom with Eve’s son.

“It’s a brave new world for her,” Hahn said.

It’s also a frustrating one. Dates end prematurely, passes don’t land and hookups go in all the wrong directions for Eve. Hahn injects relatable awkwardness and more than a little exasperation.

Eve’s journey is paralleled by her son Brendan, a high-school lacrosse star out of place at his social justice-conscious state college. And while there’s no porn playing in the margins of Brendan’s doomed courtship with a woke classmate, both critics and Hahn point to the “Pandora’s box” of adult videos informing Brendan’s “asshole-bro” behavior.

“I don’t think he’s a bad person. I just think he’s lost, and he clearly didn’t have good male examples in his life,” Hahn said. “He doesn’t have anyone to talk to except his phone.”

She praised costar Jackson White for imbuing sympathy into a largely unlikable character.

In contrast to her onscreen son, Hahn speaks positively about Northwestern and credits the university with exposing her to a broader world.

“I was lucky enough to go to a college that is a place of incredible awareness,” Hahn said. “It’s a microcosm of what I hope the planet can be.”

A frequent presence in School of Communication productions during her time at NU, Hahn credits her time here with informing her perspective on performing.

To Hahn, acting is just one part of a group effort — even when it’s just her name on the billboard.

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