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Q & A With Actress Kathryn Hahn
"A sense of complete shamelessness:" Q&A with actress Kathryn Hahn

Q: What appealed most to you about this role?

Kathryn Hahn: The number one thing was, Jason Bateman; I've had a talent crush on him for years. We knew each other socially, and I also knew that he did quality control; whatever he was putting his heart and his muscle behind was going to be something that I would want to see, let alone be in.

Then I read the Bad Words script and found that I'd be his romantic interest - basically - and that this character was not your typical "leading lady" in any way. It was a creative turn-on, and I could not possibly find any compelling reason not to do it. [Laughs] Also - I was asked, and I'm very rarely just asked to do something! So, I was thrilled!

Q: As you've done before, you play a flawed character without vanity and without judgment. Do you assess your characters beforehand and just decide, "Well, this is who she is" - is that your approach?

KH: Yes. I feel like it's not my business to judge them, when you're in it, from that perspective; when you're watching [a film], the storytelling is going to let you know somewhat how you're supposed to feel about somebody. But from the inside, I never think about that at all.

Maybe it's because I grew up in a house of all boys, but it seems like the vanity thing has never really come into play as a big deal for me. I've never had to worry about "maintaining" anything, image-wise. [Laughs] That's been helpful!

Q: Was there anything in your acting training, your stage work early on, that played into your not judging characters?

KH: In most of my training, I was not asked to be the ingenue. A couple of times, it happened, but mostly it was like, Grandma in The Grapes of Wrath. A decade of my life [spent] in gray wigs. [Laughs] Or, I was The Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz; I was never Dorothy. It was much more fun to be the big, broad character...the bigger swing was my affinity. Class clown, I guess.

Q: To that end, you've held your own in a number of R-rated comedies, and without blushing. What's the secret to getting through them, not breaking up?

KH: Besides this faulty wiring, probably from birth, that I have? These things don't bother me; I have a sense of complete shamelessness! [Laughs] I'm not a girl any more, but I have been a pretty good girl my whole life and so I think that there is something fun and lawless about comedy. You can go to places where you would never be able to act that way in real life.

Q: Which actresses do you admire - comedic and/or dramatic...?

KH: There's so many, so many. Amy Poehler. Tina Fey is mesmerizing, so watchable to me. Kristen Wiig. Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Diane Keaton. Cate Blanchett. Octavia Spencer. Melissa McCarthy is fearless. Laura Linney. Joan Cusack. Teri Garr - Tootsie is one of my favorite movies of all time, and her performance in that just kills me. Gena Rowlands, who I think is funny and incredibly profound - A Woman Under the Influence is my fave.

Q: You've worked with many actors who are snappy with dialogue. Were you intimidated to be hitting the ball back and forth with Jason Bateman?

KH: Well, as director, he said we needed rehearsal before the start of filming. He's no dummy, that one; he figured there had to be chemistry between our two characters. But there wasn't a weird week of party manners, trying to get on the same page tonally; there was an instant and crazy ease, and we didn't have to try to find each other's funny bone.

Q: We join the characters' relationship already in progress; it's underway before we meet them.

KH: Right; they've had this "incident" with each other, as it were. Jenny's a little bit of a glutton for punishment, I think; historically speaking, her radar for men has been off. She hates herself, but can't stop herself from sleeping with Guy. Then, when she discovers more about his past, she starts to fall for him.

Guy Trilby - I don't know who else could play him but Jason, because you do fall for his character. We, as movie and TV watchers, have grown up with him for over 25 years. You root for him no matter what his character's behavior is; there's an innate empathy for Jason as a person. It's like he's letting you in on a secret. As an audience member, you want to be on his side no matter what game he's playing; you want to be in his club, The Jason Bateman Club. I think that helps so much with the tone of Bad Words.

I'm proud to be in this movie, and I'm excited for this next chapter in the life of Jason Bateman. He's a natural director.

Q: What's it like working with someone who is both directing and starring?

KH: I had done that with Ben Stiller - who is awesome - before this, on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Bad Words was on a different scale but with Jason and with Ben, they both are actors first and foremost, and Jason has been an actor for most of his life so his bulls-t barometer is highly attuned; he does not condescend in any way, and assumes that everybody is playing at the same level that he is. So, everybody's game gets upped.

But he makes it easy. I've worked in some pretty sweaty comedies, where people are working so hard. On this, everybody felt so relaxed. Even though Jason had [to direct] children, and so many extras, he made everybody feel as worthy as anybody else who was there - a completely equal playing field. You didn't feel there was a hierarchy; everybody felt invested, and taken care of.

Q: In your clinches together, would he be holding you and then let you fall to the ground while he ran back to check monitors?

KH: [Laughs] I'd be fake-dry-humping the air while he was gone. No, Jason was always there - you never even felt that he was looking outside of himself while you were in a scene with him. I don't know how he did it, but he was effortless at going behind the monitor even though he had an amazing stand-in, Luca Belloiu.

It was Jason's first directing gig of this caliber, and I think he came in so unbelievably prepared - there was no fat, no excess energy spent. It wasn't like we had to wait around and I had to be there with Luca for a long time.

The first day, Jason had to do a huge, two-and-a-half-page speech where Guy talks about the rules of the Spelling Bee and why he is not breaking any of them. It was a oner, or one-shot, with three or four of us standing in a circle and the camera going around us. This was day one, and Jason was off-book [i.e., not carrying a script] in the rehearsal, word-perfect and performance-ready.

Q: Did you all stay in that hotel we see?

KH: I was a "local hire," which meant that I got to take my hot minivan home at the end of the night. We basically took over a floor of that Sportsmen's Lodge for shooting. Our trailers were the hotel rooms.

Doing some scenes around the pool, we had to gently ask tourists to maybe stop swimming. I always feel bad for people who come to L.A. in the late fall, because they want a summer vacation and they're determined - but it's 55 degrees; "It's L.A., it's L.A., I don't care if it's November 28th!"

Q: Your character of Jenny has questionable ethics as a journalist -

KH: Yeeeaahhhh. Yes. Should she have slept with this person that she's covering? No. Of course not. But I don't think that it's exactly what she wants to do with her life. We kept saying that her dream is to be a novelist, but she's not quite good [enough], she's not quite there. She doesn't have anything to say yet; her dream is to lock herself in a little cottage in Maine, to write. But I think she would get there and stare out the window. Then she'd find a local bartender to sleep with and hate herself for it.

Q: One does wonder what was on her site, The Click And Scroll...

KH: Who owns it, and decided to give Jenny that amount of money for covering this particular story? What is The Click And Scroll a front for? That's what I want to know.

Q: There's one particular line you have to deliver multiple times...

KH: Every time Jason looked at me, I would have to yell that line, and he surprised me every time. It was hysterical - we were in this little closet, seven pillows were between us, and the camera had to get in there...there was a lot of discussion of whether or not Jenny should have those glasses on during that; we thought it would be funny if not, because she couldn't see very well but she was paranoid that he was looking at her.

Jason's coverage on that scene was the hardest for me to keep a straight face during. Jason and I were like brother and sister playing a couple of degenerates, so we were giggling nonstop. I did break during the scene, and he broke and made us laugh very hard.

Q: You're together again in the upcoming This Is Where I Leave You.

KH: Yes, and it's the polar opposite of the Jenny/Guy relationship in Bad Words.

Q: So it's, beyond the broom closet?

KH: [Laughs] Not really, because it's actually in another kind of gross locale for our trysts on-camera. So, I don't know what that says about him and me! It's not The Four Seasons for us any time soon.

Q: What are your favorite "Bad Words?"

KH: I love "motherf-ker," for every occasion. There are other ones, but that's the one which stands out. A simple "s-t," every once in a while. But I have two children, so it's a lot of, "Oh, poop on a stick." You can't really say the Bad Words that you had said pre-children as much any more, I'm finding. But that's what's so fun about these movie sets: you get it all out of your system, and then go home and don't swear in front of the kids any more.

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