The following interview for our Spring 2021 BackstageFest, a virtual celebration of the year's best and buzziest TV, was compiled in part by Backstage readers just like you! Follow us on Twitter (@Backstage) and Instagram (@backstagecast) to stay in the loop on upcoming interviews and to submit your questions.
Kathryn Hahn is no stranger to the spotlight. Known best for her scene-stealing work over the last 20 years in projects like “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Step Brothers,” “Bad Moms,” and more (not to mention her Emmy-nominated turn on “Transparent” and leading gig on “I Love Dick,” “Mrs. Fletcher,” and “Private Life”), the consummate actor turned in one of her buzziest, most ambitious performances yet this year on Disney+ and Marvel’s “WandaVision.” Sitting with us as part of BackstageFest, Hahn discussed her methods for building a character, finding intention in a scene, and managing the highs and lows of a career in the arts.
Hahn says she builds her characters by combing through the script with different perspectives then playing off her scene partner.
“All you really need is in the script…. Especially in my younger years, sometimes I would get on the set and just start tap-dancing my heart out just to please the director, make the crew laugh. But, I would get outside myself. I would forget who I was in that scene. The older I got, the more I realized that it is so imperative to hold onto that. That’s everything: the ‘who you are,’ the given circumstances. My acting teacher from Yale would always say, ‘Mark down what other people say about you in the script.’ That’s also key, because one cannot see themselves so clearly. Synthesize that. I always read a script once, and then I read it again through ‘the lens of the eye.’ So, even if it’s a supporting character, it’s a way in.”
She says nailing down character objectives can allow for improvisation.
“If you have the ‘who am I?’ firmly in place and ‘what do I want?’ firmly in place, if you get that, you want more of it. If that’s firmly in place, then you can just play. And if the scenario calls for it, the improv can start to happen, if you’re in a scenario where that’s cool. Sometimes it’s called for, and sometimes it’s not. Then, the improv can flow because those two things are so rooted. I’m not an improviser out of nothing. I need to know who I am and what I’m going for.”
For Hahn, WandaVision was about so much more than just superheroes, and that’s what drew her into the project.
“[Playing Agatha] was really out of left field. It was just so ambitious, so fun, and so not what I thought when I thought of Marvel in such an awesome way—that there were so many women at the helm, and that it was a superhero story about grief, and there was a witch. I mean, it was all of it! I had just done this chapter of playing pretty complicated, vulnerable, kind of messy women. There was something about rage that I was excited about tapping into. So this [role] kind of checked all those boxes for me.”
She advises new actors to accept that the nature of this business is chaos and uncertainty. But with persistence, the highs will come.
“It’s all bananas; it’s all just luck of the draw. I have a lot of heartbreak under my belt, but I have a lot of gratitude under my belt. I read this thing about life being a ferris wheel. The top of the ferris wheel could be at any moment, and then it’s always gonna go down. You never know where that basket is going to be. You never know what is going to be at the top. You have to be in a place of gratitude all the time because there could be a high coming, and the high could leave at any second. You just don’t know. Getting into this business, especially as an actor, I didn’t really start doing the work that I love doing until I was in my mid-30s…. If it is in your DNA, if it’s just in who you are, then you will just know and you’ll just keep going.”
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