For Kathryn Hahn, Afternoon Delight was a game changer.
In the 2013 film, Hahn ’95 played Rachel, a wife and mother who looks to enliven her marriage by arranging a visit to a strip club with her husband. Rachel forms a bond with one of the dancers, whom she invites to become her young son’s live-in nanny. The film, which exposes painful, even cringe-worthy realities of modern marriage, was described by reviewers as groundbreaking and “meticulously acted.” Hahn’s performance was “disarmingly frank,” one review noted.
Filmed in just 21 days, the indie hit was intensive and immersive for the cast. A single scene could take all day to shoot, as the actors improvised and fed off of one another’s performances. Rehearsals, runthroughs and power naps took place in what Hahn calls a “creative womb,” a rented Southern California bungalow where images and quotes from John Cassavetes — the pioneering independent filmmaker who brought an improvisational, actor-first aesthetic to American cinema — covered the walls.
Hahn drove her own car in the film, and she’d find energy bar wrappers and crushed water bottles in the minivan’s crevices after filming wrapped — reminders of her “work family.”
“I would be driving home so juiced that I just could not wait to get back to work the next day, because I was riding those feelings of discovery,” Hahn says of making Afternoon Delight. “It was that feeling that I’d been looking for since college, the same feeling of play that I had when I was at Northwestern.”
After Hahn’s supporting roles in a series of mid-2000s comedies, Afternoon Delight signaled a shift in her career, leading to edgier, more sensual, more substantial roles and cementing Hahn’s place as an awards circuit mainstay and a sought-after star working across genres and mediums.
Her IMDb page reads like a review of the past two decades of pop culture: Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse. Free Agents. Bad Moms. Transparent. Parks and Recreation. Hahn’s most recent work includes roles in the HBO shows Mrs. Fletcher and I Know This Much Is True, as well as parts in the Disney+ miniseries WandaVision and two Apple TV+ shows: The Shrink Next Door, an upcoming series based on a podcast of the same name, and the animated Central Park.
While under California’s stay-at-home order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hahn recorded voice-over for Paige Hunter, her Central Park character, from inside a closet in her house. “I’m so technically not savvy, but the crew was very patient with me and walked me through every step,” Hahn says of her work-from-home setup.
Hahn is regarded by her former professors and professional colleagues alike as a dedicated artist and a captivating performer. And it’s clear that she’s deeply in love with her work, not the trappings of celebrity but the craft of acting: the deep dives into character, the exploration and messiness each role brings, the dedication to her fellow actors — and the creative magic that results.
I had no idea Kathryn Hahn went to Northwestern! My husband and I (both alums) adore her work and are huge fans. She is genius in WandaVision!
—Kelly Zimmerman ’11 MS, Chicago
What a delightful read! I felt as if I was back on campus myself through Kathryn's recollections of that time. Thank you!
—Leila Malekzadeh Walnut Creek, Calif., via Northwestern Magazine
Awesome article about Kathryn Hahn! I knew Kathryn in high school and am not at all surprised at her successes. She was as amazing back then as she is today!
—Miechelle Luna Javitch Westerville, Ohio