Patient: "I never fit in with those moms. I mean, they don't work." Therapist: "You don't work."
Writer-director Jill Soloway is no stranger to pointed dialogue. Having worked on critically-acclaimed shows like "Six Feet Under," "The United States Of Tara" and "How To Make It In America," Soloway broke away from the pack this year with her first feature, "Afternoon Delight." The film garnered attention at the Sundance Film Festival and packed the house in June at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
"Afternoon Delight" is smart, witty and funny as hell. It takes place in a modern, hipster world of young parents, wealthy peers, ever-blinking iPhones, carpools, kids and sexual dry spells. Actor Kathryn Hahn plays a mom struggling with competitive parents and something missing in her own marriage. When she, her husband and another couple go to a strip club to spice things up, she ends up making a connection with a young stripper, played by Juno Temple. Jane Lynch is a scene-stealer in her role as a shitty therapist and Hahn embodies the lead part with equal parts conflict and ease.
Soloway does well as a director -- creating moments between her characters that feel so real you forget you're watching a movie. Her dialogue sparkles with true-to-life frustrations. Hint: if you've ever been upset with the iCloud, see this movie.
Soloway has been nominated for three Emmys and won Best Director at Sundance for "Afternoon Delight." The Huffington Post spoke to the filmmaker to learn about the seedy underbelly of LA strip clubs, how a blow job joke inspired this movie and just exactly what she thinks of Lena Dunham.
HuffPost: You have had great success in the world of television, but have you always wanted to make a film?
Jill Soloway: I’ve been trying to make a film for a decade. I got distracted by the fact that I was doing pretty well in TV. I didn’t have that burning “I have to make film so I can have a career” engine. I really like writing television and I like the collaborative writers room feeling. It’s ten people and you’re together every day laughing your heads off. I had been moving my way up towards that “I want to run the room, I want to run a show, I want to be in charge” thing.
So that was the goal more than making a film at that point?
Yeah. I always wanted to find my voice and claim my tone, but I was doing it through the steps of being a TV writer. I had the executive producer title. I was running the room. I was running the show on “United States of Tara” and “How To Make It In America” where I could say okay I’m in charge of everything now. But it still wasn’t my show. Honestly, I was pretty inspired by “Girls.” I was like, “Okay, where the hell did this girl come from?” She came out of nowhere, she has a show on the air and I feel like it’s a show I could have written and should have written ten years ago.
How do you think “Girls” would have been different ten years ago?
We grew up watching Woody Allen and Albert Brooks movies and we see this neurotic, annoying, unlikeable male at the center of a story and people root for him anyway. I think that’s really what we have been craving as women is the hero who doesn’t look perfect and doesn’t act perfectly.
When you’re a writer and you’re trying to get a TV show on the air or get a movie made, you run into some dude at some point who goes, “I don’t like her [the female character] for doing that” – which could be code for -- “I wouldn’t fuck her. I don’t want to date her.” And so as women, we have to prove ourselves as attractive and attracting to men to have protagonists behave a certain way.
I think Lena Dunham’s childhood was a perfect storm for how talented she was. She had parents who were artists, who accepted her as an artist from the moment that she was born and expected her to create art. And everybody else had to fight to get to a place where we feel like we deserve to make art. That’s what I couldn’t achieve with where I was in television. It wasn’t really my own voice because it was somebody else’s show.
“Afternoon Delight” definitely has a strong voice. Some of the dialogue is incredibly funny but it also delves into some darker issues. How much improvising was there with the dialogue?
There was a fair bit of improvising but it generally existed so that people could ramp back into the dialogue that was in the script. The movie was about ten percent improvised. I don’t like to push back and make an actor say a specific word. I’ve learned that it’s more about setting the stage for the actors to come and play and if they want to make up words that’s totally fine.
Who did you cast first in this movie?
Jane Lynch is a friend of mine and she said yes first. I knew I wanted Michaela [Watkins] to be in it. She was circling around the part of either Stephanie or Jennie. So it was like do you want to be the best friend or do you want to be the mean mom? And for the leading part of Rachel, that whole casting situation was part of the larger picture -- where are we getting our financing from? Will this movie have international value? Who do we believe brings in audience? With Kathryn Hahn, she was a long shot for any of those equations because she’s not really a known quantity. It was definitely a fight to say yes this movie can be made around her. If you go ask some random cousin of yours in the middle of the country who she is, they won’t know. People don’t know outside of LA.
"Afternoon Delight" is set in Los Angeles, mostly in the neighborhood of Silverlake. Did you intend for this to be an LA story or do you feel this have taken place in any hipster-y neighborhood in the country?
When I first wrote the script, it took place in Evanston, Ill., outside of Chicago. There was a whole thing of Rachel taking McKenna on a bike tour of Northwestern University.
What made you change it?
Making an independent film is sort of like a tsunami – you’re asking yourself where is the money coming from? Where can we shoot this? Where are the tax breaks? At one point, one of my producers said it would only work for her if we shot in San Francisco, so I wrote a San Francisco draft [laughs]. The women all lived in Marin and McKenna lived down there in the sex positive part of San Francisco. Then it was late July and we realized if this thing was ever going to happen we might be shooting it on my iPhone and we might be shooting it in my house. So I was like okay – Silverlake. I was at that place of asking my kid’s school if we could shoot there, and finding other places where we could shoot for free. I started landing it in my ‘hood and I think landing it in my neighborhood actually made the draft that much better.
What flavor did filming in LA give this movie?
It made everything real. The ladies coming out of class and asking, “Who wants to walk the Reservoir?” and knowing where Sam's Hofbrau is downtown and knowing what it would mean for Rachel to leave Silverlake and drive downtown to follow a food truck. All these little details, because they became real to me, really helped the movie become real.
Did you spend a lot of time in strip clubs while researching for this film?
I did, yeah. I went to a bunch. Certain shots in the movie come directly from me hanging out in strip clubs looking around.
Who was your crew? Or were you solo?
I would go with the producers, our DP, friends. Just to get lap dances and see moments. There’s a scene where Rachel is just about to get her private dance and she passes a really overweight black man with this girl on his lap, I don’t know if you remember it. But Rachel looks through a curtain and there’s this big guy and this tiny stripper on his lap and that was something that I saw at one club.
Did you see a lot of very young strippers that fit the bill for the McKenna character?
I saw all ages. I have met some sex workers and strippers who inspired the character of McKenna. There’s a woman named Lorelei Lee who’s a porn star and a writer and I was on an artist retreat with her and a lot of McKenna is her.
The IMDB description for the film reads: Rachel, a stay-at-home mom, becomes obsessed with saving a stripper named McKenna. Of course it's so much more than that. Which storyline came first -- the marriage issues or the stripper issues?
The origin moment was when I was walking around the Reservoir with a friend and Father’s Day was coming up and we were talking about what our husbands would want for Father’s Day. And then I think I jokingly said, “I should hire a hooker and get him a blow job” [laughs]. I started imagining this sort of comedic heightening of that reality.
"Afternoon Delight" deals with happiness and what we are all looking for in life, both with ourselves and also with our mates or our families. There's one moment in the film where Jeff [Josh Radnor] screams in exasperation, "Not everyone gets to be happy!" Do you believe that?
I love that. I love that, in some ways, I feel like Jeff in his sort of theorizing is admitting that he’s not happy either. I feel like everybody should get to be happy. Or at least be trying to be happy. I think if Josh had really been yelling the truth of that, he would have said, “We should all be satisfied with authenticity and we don’t have it.” Maybe all people don’t get to be happy, but they should get to be authentic, and we aren’t. It never gets to be that good, it never gets to be that great -- well that’s no excuse for not at least trying to be real. I think it was really Josh’s way of saying that he was depressed and he didn’t know his way out of it.
Congratulations on winning the Directing Award at Sundance for "Afternoon Delight.”
How crazy is that? I kind of couldn’t believe it. Josh’s line, “not everyone gets to be happy,” I don’t know…I am now. I feel like McKenna was to Rachel as this movie was to me.
The movie was my McKenna in terms of me going and saying there’s something here; I have to spend time with this feeling. McKenna was in touch with her body in a way that made Rachel want to go back and get it, and I feel like something made me want to go rescue my connection to my creative self. When I was working on this script, I was living in this creative place where I felt alive.
You’re extremely funny and it shows in your work. Have you always identified as being “funny?”
Yeah. I think of myself as a comedian. I grew up going to Woody Allen movies. That was for sure a built in part of my dream. Woody Allen and Albert Brooks were who I wished I was.
This interview has been edited for length. "Afternoon Delight" releases in Los Angeles and New York on August 30, 2013.
My LA is a series of Q&A profiles with our favorite Angelenos. To see others, be sure to check out My LA.