Kathryn Hahn on ‘Transparent’ Season 3, Questioning Faith and How Jill Soloway Topples the Patriarchy On Set
Kathryn Hahn is a savior of sorts. Often the best part of her movies, Hahn’s the type of actress who can turn a small role into the highlight of a mediocre film (think: Tomorrowland, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Win a Date With Tad Hamilton). But in Jill Soloway’s Transparent, Hahn has played the literal role of the savior for the Pfeffermans, a woman introduced as a religious guide for a family thrown into flux by the gender transition of their former patriarch, Maura (Jeffrey Tambor).
When Hahn’s Rabbi Raquel first showed up in the debut season of the Amazon series, the Pfeffermans’ immediately flocked to her for guidance. Josh (Jay Duplass) got down on his knees and begged for her help and Sarah (Amy Landecker) showed up at temple seeking solace. In Season 3 of the series, now streaming on Amazon Prime, Raquel begins her own self-realization journey, questioning her faith as she mourns her miscarriage and her breakup with Josh. Transparent has always been about examining queer and gender identities while breaking the archaic familial molds, but in Season 3 Judaism and faith become the channels through which the characters question themselves.
I sat down with Hahn at the Toronto International Film Festival where the first three episodes of Transparent premiered. Hahn, who’s as infectiously bubbly and expressive in real life as she is on screen, told me about Season 3’s exploration of grief, Raquel’s search for spiritual understanding, and being on a show that’s not afraid to expose its characters’ flaws. Hahn also told me about working among one of the most diverse casts and crews on television and Soloway’s daily on-set practice that aims to dismantle the studio patriarchy.
I love that this season opens on your character. Raquel has a monologue about faith that is so beautiful.
Aw. Well it also is so perfect because it sets the season up as a season all about Passover and liberation and now that we’ve finally made it to the desert, now what? Now that we’re free, what’s next? Just examining where we came from and who we all are. Shelly even says, “one person in the family transitions and everybody transitions.” It’s like the epicenter of the earthquake, but now there’s just those aftershocks. Everyone’s accepted Maura, that Maura is Maura, but now it’s how that’s reverberating for the rest of the family.
We’ve seen that in pieces throughout the series, but I feel like now it’s coming full bore as each family member is really beginning their own transitions.
Yeah, and so profoundly for Maura now that she’s come out and now that she feels she’s living in somewhat of a truth, [she] still doesn’t feel happy. That’s so heartbreaking and, I feel, so human.
The Pfeffermans are are all going through so many forms of grief at this point in the series, and especially Raquel.
It’s such a mourning period. Also, just the saddest thing for me about Raquel is that she has lost the thread of her faith too. She’s in a crisis. That on top of everything else that she’s mourning, almost more importantly, that she’s lost the thread. That’s a huge loss for her. Of course it’s the most profound, understandably – Josh and that baby and that chapter of her life has shattered her. It’s like everything in her was “Danger! Danger!” and she just ignored those voices and went with her gut and her heart and now it’s like, how can I trust my heart anymore if it let me down? What does that mean about my faith? It’s just awful. A light comedy from Amazon! Another half hour comedy! [Laughs]
Even in the new opening titles there’s religious iconography that alludes to the religious theme this year.
I didn’t see it yet!
For me that’s one of the most exciting parts of a new season, how Jill changes the title sequence. There’s a stained glass mosaic that stood out to me and hinted the season will be more focused on religion, or maybe I should say on spirituality?
Yeah, spirituality. Sarah is on a journey, a specific journey, like we all are. I think that is a friendship that I did not anticipate. I was so excited to work with Amy [Landecker]. That friendship is, again, I can’t quit those Pfeffermans. She comes knocking on my door asking for help and guidance and I see a person struggling and asking the same questions I am and there is no way I would ever turn that soul away, whether or not she happens to be related to the love of my life. There’s no option. That’s what I love about Judaism, which I did not realize before starting this, is that it’s about asking questions. Constantly asking questions and searching. It’s so applicable to every person in this show, just that constant questioning. Why? How? Who? Will you? I think it’s a such a profound way in.
That’s so applicable to queer identify, too. There’s that line in Season 2 when Ali says, “What is being queer if not questioning everything?”
Yes, exactly! I love it too. You can say the same thing about Judaism. That’s what’s so beautiful. It’s about revealing, and also even Maura’s transition. Just revealing your true self to yourself is terrifying. So yeah, absolutely. We’re all transitioning all the time. It’s a really profound way to start the season I think.
The show is so bold in how it exposes the characters’ flaws. Along with the theme of questioning, everyone is always making mistakes and showing their faults. What does that feel like when you’re on set making the show? Is everyone very much behind this idea of exploring and learning from one another?
There is certainly no judgement ever about anybody in this world’s decision-making, or how they’re figuring out their lives. Like from a creative standpoint, we’ve kind of given birth to these people and let them reveal themselves. So there is certainly no – which I love about it and I also feel why it’s been able to speak to so many people – is that no one is canonized. There’s nobody with a holy sainted glow around them. Whether it be Maura or the Rabbi, everybody is complicated, or like the spurned matriarch Shelly, everybody is beautiful because of that, because of their complexity. I think that that is a really hard thing to intellectualize. I think that just happens because it’s just creative, it just becomes revealed. If you step back and you try and overthink it, I’m just trying to think like, in that writer’s room, I really don’t think you can. It’s because the foundation work was so solid from Season 1 of who these people are that now you’re just on the ride and these people are telling us who they are. That’s what’s so fun about it.
How do you feel the show has evolved and grown since Season 1?
Besides Jeffery becoming such a f–king diva asshole? [Laughs] No, he’s the greatest. I’ve never really been involved with anything that’s become this kind of big that fast. Especially something that when you’re in the middle of it, I’m telling you, it’s so hilarious to be in this fancy suite in this hotel in Toronto. When we’re doing it it feels like we’re putting on a show in a barn. It feels like we were in summer stock; sweaty, barefoot long-toenailed scrappy actors. Just like, communicating way too much, sloppy boundaries. It’s the greatest ensemble. We know each other so well it just feels like the safest space. I’m so buoyed by. Even an event like this where we get to just be together, and I wish Alexandra Billings was here today, she was suppose to and had an emergency, which sucks.
I’ve talked to her before, she’s wonderful.
She’s the goddamn best. I miss her madly. I keep being like, “Where are you? It’s just me and the Pfeffermans! I need backup!” What’s so beautiful about it is we all still can’t believe – that it still feels the same. Everyone is still digging for the truth. That is I think a real special place to be. No one is taking any of this for granted. Because they know the bar is forever now unfortunately raised to an impossibly [un]attainable degree and we’re all just f–ked for the rest of our careers. It sucks, goddamn it Jill Soloway!
You said it feels like a safe space on set. I’ve read a lot about Jill’s transfirmative action program. What is it like to be working with such a diversity of identities on set?
It feels like there’s no other way to exist. That’s exactly what should be happening. She would do this thing called “The Box” I don’t know if anyone has told you about this.
I haven’t heard about it.
This happened at the beginning of Season 2. Every day they take an apple box and they put it in the middle of the circle, and the cast and crew, whoever is around, stands around it, 60-70 people. Someone is tapped to stand on the box and speak. It’s usually crew because they outnumber us, by many. That and all the affirmative practices in place, what it does is it gives every single person a place for a voice. The old patriarchal system of the hierarchy of casts, crew, is out the window.
So you have the amazing person holding the boom getting up and singing a song or revealing something. Trace [Lysette] was telling a story when we were in New York, who is unbelievable and is going to be revelatory this season. She has an unbelievable standalone episode. She even said that there was a person who got up there, a crew member, who’s like, “I’m from a small town in Ohio and really religious” and then started crying about how this has opened her whole – […]
There is something about that box, that moment that becomes the great equalizer. Everybody starts the day on the same emotional page. That if we’re gonna reveal ourselves as performers, you guys are going to reveal yourselves too. We’re all building the same thing and to have the energy of the crew members as invested as anybody else in the making, the finding the truth, just puts it on a different – everybody has to take care of each other. Everyone’s responsibility is to protect and take care of everyone else’s heart and feelings and experience. I have taken that to all of the work, and I hope to continue to do so.
You’ve brought that to your other sets?
I haven’t done like, everyone stand on the box! [Laughs] But I’ve always felt that the crew is as important in making something as anybody else. And that everybody’s voice is imperative in the making of it. That diversity of voice is the only way to make art, for sure.
I hope this becomes a model for more TV shows.
I know. Amen. I do too.