With a career that spans a quarter of a century, Kath-ryn Hahn has no shortage of fans from her early roles as the quirky best friend (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) or the co-worker (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days). But that number has exploded since she joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2021 in her standout role as Agatha Harkness in WandaVision.
But her growing popularity isn't something that Hahn, 49, is dialed into, because the two-time Emmy-nominated actress isn't on social media. Yes, Hahn has no Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts, so she has been relatively clueless that the internet has labeled this period, when her star is on the rise, "The Hahnaissance."
"The response to Agatha was so unexpected," Hahn told Parade from the set of Agatha: Coven of Chaos, the sequel to WandaVision. "It was really overwhelming."
WandaVision, which blended the style of classic sitcoms with the MCU, was a delight to film for Hahn, because the series had so many "delicious, different decades to slip in and out of, and different genres, and different sitcom worlds," so she didn't hesitate when asked to reprise Agatha in a stand-alone project for Disney+.
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But first, the Cleveland-raised mother of two (Leonard, 16, and Mae, 13) with Ethan Sandler, 50, turned her talent to the role of Clare in the limited series Tiny Beautiful Things (April 7 on Hulu), adapted from a collection of essays by Cheryl Strayed from her long-running advice column "Dear Sugar." Strayed, who famously hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and wrote about it in her bestseller Wild, has said that the character of Clare is who she might have become if she had never made the hike. Reese Witherspoon, who portrayed Strayed in the movie version of Wild, exec-produces Tiny Beautiful Things.
Hahn wasn't well-versed in any of Strayed's writings but was captivated by the distinct tone and grand ambition of the Hulu pilot script, which she says packed an emotional punch in the form of a half-hour TV show that's neither comedy nor drama. And then she read the source material, St rayed's book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice From Dear Sugar.
"I was like, Wait, it's an advice column? And this advice column is something that I would have had on my nightstand and read in a heartbeat had I known it existed. Which I do now, and just pick up and read. I'm a big old cynic. I really am not into emotional heartstrings being pulled, but there is something about this that just felt so raw and to the bone. Just unfiltered, just light shined into your eye — there's nowhere else to go but to the truth. I was really curious about jumping into the challenge of that."
Hahn's switch from supporting characters to leading lady began in 2013 when she was cast as Rachel, a sexually frustrated wife who goes to a strip club to try to spice up her marriage in Afternoon Delight and winds up deciding to hire a stripper (Juno Temple) as her live-in nanny.
"It was a big (turning point) for me, a huge one," the graduate of the Yale School of Drama says. "I grew up in the theater, so I thought you were supposed to be a certain way to be on camera." It was while filming Afternoon Delight that she learned that she could have the same freedoms in front of a camera that she could have on a stage, and something just clicked.
"I was like, Oh, you can be anarchic and in control of your narrative and not one way or the other. All of the complexity of it and be funny still. There was such a freedom in that as a performer."
Hahn ran with that newfound knowledge, and the roles followed, allowing her to demonstrate her versatility and emotional complexity in both comedy and drama: Parks and Recreation, I Love Dick, Transparent, I Know This Much Is True, The Shrink Next Door, Bad Moms and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, among others.
And it's a good thing the offers rolled in, because there was never a plan B for Hahn.
"I would pretend to have a backup career, but it was almost like I was acting out fantasies of what those backup careers would be," she admits. "I was like, Oh, I'll pretend to be a marine biologist, but it was almost like another acting exercise.
It was never, ever an option for me. There was no other choice." Parade asked Hahn about her role in Tiny Beautiful Things and where she developed her sense of humor.
In Tiny Beautiful Things, there's such a contrast between Clare's ability to give advice to other people and her inability to fi x her own life. Is the "Dear Sugar" column a place to turn her experiences into empathy for others? I think "Dear Sugar" is a culminating event. When we fi nd Clare, every aspect of her life is starting to fall apart. Her job, her marriage, her relationship with her daughter and her relationship with all of her coping mechanisms are falling apart. And the things that she used to use — hanging out with other people, alcohol, her sense of humor, all those things — are not working for her anymore.
And so, the thing that she used to love more than anything, which was to write, is the thing that sustained her when she was a child when her mom was alive. And so, when this person from her past comes out of the woodwork to say, "Write this column for me anonymously," like a volcano, it erupts something in her that she didn't realize had been so bottled up.
What about this Clare spoke to you? I love the idea that we contain all of our past selves all the time. And that the older we get the more our past selves start rising to the surface because, of course, we don't heal our younger self as we're living it. It takes a long, long, long time to even realize what has been hurt or broken. And sometimes it is in becoming a parent, it's in becoming a partner, it's in becoming an employee, it's in our relationships with others that we realize what it is in ourselves that needs healing. And so that was really compelling.
What are tiny beautiful things? Are they moments in life? They refer to things that Sugar wishes she could have told her younger self, which is that you have the right to tiny, beautiful things. There's a scene where a girl offers a purple balloon to Sugar, and she didn't believe she had the right to such a tiny, beautiful thing. And she didn't feel like she was worthy of love or of respect or attention or having a voice. She had such shame and grief that she wasn't in a place to receive it. It was when she was older that she was able to look back and feel like she was able to have some sense of receiving it.
When were you bitten by the acting bug? Honestly, I think, from kindergarten. I took a little class at Saint Ann's, which was my elementary school in Cleveland, Ohio. Then I convinced my parents to let me take classes at the Cleveland Play House. I was what was called a curtain puller. I never actually got to pull any curtains. I took classes there every Saturday, and I just knew in my bones; I just knew that that's what I was going to do.
How incredible to have that certitude at such a young age. And it was nuts because I didn't know how or what it would look like. I just knew that's what it was. I didn't see myself winning awards or anything; I just saw myself acting. I just knew it.
Your determination led you to Northwestern and Yale School of Drama. What did it take to make that happen? Your parents obviously weren't familiar with the acting world. No, and they were very upfront with the fact that if I wanted to go that I would have to get there myself because we didn't come from a family that was able to afford those kinds of programs. And so, I knew that I had to get really good grades in high school to get myself into Northwestern and to get scholarships. My parents contributed as much as they could, but I mostly got scholarships and a ton of student loans and got myself through Northwestern.
Then the same thing with Yale. I didn't go there right after undergrad, which most students do. There were a couple years of odd jobs and non-paying acting gigs. It was mostly because I just wanted somewhere to act that I got myself into a master's program. I remember somebody saying, "You're missing out on your ingenue years if you go to Yale and spend these three years." I was like, "I'm not an ingenue. I don't care. No one's hiring me; I would rather be acting." I knew I was moving away from the traditional Hollywood path, but I didn't care. I was rehearsing Shakespeare at 2 in the morning with other ragtag misfits.
You've performed Shakespeare and yet have done so many comedies. Is that because you have a great sense of humor? I definitely didn't go the sketch comedy route. SNL and stand-up didn't call to me. I was never "the most graceful one" in the class. But I still didn't see myself as a comedian, I just saw myself as an actor, wanting to play all the parts. When I thought of "actor," I thought of someone that was in a company that was able to play Ophelia and then do a musical. An actor was somebody for whom the script was everything. And so, it was interesting for me after Yale to have my first job be on Crossing Jordan, which was a whole world of like What? I was so grateful for the job because I had so much debt, and I had so many teachers on that. I was cast as the quirky person in the morgue, so it was kind of funny but kind of not. I learned so much from that.
But the comedy, I think I just started leaning into where I was cast. It wasn't conscious; it's just this class-clown part of my personality is who I am, my DNA. My family has a wicked, wicked sense of humor, everybody on all sides. I'm in awe of how funny they are. It was like you had to keep up because everybody was just very funny.
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