Kathryn Hahn knew she wanted to be an actor all along. Born outside Chicago and raised in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Hahn was mesmerized by the world of theatre at a young age thanks to a few artistic family members. She explained in an interview that it was her uncle Paul who worked in classical music and was her “shepherd” into the creative world, taking her to see her first opera, Hansel and Gretel. She recalls, “I remember being blown away that Hansel was played by a girl,” and that she was, “just so moved by the power of the music.” Hahn started taking acting classes as early as kindergarten and immersed herself in the theatre world as much as she could. She didn’t have any grand plans for her future, but she did know one thing: she was going to act. “There was never a backup plan. Ever.”
Slowly but surely, Hahn started getting roles in movies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, though she wasn’t creatively fulfilled. “I felt very far away from the performer I was in school,” and missed the autonomy she had on stage. It wasn’t until Step Brothers that she felt truly comfortable and satisfied performing on screen. “Even though it was a comedy, it really felt anarchic and I felt like I was given so much trust.” Whether it be as a free-wheeling mother in the Bad Moms movies, a rabbi in the family dramedy series Transparent, or as a sexually frustrated single mother in Mrs. Fletcher, Hahn’s career continues to blossom with every daring project that comes her way.
Here are some of Kathryn Hahn’s best performances that you won’t want to miss.
Rachel Biegler, Private Life
Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, the 2018 film Private Life is a detailed and devastating look at how difficult it can be for some couples to conceive a child. Rachel (Hahn) and her husband Richard (Paul Giamatti) are two middle-aged artists doing their best to support their struggling careers in New York City while pouring their money into medical procedures and pursuing adoption. Not only can the constant failure to conceive take a toll on someone’s mental health, but it can also greatly strain a couple’s relationship and overall intimate connection. Hahn is able to manifest hope, despair, loss, and doubt in this raw and honest film. When Collider’s Steve Weintraub recently interviewed Hahn for her work in The Shrink Next Door, she noted Private Life as being the project she’d want someone to see first out of all of her work. “I love Private Life, just because it holds such a personal feeling for me.”
Carla Dunkler, Bad Moms
Ever wish you could drop all of your responsibilities and let loose a little? That’s exactly what Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Hahn), three moms who have simply had enough, want to do. And, well, they do it. Written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the 2016 comedy Bad Moms follows three moms and unlikely friends who bond over their contempt for the infamous PTA ruler Gwendolyn James (Christina Applegate) and the overbearing expectations that are put on mothers. Hahn is an expert when it comes to outrageous and shameless comedy, which makes the role of Carla fit her like a glove. Carla isn’t too attentive to her uniquely dim-witted son and doesn’t hesitate to (really) overshare about her sexual (mis)adventures. Hahn plays this part with such confidence, making Carla’s unsettling parenting methods (or lack thereof) all the funnier. But, after watching the movie, you might not want to wear a hoodie ever again.
Rachel, Afternoon Delight
Afternoon Delight, a beautifully written and directed film by Joey Soloway, follows Rachel (Hahn), a stay-at-home mom looking for some excitement in her monotonous life. She loves her husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) but knows their marriage of many years needs work, which she regularly explains to her not-so-helpful therapist Dr. Lenore (Jane Lynch). Nothing sparks a change until her friend Stephanie (Jessica St. Clair) suggests they go with their husbands to a strip club to spice up their marriages. Intrigued and out of options, Rachel gets a lapdance from a stripper named McKenna (Juno Temple) who she instantly connects with and wants to save from what she considers a harmful and demeaning profession. McKenna becomes such an integral part of Rachel’s life, eventually moving in with her family and becoming their nanny.
A premise like this, if put into the wrong hands, could easily be taken in a raunchy, exploitative direction with unrealistic and over-the-top circumstances. Fortunately, Soloway tells a grounded and sophisticated story that captures an unlikely bond between two very different, yet very similar, women. Hahn’s poignant performance dips between uncertainty and over-protection as she tries to keep a firm grip on the stranger that danced into her life, all while trying to save herself and her marriage from collapse.
Jennifer Barkley, Parks and Recreation
Over the course of its delightful 7-season run, the NBC comedy series Parks and Recreation tells the story of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), a small-town bureaucrat who is fueled by optimism and her passion for all things Pawnee, Indiana. Leslie is supported by her close friends and co-workers, some of which include Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe). In Season 4, Leslie runs for City Council against Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) and is forced to deal with Jennifer Barkley (Hahn), Bobby’s brazen and unapologetic campaign manager (and one of the best supporting characters on the series). She knows how to make Bobby look good, and more importantly, how to make Leslie look terrible. As with all of her performances, Hahn commits so hard to her character that you forget she’s even acting.
Raquel Fein, Transparent
Hahn reteams with Joey Soloway in the Amazon Prime series Transparent, which tells the story of the Pfeffermans, a Los Angeles-based family adjusting to life after the revelation that their parent (Jeffrey Tambor) has out as a transgender woman named Maura. Hahn received her first Emmy nomination for her role as the family’s Rabbi, Raquel Fein, who becomes romantically involved with Maura’s son Josh (Jay Duplass). Raquel enters the Pfeffermans’ lives at a vulnerable time and serves as their emotional anchor. Though people often look to her for answers, Raquel is usually searching for them herself. Raquel has some emotional (and musical) outpourings on the show, but it is her stillness, presence, and compassion that makes her stand out among the dysfunctional Pfefferman siblings. In preparation for her role, Hahn spent time with a real-life rabbi named Susan Goldberg, who she says was her "touchstone" during the series.
Doc Ock, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The 2018 Oscar-winning animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a gigantic hit among fans from all across the Spidey-loving spectrum. Written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, this beautifully made film (the computer graphics make it look like a living, breathing comic book) tells the origin story of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), an African American and Puerto Rican teen from Brooklyn who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and develops spider-like powers.
Because it is a Spider-Verse, Miles meets and is influenced by various spider-people from different dimensions. In addition to the abundance of Spideys, the movie features some of Spider-Man’s most iconic villains. Hahn lends her voice to the role of Olivia Octavius (rather than the original male version known as Otto Octavius), the brilliant scientist who also goes a little cuckoo and has four titanium tentacles that are sure to intimidate any hero. Hahn’s always been able to wield her memorable voice well in a range of emotionally-charged roles, making her a fantastic fit for such an established villain. Hahn brings a level of humanity to the sinister foe, making her reveal as Doc Ock all the more menacing.
Eve Fletcher, Mrs. Fletcher
Can someone please give Kathryn Hahn all the Emmys? Okay, fine, at least give her one for her performance in the HBO comedy-drama Mrs. Fletcher, based on the book and adapted for the screen by Tom Perrotta. Hahn plays Eve Fletcher, a nursing home manager and divorced mother who struggles to get used to her empty-nest after dropping her ungrateful son Brendan (Jackson White) off at college. In this coming-of-middle-age story, Eve wants to finally do something for herself. She’s tired of the mundane life she lives, and craves new sexual experiences and fulfillment that she never had in her younger years. Hahn delivers an unflinching performance of a woman who’s not sure where to go next and unsure if she deserves to live the life she never had.
Alice, Step Brothers
Written by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, the 2008 comedy Step Brothers is a sibling rivalry tale like no other. Brennan (Will Ferrell) is a middle-aged man with no job prospects who still lives at home with his mom, Nancy (Mary Steenburgen). Nancy meets and falls in love with Robert (Richard Jenkins), a widower whose middle-aged, slacker son Dale (John C. Reilly) also still lives at home. After their parents move in together, Dale and Brennan must live together against their will. Hahn plays the reserved Alice, the wife of Brennan’s highly-successful, arrogant, and condescending brother Derek (Adam Scott). It quickly becomes clear she is trapped in a loveless marriage and frankly, despises her husband. Alice’s animalistic side is unleashed once Dale punches Derek in the face. Alice falls for Dale hard, and her attempts at flirtation and their secret hookups create hilarious moments of tension and confusion. In an interview, Hahn said she wanted the role of Alice so badly, and detailed how her audition with Reilly got carried away fast.
Agnes/Agatha Harkness, WandaVision
The critically acclaimed Disney+ miniseries WandaVision takes its viewers on a rollercoaster ride through the decades. Taking place roughly three weeks after the events depicted in Avengers: Endgame, this genre-bending series follows couple Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) also known as Scarlet Witch, and a (somehow) alive Vision (Paul Bettany), who now live in the suburbs of New Jersey. This idyllic sitcom-styled life (literally, each episode is written in the style of a sitcom from a different decade) fades into a living nightmare, with its harsh reality and darker side being embodied by Agnes (Hahn), Wanda and Vision’s seemingly innocuous neighbor.
In this series, Hahn convinces the audience to trust Agnes, the benign, theatrical, nosy neighbor that inserts herself in Wanda’s busy life at the worst possible time. She overshares and overstays her welcome, adhering to the sitcom-neighbor trope quite well. (After all, Hahn is no stranger to over-the-top comedic characters.) But then Hahn slips into witchy territory when she reveals her true identity as Agatha Harkness, a maniacal, cackling witch from the Salem Witch Trials who’s secretly been manipulating the madness in Wanda’s suburban life. Hahn earned her second Emmy nomination for her extraordinary performance. Though WandaVision was a limited series, we will be seeing Agatha again soon in her very own series appropriately titled Agatha: House of Harkness.
Annie Altman, This Is Where I Leave You
The 2014 family dramedy This Is Where I Leave You tells the story of four semi-estranged adult siblings, Judd (Jason Bateman) Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stoll), and Phillip Altman (Adam Driver) who are forced back home to grieve with their mother (Jane Fonda) when their father passes away. While in town, they reconnect with old flames, question their choices, and wonder what it would be like if they listened to their heart when they had the chance. The film is a raw examination of life’s many obstacles, often unexpected, and the way different people filter in and out of one’s life, for better or for worse.
Kathryn Hahn plays Annie Altman, the spouse of the oldest sibling, Paul. For the entire week the siblings are together, Annie is overcome with her own heartache and frustration. She desperately wants to have a child, but she and Paul are struggling to conceive. Hahn manages to portray a myriad of emotions in a matter of a few facial expressions. She wants to be present to support her husband and tries to restrain herself from her temptations, but ultimately gives in to them when she is at her weakest. While Annie’s specific struggle is not one that everyone can relate to, Hahn’s authentic portrayal of insecurity and self-doubt certainly is. In the end, it’s Hahn’s performance that’ll break your heart the most.
Edie Fitzgerald, We’re the Millers
Kathryn Hahn makes an unforgettable appearance in We’re the Millers, a crime comedy about pot dealer David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) who recruits a fake family made up of a stripper named Rose O’Reilly (Jennifer Aniston), a young delinquent Casey Mathis (Emma Roberts), and a nerdy neighbor named Kenny Rossmore (Will Poulter) to help him go undetected on an elaborate drug deal. (You know, everyday stuff.) The four take on the persona of the Miller family and embark on an RV trip to Mexico where they come across Don (Nick Offerman) and Edie (Hahn), a very quirky and friendly couple. Hahn shines as this dorky character, who probably uses the phrase “ya darn tootin’” at least twice a day. In a long-winded story, she details how she learned she had an unconventional vagina and has the time of her life when she and Don mistakenly think David and Rose are swingers. Hahn proves that playing into absurdity is one of her many skills.
1000 times yes.