Afternoon Delight, which features Kathryn Hahn and Juno Temple in the lead roles, marks Soloway’s directorial debut, in a film that is charming and witty as it is poignant. Soloway discusses the rise in female voices in Hollywood at present, her influences, and her delight at the film being aired at festivals across the world. Which reminds us, tickets to the UKJFF showing can be purchased here.
Afternoon Delight is your feature film debut. You’ve been writing for a number of years, but was it always the intention to one day sit in the director’s chair?
Not really. It was always my intention to have my own TV show, because I grew up really worshipping TV more than I did movies, but that’s only because movies were a distant thing for me that I never thought about making, like Star Wars or huge movies that just seemed out of my reach. So I worked in television for about a decade but I just couldn’t get my own show on the air, but then I really inspired by Lena Dunham in Girls and I really felt her movie Tiny Furniture really gave Lena’s voice a real platform so that Girls could evolve out of it, and I felt like I should make a movie so that people could understand what my voice is.
What with films like Tiny Furniture, Frances Ha, Girl Most Likely, In a World… and Blue Jasmine – it must be encouraging for yourself as a female writer in Hollywood, that films about women over 25 in strong lead roles are quite popular at the moment?
It seems like it, yeah. I see a real revolution in terms of content for women. There is still that feeling internationally, like, you have to have a movie with a man in it and there has to be an explosion for something to have any international relevance, which is annoying.
It’s by no means perfect, but it does seem to be changing. What’s happened to spawn this rise in female voices in Hollywood?
I think that the internet has given people the chance to see what people want, I think pre-internet there was always some board member, some bald, white men on a golf course deciding what everybody got to see, and now there’s an accessibility all the way around. As Sheryl Sandberg says, it’s not about a ladder anymore, it’s a jungle gym. You don’t have to climb to the top of the ladder because there are so many ways to get around whatever the powers that be. You can reach to your right or reach to your left and notice that the audience are there. Woody Allen has always been making films about women, particularly in the last 15 years I feel like half his protagonists are women, so Woody Allen aside I have noticed that, in the same way I think Obama got elected, you felt you could never have a president who wasn’t a white male, content is also shifting away from what would normally have to be approved by a 60 year old, white male.
It’s funny you mention Woody Allen, because he tends to have a leading role either played by himself, or in the later years, somebody playing that Woody Allen role. Afternoon Delight is a very intimate portrayal of Rachel – how much of her was based on yourself and your experiences in life?
It’s funny because when I see it I think of her as Rachel and as Kathryn Hahn, but a bunch of my friends are like – Kathryn is just playing you! I’m like, really? So, to some degree as a writer I am always trying to get inside my protagonist’s emotional wants and for the most part I do better when the protagonist is a lot like me. In all areas, anything I write, be it fiction or a monologue or a movie, I have a very hard time writing about mummies or mermaids or vampires, I just really like real life and real stories about people who are a lot like me. So I guess within that I end up writing versions of myself. But you know, I’ve never been on a prostitution field trip, I don’t have a stripper living in my house and I have had sex with my husband slightly more than once every six months.
Well you’ve answered my next question…
[Laughs] It was exactly 14 days ago, if you really wanna know.
I’ll go with that as my headline. Anyway, let’s talk about Juno Temple – it’s something of a coup getting her on board because she’s becoming one of the most sought-after actresses is the world.
Yeah I love her. She’s just the most adorable, sweetest thing in the world. When she came in for the very first meeting she reminded me a lot of what I wanted her character to feel like. She didn’t have a car, she didn’t have a taxi number, I thought, I better drive you – she just had that helpless, childlike, adorable thing. Then you glance a second time and you’re like, oh my God, you’re actually a totally sexy woman, I’m very confused – I want to take care of you cos you seem like a kid, but you’re of legal age and you’re super dangerous. She walked that line. I love her like crazy.
Kathryn is incredible in the lead role too. Up until this film we mostly see her cast as supporting characters – but what did you see in her that made you so confident she’d work as your leading lady?
She’s so hilarious, and that was really important to me, to have an actor playing the protagonist who just cracks me up so deeply, like a best friend or a sister, making you laugh the way you did when you were 13 over the stupidest things, and I have that with her. I knew immediately upon meeting her that we had the exact same sense of humour and we could really make each other laugh. I think it’s a slightly non-empathetic journey to go on and a lot of people would be like, you’ve got a beautiful house, a beautiful kid, Josh Radnor is your husband… What’s your problem? Just she is so empathetic, she has this kind of emotional empathy as a person and I was able to see how that would translate to the character of Rachel, and to make the audience care for Rachel. Kathryn is like that, she’s very emotional and warm.
In that case, it must have been quite a challenge for yourself when writing to ensure the audience would be on Rachel’s side?
There’s something of a metaphor in the notion that through Jeff’s invention they have millions of dollars and on paper they have it all, but I think that people, with their smart phones, feel like they have it all. Nobody living in the first world really has anything to complain about, but yet people still constantly struggle with their feelings, so it ended up feeling very universal to people, people don’t judge her, and it did not up getting that sort of ‘white people problem’ that we feared could be part of the story if it wasn’t handled correctly. People just sort of related to it.
The film is incredibly naturalistic, did you allow much room for improvisation?
I did yeah, I let the actors improvise quite a bit, but oddly when I went back and looked at the script after we shot, they did really come back around to what was in the script and we ended up cutting out a lot of the improv. They were totally free to say and do whatever they wanted, that was something that I read Woody Allen does, just letting his actors say what they want, and, you know, when you tell the actors they don’t have to say those exact words, they always like to stick to the script. The women with wine, and the poker scenes, those were all about experimenting in that way, there were no cuts, we didn’t say action, we told them to pretend it was their house and their party, and to be free.
The women with wine scene you mention has quite brave dialogue, it’s very realistic but not something you often seen in film. How important was it to you that you were able to implement that particular conversation into this film?
That was so important to me. There are certain moments in there that I felt like I’d never seen in a movie before. Things that never, ever get said aloud, but are said privately among women, for example the joke about one of the women finding herself to be turned on by the accused is such a transgressive joke and something that women would say in private all the time, but nobody would ever put it in a movie [laughs]. We screened it in Poland where it played in subtitles and I was so keen to see if it worked, but you know, it does. I think women really appreciate having characters who don’t behave in a way that women are supposed to behave. Not just women, I mean, you’re a man and you appreciate it, right?
Of course! The film has got some tragic elements to it, yet remains very funny and carries a very amiable tone. Was it tough to strike that balance between the two notions?
Yeah I was definitely discovering my voice and my tone as we we writing, as we were shooting and as we were editing the picture. I think that when I was talking about movies I was inspired by, like Fish Tank, Crimes and Misdemeanours… They’re very sad movies, but I really think for me maybe melancholy might be my very note before comedy, but that’s a very close second. My particular sense of humour is incredibly silly, dirty and inappropriate, so maybe Louie by Louis C.K. is something I try to emulate in terms of high silliness and high melancholy combined. So yeah this movie is incredibly silly, incredibly dirty but also very sad, emotional and very true.
Can you see that being a style you remain faithful to from here on? Or can you one day see yourself writing a thriller, or genre movie…
No I can’t do that, I don’t know how to do that. I would not be able to do that.
So what is next for you then?
It’s a TV movie called Transparent, which you’ll be able to see on LoveFilm. It may be available to see at the same time we get it in the US, but to keep up to date on when it will be aired, like the Transparent page on Facebook. It’s about a Jewish, Los Angeles family who are completed separated, everybody is living on their own. Mum and Dad are divorced and the kids have their own lives, all living in different corners of LA, but they’re all together, connected by memories of their childhood and a bit revelation that comes out in the pilot. I’m hoping it will be available in England in early February when we get it. Tonally it’s very similar to Afternoon Delight. I’m super excited.
You really seem to be embracing this new path, using the internet as a means to get your work out there?
Yeah, but I don’t think of it as the internet. When you look at how House of Cards won all of those Emmy’s and it comes from Netflix. I think by mid-2014 you won’t even be able to separate between movie, TV and the internet, everybody understands that they’re going to have as more of an audience for their film when it’s on iTunes and Netflix. The independent film world has so little money, and the world of Silicon Valley has too much money – and this is just a slow shift for the audience moving toward the money and these divisions of what’s film and what’s cinema and what’s the internet and about to fade away.
Just finally, Afternoon Delight not only showed at the London Film Festival but is not airing at the UK Jewish Film Festival too – that must be really exciting for you?
Yeah it really is, it’s like my kid is travelling or something, and I just hope she’s safe. It’s weird for me to know it played in American theatres and I wasn’t at every single one, and it’s even weirder, but cooler, that it’s happening internationally. Recently when I was in London and in Poland playing in front of large audiences, it struck me what a gift it is to have international distribution and be able to share ways of thinking and living and ideas, even for a Jewish community to see a movie like this makes me so grateful.
Afternoon Delight is showing at the UK Jewish Film Festival on November 12, and you can read our review here.