Jill Soloway and Kathryn Hahn Talk I Love Dick
WORDS BY: ARIELA KOZIN | IMAGES COURTESY OF AMAZON
Even if you don’t love dick, you’ll love I Love Dick. Based on the memoir by the same name, the new Amazon series revolves around a self-destructive filmmaker, Chris Kraus, who becomes absolutely obsessed with a rugged, mysterious art professor, Dick, who happens to work with her husband, Sylvere. And that’s just the beginning. The kicker is Sylvere is sort of okay with his wife’s new passion because it’s inspiring her creativity. Actually, it turns him on and it’s just harmless crush—at least, so he thinks. Hooked yet? That’s why the streaming service picked it up—because after its pilot premiered as a part of the crowd-rated pilot season, viewers were desperate for more Dick.
It’s not just how refreshingly weird it is, or the complexities of each character, or the awe-inducing landscapes, or the quick-witted dialogue—it’s every tiny intricacy about the series that’ll trigger binging. I Love Dick slowly unfurls itself, layer by layer, and the urge to know what what will happen next in the Marfa bubble is just too hard to contain. That was co-creator and executive producer Jill Soloway’s plan after all—to throw away the conventional rules of TV. She even called it a “five-hour movie” instead of a series.
You know Jill and Kathryn Hahn. You may not know them by name, but you probably know their work. And they’re okay with that. They’d rather their work speak for them. The pair initially met when Jill cast the actress in her film, Afternoon Delight, in 2013 and they haven’t stopped working together since. Jill then cast Kathryn in her award-winning series Transparent. And it would honestly take too long to list all the indie movies Kathryn has starred in, or the blockbusters she’s had a supporting role in. She is the epitome of what they call an indie darling. She has a sort of quiet power on screen where she completely immerses herself in her characters, to the point where her own identity gets lost.
So needless to say, Kathryn and Jill make a great team and that point became no clearer when we sat down with them to discuss their latest project.
So before you watch the show when it premieres May 12th, read their interview below:
How did you guys come across this book and how did you decide it was going to be a TV show?
Jill: Sarah Gubbins [the co-creator] and I were working on a movie together and we were looking for something else to work on and we read the article in The New Yorker about the book. We were just shocked that there was a book called I Love Dick that we didn’t know about and shocked that there was a mind, such as the mind of Chris Kraus, that had been kept from us. As a feminist and as a Jew and as a women to have felt like, “Where is that voice?” I felt like that voice had been kept from us. So, we both got the book immediately. We both found a lot of opportunities to read it in public with the jacket open, saying I Love Dick.
You know what made me think it could be a TV show? The love triangle. I had never heard of a woman telling her husband she has a crush on another man and he goes, “Let’s talk about it, let’s go in, go towards that.” And that to me feels like the sweet engine of a TV show that you can keep turning and turning, episode to episode, and season after season.
Kathryn, I’m curious whether or not the book came factored into your preparation for the role. There are so many layers to work with— a real person, a book, and a TV character.
Kathryn: Yes it did. When I first read I Love Dick, I had never heard about it before Jill. I was flabbergasted that I had not and ashamed. I actually read another book about Sylvere [Chris’s husband] called Torpor because I wanted to spend more time with him. Chris and I never met before the pilot, it was sort of a conscious thing, but I’m glad we didn’t because you are right, there are three levels: the book’s writer that is Chris, the Chris portrayed in writing, and the Chris through Sarah Gubbins and this amazing all-female writer’s room. I was buoyed by the fact that after the pilot we finally met for a meal and we picked at a fruit salad together with our fingers—which I loved. I remember we were both excited that certain things just happened. I could not have put them on as an act, it is not a biopic obviously, we were both tickled by certain things that we ended up having in common.
When I read this book it felt like a really radical book and the show also feels very radical. What do you think made it possible for something so radical to not only be a popular book, but also a popular TV show?
Jill: It just seems totally impossible. I’m sitting on the couch watching this and my eyes are still wet. I am crying as I watch it because I cannot believe we made it. I can’t believe it happened and it’s about to get distributed to 230 countries via Amazon. I have no idea how it happened. A whole bunch of magic.
I am crying as I watch it because I cannot believe we made it. I can't believe it happened and it's about to get distributed to 230 countries via Amazon. I have no idea how it happened. A whole bunch of magic.
How did you decide what you wanted to keep from the book and what you wanted to change for the screen?
Jill: Much like on Transparent, we worked in this very iterative way. I do not feel like I make anything happen, instead Sarah and I started to vibrate about not only this triangle at the center, but these three people that really upends the patriarchy. We’re saluting the process of conjuring the female gaze at every step, which meant for us meant having an all-female writer’s room, having the women in the room read the book, letting everyone meditate on the possibility of what the show would be and then coming together and seeing what happens. So really, it was about letting go and bringing in these writers together who we felt like understood the material.
That was one of our very first things because of our understanding of our feminism at this point, we understood the necessity of an intersectional perspective. We very quickly realized we wanted women of color and queer women in the show because objectifying people as a way of protagonizing your characters was theme and the way that everyone in the town gets energized by Chris’s desire. Her protagonism gets everyone else excited and that feels pulsing. These letters are floating around and these women are suddenly thumping to make something. I think that happens when we read the book. She created something that you read and think, ‘I want to write. I want to make.’ We wanted this show to have that feeling within it.
Kathryn, there is something that is very literary about your performance. sometimes you are not directly speaking to someone, except to all of us. Can you explain your method for that?
Kathryn: I wasn’t thinking in that way. My job, in that ferret hole, was to put Dick in that pinhole of light. I was unaware of where the narration would come in. I was unaware of where the footage of where other amazing female artists would be put in. I was allowed a very myopic view. The addressee became very important in episode 5. With that “Dear Dick” moment, you can almost say “Dear Diary.” That is what it started to feel like.
Jill, I have a question for you about Dick. How did you come about making him an artist and why is he a conceptual artist versus a theorist in the book?
Jill: I think when we got to Marfa and realized we were going to shoot it there, we started to really feel the shadow of Donald Judd and, you know, he’s sort of the ‘Daddy of Marfa.’ He moved there to make art and he really wanted his art to have this permanence on the landscape. As we toured around I just remember one day in Marfa’s Chinati Museum, knowing that 99.9 percent of the art Judd put there was male.
I just feel for all of the women and people of color who had to work to make it so that he could put his giant work on the land. All of these people were engaged in helping put his work on the land and were unnamed in the museum. I feel enraged by masculinity and patriarchy all the time, but this was a particularly gut-punching feeling where I started to take it personally. And we wanted Dick to move a little bit away from the cultural critic in the book and move towards Judd. It was just undeniable that Dick as an artist would give us much more of a story than Dick as an theorist.