SXSW 2014: Real Sex Talk With ‘Bad Words’ Star Kathryn Hahn

By  · Published on March 12th, 2014

Focus Features

Cinema has no shortage of great sex scenes. Just last week we saw a prime example of steamy hate sex from 300: Rise of an Empire. Eva Green’s snarling dominance over a soldier will never be forgotten. It’s up there with some of the finest sexual encounters in history: Kevin Costner going at it while driving in Revenge; Mulholland Drive’s much talked about piece of lovemaking; the opening shot of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead; and the orgy in Eyes Wide Shut. Someone all those scenes were seriously lacking: Kathryn Hahn.

If Kubrick wanted to turn the heat up during that orgy, then he would’ve thrown Hahn into the mix. She’s proven herself as more than capable when it comes to making sex much funnier and even more awkward. Who could forget when Alice (Hahn) rode Dan (John C. Reilly) like an animal in Step Brothers? If that didn’t do it for you, then Alice’s “stay golden, pony boy” goodbye sure did.

We discussed Hahn’s finer moments of acting at the Bad Words press day during SXSW. Here’s what she had to say about how awkward sex makes her career come full circle.

Step Brothers and Bad Words has some great awkward sex. Is that something you look for in material?

I always look for the most awkward, unflattering, and unsexy sex scenes. That’s the first question I have combing through the script. I’ll just skip through the script to that sex scene and then I’ll know the rest of the story when I see the film. [Pauses] I’m so kidding.

[Laughs] I think people will know.

[Laughs] Hopefully they will know. I’m always surprised by the content of the film, because, again, just looking at the sex scene. Also, if the sex scene is deranged, that helps. Dirty helps, too.

[Laughs] How many takes of comedic sex scenes are there usually? Do they try multiple angles?

We tried some with the glasses on and off [in Bad Words}. In the shower sex scene we did it differently. I was talking into my arm during that sex scene, so you can imagine where my face is supposed to be…

[Laughs] Can you improv there?

Yeah, we improved a little, but there wasn’t a lot needed with this script. I think Andrew had definitely written, “Don’t look at me!” I loved that as a jumping off place for a character. We improvised around that.

Are sex scenes less awkward when they’re more comedic?

It is always awkward, because it comes from the same place and you have to buy that these two people are actually doing it. It definitely takes the pressure off to look a certain way, which is more freeing and fun. Sex is surreal anyway, so it’s fun to push it to different places [Laughs].

I understand. When you’re in a comedy, and not shooting a sex scene, what’s the best kind of actor to play off of?

Game. Someone that is game. Someone that is out of their head, that’s uninhibited. You never want to second guess anything. Also, if you have to go to crazy and different places to find the best option, then great. Like, on Adam McKay’s films you do it as written, which is already so crazy, and then he’ll literally throw it away and there’s a blank abyss. With this, the construction is so perfect. You just really need to support what’s already there. Sometimes improvising on some movies can be a little lazy, because it can mean you just haven’t actually worked on what’s there.

Sometimes improv doesn’t support the whole of the story. Also, if you’re at home thinking of other funny options, that is time you should’ve spent on what you need to get done in that scene. I would love to do a Christopher Guest or Joe Swanberg movie, though. Showing up with just the scenario sounds like so much fun, especially when it’s true and you don’t have to claw to be funny. It’s easier when you know who you are as a character, though.

Was Jenny all on the page in Bad Words?

Yep. Andrew Dodge wrote a great script, the shoot was fast, and Jason prepared. Jason was just flawless. There wasn’t a ton of extra time to explore extra avenues, but we also didn’t need to. What we needed to do was perfect what was already on the page.

After working with Ben Stiller and Jason Bateman, do directors with a history of acting make for a different experience?

Yes. It’s a different feeling, but I’ve had two amazing experiences with it. Because they’re also the lead of the movie, they need you more sometimes [Laughs]. In a scene there’s a generosity from both of them because they’re looking at it a different way rather than if they were just the lead. They’re good directors because they’ll push you to places you haven’t been to before. They’ll ask more of you than you think you have. I would love to keep working in that direction. Not that a lot of filmmakers are lazy, but some hire you because of something you’ve done before. Some people hire you to dig, and that’s what I’d like to continue to do.

Would you ever want to direct?

Yeah. If it’s something I thought in the middle in the middle of the night that I had to do, then yes. I have kids, though.

Before I let you go, I recently spoke to Adam McKay —

Oh, I love him! Isn’t he the best?

He’s great, but he let me down when he said Step Brothers 2 isn’t happening. Since we won’t ever see Alice again, do you think Dan and her would’ve ever ended up together? Where is she now?

Adam Scott’s character would probably leave her for a younger model, a young version. She would just have the two kids and every once in a while Dan and her would meet for degenerate, weird sex. Also, there would be a lot of white wine and pills for Alice. Her face would just get more and more stretched back. It would be like Brazil.

Bad Words opens in theaters March 14th.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.