The story of Mrs. Fletcher has come to an end.
HBO’s seven-part adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel stars Kathryn Hahn in the titular role, a 40-something woman whose son has left her with an empty nest and the mental space to finally grow into her own person. Hahn has plenty of comedic-dramatic range, and those familiar with her recent work—especially as the lead in projects helmed by Jill Soloway like Afternoon Delight and I Love Dick—know that there is no one better to play the role of the sexually frustrated suburbanite embarking on a journey of self-discovery.
In the finale—which you have hopefully already watched before reading this far lest you run up against some serious spoilers—she finally gets some satisfaction. In the lead up, there were tweets from people who couldn’t wait for Eve Fletcher to just hook up with Julian, that 19-year-old classmate (and former victim of her son’s high school bullying) already, and tweets from people calling for Brendan Fletcher, her cocky, unexamined asshole of a son, to learn his lesson, too. And, like Mrs. Fletcher herself, the fans got what they wanted. Hahn looked back on the project and spoke to W about being directed with “the female gaze,” why porn isn’t really the focal point of the series, and what she learned from embodying her her brave, flawed, very human character.
Had you read the book before taking on this project?
I had known the writing of Tom before, and I had known of his adaptations. I had known, in particular, Little Children and Election, and with Little Children I remember being so taken with that piece of writing and with that adaptation. I had not read Mrs. Fletcher before meeting Tom, but I had read the pilot. We scheduled a meeting and I tore through the book in a sitting. I had such deep empathy for her, and I also had a lot of questions. I was surprised by his gentleness and his sweetness over the subject matter. There was this very sweet, gentle, kind, empathetic veneer over something that you could say is a story about a woman and her son reconciling with identity and themselves through the lens of porn. [Laughs.] I say that with the phrase, “but there’s a sweetness.” There really is!
Did you ever expect in your career to become this patron saint of women who finally come into their own and explore their sexuality at a certain age?
I certainly didn’t set out thinking that that was going to be my rallying cry. Not at all! I’m just one foot in front of the other, an actor. And these happen to be really interesting, complicated women that I also find very funny, and I also want to burst into tears thinking about because I love them so much. In Mrs. Fletcher, sexuality is something that feels really good for her, and it’s so personal. It’s an avenue to something that had been closed off to her for so long. It’s not even about other people.
Does portraying something so personal and vulnerable on screen like sex or masturbation ever feel embarrassing? Were you ever scared to do that on camera?
It’s required for this gig, I think. I always feel well protected and in this circumstance we had an intimacy coordinator, which is somebody I’ve never worked with before. It’s crazy that it’s a role that didn’t exist on set [in the past]. That was huge. Eve is looking at something for herself in these scenes. It’s not for anybody else’s pleasure. Let me put it this way, I have done smooching have been more embarrassing, for sure. Because of how I was supposed to have been presenting, if that makes any sense. Maybe I didn’t feel like myself or I was supposed to wear the chicken cutlets or have a spray tan or have the hair. I was supposed be presenting a certain way for someone else’s pleasure or something that is clearly not me.
As a viewer you can almost feel a sort of feminine touch, and maybe that has something to do with the fact that the show is directed by only women—Nicole Holofcener, Liesl Tommy, Carrie Brownstein, and Gillian Robespierre.
How would you define the female gaze as it pertains to Mrs. Fletcher, and do you find any part of that term problematic? Would you say they directed with the female gaze in mind?
I think there’s a sensibility and maybe an empathy. For this particular project, it was very important to me and also to Tom, and our amazing producer. Because Tom wrote the source material, I think it was important for all of us that there be this amazing group of women directors starting with Nicole who directed the pilot, and set us on such grounded footing. In the book, it’s set up that Brendan is written in the first person and Eve is written in the third. I just wanted there to be a way to swirl into Eve’s “I,” or her first person. It was a way of weighting it in a way that we could swirl ourselves into her point of view. Especially since, like you were saying, there’s so much vulnerable work and so much private work. Eve is so private with figuring out who she is and her sexuality.
I think some people might mistakenly describe Mrs. Fletcher as “the story of a lady with a porn addiction” when I don’t necessarily think porn is the center of the narrative at all; it seems like more of a lens through which we can understand Eve’s journey.
I completely agree. It’s just a taste of something that is the most forbidden. This is a woman that has tried to live her life between two lanes. She just tried to be the good girl, she says. Her whole life she just tried to check off every box. And now she’s turning around being like, Well where the fuck did that get me? Porn was such a Pandora’s box of self pleasure for her. Like, the ultimate I couldn’t possibly, I couldn’t possibly, I couldn’t possibly. And it is through that huge leap that she is able to take these micro steps outside of what she thought she was allowed to do or be. It’s not about porn.
Eve steers away from porn that just cuts right to the chase and is more turned on by a video that has an introduction first and then a seduction before eventually getting to the sex. Is part of the message that sex and narrative are inextricable?
Absolutely. I remember reading the book and feeling like, Ahh get to the good stuff…. But there is something of the slow, beautifully human build to her story that I also really appreciated. It was these little, tiny, micro steps forward for her, and three steps back. It wasn’t this huge leap into sexual awakening. No, she’s still who she is, she still has all these responsibilities, she’s still living her life. There’s this churning dissatisfaction that happens that I just felt was very human, and porn is so not a quick fix.
It seems like the apex is not just Eve allowing herself to learn self pleasure through porn or sex, but her choice to go back to her maiden name, Eve Mackey. It makes the final threesome scene seem like an epilogue,
Yes. I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t read the book, but there’s a piece of this that was not in the book. It’s something we discovered in the making of it that we decided to put in, that seems to be a very necessary key to it all. But you’re right, it does become an epilogue.
In those final moments, after Brendan has walked in on his mother’s threesome, what is Eve thinking? Is it shame or something else?
I want to take shame out of it, for sure. Although, I always want to try to do that, so I don’t know if that’s just me. It was a really hard moment to shoot. It’s hard to tell you what she’s thinking on the inside, but I would say it’s a lot of, This is who I am now, you’ve seen me. We talked a lot about how we never really see the essay that Eve writes in the class. This is almost like her showing Brendan her personal essay. It was kind of a moment of, Well, this is who I am. I would say she’s just laid bare. They’re meeting each other as adults. I know there’s been a lot of vitriol towards Brendan, understandably, but I, as his on-screen mother, have deep empathy for that boy. I also know he wasn’t raised with any sort of male figure or good example, and I also know that as a mother I failed him in many ways because I think I just came at him with way too much need and pushed him away. I think I was afraid of him. It’s criminal that I had that talk with him when I was sending him to college. What was that?
Did you discover anything surprising about yourself from playing Eve?
I guess I do in everything. I feel like everything that I jump into is somewhat weirdly aspirational. It’s always something that I can’t quite do in my real life, or say or feel. So, yeah, for sure. Her bravery rubbed off on me, I guess, if that doesn’t sound too cliche. Her being okay with being alone, or being still. I’m happily married with two kids so I really, I don’t know, I loved how she digs inward for inspiration. There’s a lot about her that I just worship.