NBC’s new fall comedy Free Agents stars Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn as colleagues at a PR firm who sleep together. Alex (Azaria) is fresh off his divorce and still cries over being separated from his kids. Helen’s (Hahn) fiancé Pete died a year ago and she still keeps portraits of him all over her house. A the office everyone wants Alex to score, even when they don’t know he already did with Helen… twice.
I ran into Hahn at the NBC party for the Television Critics Association. I’d seen the Agents pilot so I knew about a bravura scene where Helen finally destroys all her Pete paintings, but I also knew her from films like Anchorman, The Last Mimzy and Our Idiot Brother. She was the perfect mix of scoop and having fun with her crazy show coming out this fall.
Q: What do you get to do with a leading role?
Kathryn Hahn: Well, what I’m thrilled about doing this leading role in particular is that she’s not your typical [leading lady]. She’s really well put together but she’s not the straight woman. She’s not the glamorous straight woman to the guy’s shenanigans. She’s equally a disaster, emotionally and in her personal life.
Q: Like with the paintings in the pilot.
KH: She’s crazy. Oh my God, she’s nuts. What I love about it is that she really is in total denial about the wreckage of her personal life. She thinks she’s got it together. What I love about it is when you meet her at the end of the pilot, she’s actually kind of starting to awaken to that. It’s going to be fun to see where she goes. That’s where I love to be, a little bit left of center. I can’t be a polished girl all the time. I love the women on the verge.
Q: Isn’t the totally polished girl the weird one?
KH: Yes, because who is that person? Where does she exist? This person is so much more real to me. As extreme as her circumstance is, she’s totally in denial, which I think a lot of women can relate to.
Q: How many paintings did you go through in that scene?
KH: 22. I love that they all look like they were from Olan Mills.
Q: How do you top the pilot moving forward?
KH: I feel like we get to see the power dynamics shift back and forth. Sometimes she has the upper hand. Sometimes he does. He might start dating. I think what’s great about the foundation of the show is that it’s not really a romantic comedy as much as it is a workplace comedy. I feel like will they or won’t they won’t be as important as watching the relationships within the office.
Q: As far as emotional/violent scenes, how do you top the paintings?
KH: I have not read it yet but I know where some things go. She’s still working through Pete so she is going to start to see him and other people, date somebody that reminds her of him. She’s going to start dating a therapist. She’s a mess. She thought she had the perfect life in place and when her fiancé died it all fell apart.
Q: Was there a lot of discussion of how much time had passed so a dead fiancé would be funny? Less than a year is still sad.
KH: Right, there was a lot of discussion and we figured a year was kind of perfect. It was just about the time other people would start saying, “Maybe you can date other [people].” I think there’s just a perfect amount of time for her to think, “Maybe I should take down a few of these 22 photographs on the wall.”
Q: Is there a line you won’t cross in comedy?
KH: If it’s mean. I don’t like mean humor. I just don’t like being mean. Beyond that, there’s very few.
Q: Is there a lot of Kathryn Hahn we haven’t gotten to see yet because you haven’t had a vehicle like this?
KH: I think this is exciting because a lot of the roles I’ve been able to book in films have been pretty broad and have been able to exist kind of on the outskirts of society shall we say. They’re a little bit crazy so there’s something about this. I think this kind of vulnerability, I don’t want to say a real woman because they’re all real to me, but there’s a vulnerability in her that I’m excited [to play]. I went to Yale. It’s funny, I didn’t just start in comedy.
Free Agents premieres this fall on NBC.