Jill Soloway is the writer and director of the stunning new film Afternoon Delight, which opens today. Starring names you’d recognize from the world of television comedy, including Kathryn Hahn, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch, and Michaela Watkins, alongside young indie veteran Juno Temple, the film follows Rachel (Hahn) who, in attempt to “save” sex worker McKenna (Temple), unravels the life she and her husband Jeff (Radnor) have built, alongside several of the lives of her friends. A sort of coming-of-age past the age of thirty, this film is a must-see for those who like their comedy dark and their drama honest.
Heeb sat down with Jill to talk about the inspiration and process behind the film, and ended up discussing strip club experiences, New Year’s resolutions, and the message of Ladies Home Journal circa 1974.
Tell me a little but about this story and what prompted you to tell it.
I got a lap dance once. And while I was getting the lap dance I was struck by the notion that the dancer was in love with me and needed me to get her outta there. Then of course I soon found out that that’s part of the commerce of the lap dance; it’s not just to give somebody a boner, but it’s to make them feel like they have been understood and seen and loved and cared for. And the eye contact I think was a shock to me. They don’t just dance for you, they kind of like look at you like they love you.
My third question down the line was, “Your lap dance scene is incredibly accurate. I’ve had one, and I was going to ask you what your first experience was like at a strip club.” I’ve had a lap dance, and as I was watching that scene in your film, I was thinking, “This is SO much what I felt like.”
Oh, good. Like, “Oh, there’s somebody’s ass in my face, this is weird.”
I remember the first time I ever went into a strip club I was in my early twenties, I was working at an advertising agency, I was on a business trip with a bunch of guys from an ad agency, and we were done doing whatever we were doing that day, scouting location for a commercial, and somebody had the idea to go to a strip club. And I really wanted to go, ‘cause at that age, there was like nothing more fun than being thought of as “one of the guys.” And I’ll never forget the feeling that I had when I first walked in there. I’m like, “Wow. This really exists.” I felt like I was walking into the world of male sexual privilege. I think up until that moment had been like, “Oh, there are dirty magazines,” you know, and there was no internet, so you don’t really have access to porn, so even just the way that a woman in a strip club loves the feeling of being looked at and being in the same physical space as men looking. And also men looking while other men are looking. That’s one of the weirdest thing I think, of when men are communally enjoying women’s sexuality together, the unspoken agreements that, you know, connect all of the men in there. It’s a weird space when you first go in. It feels like nothing else. I feel like I’ve always had a certain connection to what it means as a woman to be willing to go to these places, you know, where sex is separate from love or marriage, sex is separate from pursuing a sole mate, sex is separate from, you know, relationships, and instead it’s this thing that’s outside of whatever situation I’ve thought of that’s an “acceptable female.” Or a “good woman,” a “life” or a “good person.”
A few other times I did go to strip clubs and got lap dances and private dances, and I’ve just always loved strippers. I love strippers, and I love watching “The Bunny Ranch” on HBO, like I love me a nice sex worker memoir, I loved Diablo Cody when she was the stripper writer. I just love those stories, I’ve always felt like those are the best stories. They’re so fun to read, and they’ve always just been of interest to me.
Hahn and Temple in Afternoon Delight
The protagonist of the film actually sort of dips her toe into that world.
I know, you know I’ve never really done it. I’ve gotten close, I really want to be in a waitress job at Jumbo’s Clown Room, which was a business strip club out here in L.A. I thought I could be a hostess, like I really did contemplate entering that world multiple times, and I just never could, I never crossed that line. Even though I really think I could’ve, it would’ve been fun, I just have, I’m still stuck with some weird, I think personal notion that, you know, some hopefulness about not wanting to mix sex and money personally for me. But I also feel like it’s ‘cause I wasn’t quite brave enough. Actually these days, there’s so many young hipster women who are like, “And then I went to grad school, and then I was a hooker.” It just seems like the coolest thing, it’s like everybody’s blogging about it. You can’t reach out about it without coming across a blog of a hooker.
Do you think it’s actually happening more or do you think it’s just because of the kind of media that exists we’re hearing about it more?
Well, I think yeah, I think the media, and I think like if you look at just maybe the past forty or fifty years or something, things have changed so much. There had to be so much secrecy around things like sex work, and people did have secret lives, you know in the old Mad Men days. But these days women have so many more options including writer, blogger, stripper. And of course I think some of them are going to run together into the same persona; “Oh she’s a stripper and blogger.” It makes sense that somebody would be a great writer and be a great dancer. I just think it’s never occurred to people before, I guess, I don’t know. It’s definitely coming into the zeitgeist or currently in the zeitgeist. It’s one of those questions I think that’s always there, I would say that ten years ago I was really thinking about this kind of stuff, if not twenty years ago. I remember writing a grant application to ITVS to get some money to make a documentary called “She Wants It,” about desire, talking about desire, how dangerous it was and how rarely it was talked about. So yeah, I have been thinking about it in different versions and it’s always felt like “Oh well this is only of interest to people right now,” but I even think like even today in feminism you’ll find people at a real crossroads when it comes to like, “Yeah, um, it’s great to do stripper aerobics if you’re a mom, if you’re a suburban mom, but if any women we met were actually strippers, she would be ostracized.” You know? I think the dichotomies are still alive.
The backdrop of the story is these women who know each other through this JCC. Can you tell me a little bit about why that was, is this the kind of community that you come from?
Yeah, we shot at my kid’s school. That is the Silver Lake Independent JCC where we shot. Which I am on the board of that school. You can find me wandering around there with a stapler in my purse, putting out flyers. I feel like I’m Jenny as much as I’m Rachel. I’m the person who’s always organizing Jewish events and forcing people to sign up. I have that issue, I have that problem.
Why is that a problem?
Why is that a problem? (laughing) Because people get mad at . . . “Oh shit, Jill’s inviting me to another fucking, you know, Tu B’av event again. Jill’s making me sign up to do clean-up on a Tu B’av event.” (Tu B’shvat? Tu B’av?) Um, you know, that’s the world I live in, I live in the Jewish Silver Lake Mom world. For sure.
There’s this sort of lighting candles thing that gets mentioned a few times in the film, and of course they come together by lighting the candles. How serious is Shabbat to you? How serious are Friday nights?
How seriously do I care about Shabbas love?
Yeah, yeah yeah.
Hashem’s commandments. . . ?
(laughing) I don’t know how much you care about the “Hashem’s Commandment” part of Shabbat, but how much do care about observing it in some form?
You know what? I do, we do . . . today’s Friday, going home in a couple of hours, can’t wait to do Shabbas. Which is something I never would’ve thought I would say. I am finding myself, you know, this is going to sound so cheesy, but um, I feel like the harder I work and the more I put into my creative stuff, and the more I have my face stuck on the internet, the more I crave, you know, that feeling of lighting the candles and going “Okay I’m done. You know, we’ve done enough. I’ve done enough. I’m done for twenty-four hours.”
So I actually feel like, you know, the Sabbath, the day that you separate from the rest of the six days has never been more necessary, and I feel like, my God, without it I would be a monster. ‘Cause it just never stops. I’d be like, “I don’t care if it’s Friday at 10:00 I’m getting online and seeing if everybody has a ticket link to buy the Afternoon Delight. You know, I have to stop at some point, I have to just stop. And that’s not to say, by the way, that I do this every Friday. I’m like freaking out right now because I’m shooting a pilot and I’ll be working on Rosh Hashanah. Not Yom Kippur! But I didn’t arrange it so that I’d have Rosh Hashanah off and I’m plagued by the notion that I’m making some giant spiritual mistake.
Yeah, well there are a lot of people in the entertainment industry that I feel like are, they are Jews, very much culturally but they’re very very secular. So that would never be something . . . you know, like you’re never gonna see Jon Stewart taking off from working on The Daily Show because it’s Rosh Hashanah. You know, instead he’s just gonna make a joke about how it’s Rosh Hashanah and he’s not observing it.
Yeah. Well, I observe now, I observe now. I’m just not this year, because I’m an idiot, and I didn’t arrange it in time, and it would be a giant financial cost to my show that I’m working on to take the day off. But I don’t think I could work on Yom Kippur.
Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
That’s a good question. Um, maybe never again to work on the High Holidays. Ever. To really try, I think that’s going to be my New Year’s resolution, to see the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as my yearly Shabbat, and be strict with myself about them.
But I also wanna do, I don’t know, I’m also always trying to resolve to make sure I do Shabbat every week. Be nicer to my family. Be a better mom, all that stuff. I have the issue where my filmmaking is sort of my McKenna. You know, the secret space that Rachel had when she’s like, “Okay, let’s go into the bedroom and turn on the recorder and start working on a blog.” Like, you know, and that she’d rather do that than, you know, be good for her family or connective. Like, through work and connection, around the boundary of work, I actually get like a huge amount of satisfaction. Way too much satisfaction. I’d rather be in my office working than almost anything.
Why would you say that’s way too much satisfaction?
Aren’t you supposed to you satisfaction from, you know, from your husband and your kids?
Says? . . . where are you getting that information from?
(deadpan) My Ladies Home Journal, 1974.
Could you talk about the casting process [for Afternoon Delight] , and what is your process as a director for working with actors?
Well my process for casting as well as a director, and really everything I’m doing, writing, is I just try to be kind of radically open. And I try to have some structure around rules for myself about how to behave; don’t get freaked out, don’t make decisions quickly, don’t get forced into a corner. If I’m arguing, if I’m monologuing, if I’m pushing, I’m in the wrong place. So with the casting, I just, you know, God this is gonna sound super cheesy, I just believed that there was a version of this film that was going to exist in the world, and that it had its own needs, the story had its own needs, the story existed before me, you know the meaning of The Madonna and The Whore. And it wanted to be told right now, it just felt like it was so ready I felt like I didn’t really have to do anything, it was just happening. It was so effortless. It taught me a lesson about everything that I’ve ever written before that had been so strenuous. Where I’ve been having to push to make things happen, this one just wanted to happen. And the same thing with the cast. It was a lot of tsurris and money issues and bullshit around who the cast was gonna be. It always is. Any independent film is this kind of crazy machine that is, you’re tossing these names in the air while you’re tossing in potential investments. You pick your date, you decide financially, “We’re starting on August 1st, no matter what.” And as of today it looks like, you know, (and these are all fake names) Cate Blanchett is interested. This is the way it goes, actually. “We’re starting on August 1st and as of today it look like Kathy Griffin wants to play the lead.” And then the interest of Kathy Griffin sort of ignites the interest of somebody slightly more valuable than her. And you go, “Hold on hold on, we have Person B,” and then that kind of continues to ignite up the food chain until you finally have the interest of some really important people, like big name actors. You don’t know whether or not you have their interest or whether you have the interest of the agent but it doesn’t matter. Suddenly you’re going, “I can make the movie with Kate Winslett.” And in that five minutes where it seems like Kate Winslett might be interested some investors appear out of nowhere and are offering huge sums of money. And then like all of these balls start juggling in the air and Kate Winslett turns out she’s not available, and some of that money goes away. And then somebody else becomes available, and on that sort of ladder between Kathy Griffin and Kate Winslett, and all the possibilities of what this film could be, and in the ladder between “I’m shooting this for $25,000 in my house on my iPhone,” to “Somebody’s got $5,000,000 and we’re gonna have everything we ever wanted” that sort of tsunami just continues to spin until you get closer and closer to the day and it just became apparent it was Kathryn Hahn. It was like, “This is her movie.” At some point it was like, “Okay, it’s gonna be Kathryn Hahn, it’s gonna be this much money, and it better be good.” Because the math doesn’t work out with just Kathryn Hahn and the money, so it better be good. And I was like, “I can make it good with Kathryn Hahn.”
I can’t imagine you having used someone else.
I can’t either. It’s her movie. She was Rachel.
There’s a scene in the movie – a simultaneous scene of women drinking and men playing poker, that has sort of this feeling of watching a plane crash in slow motion, this sort of beautiful plane crash. The finished product, what the scene turned out to be, was that what you had envisioned in your head from the beginning when you started writing?
That turned out better than I ever imagined. I definitely could feel when I came up with that idea, like I could feel it in my body that that was the climax of the movie. I definitely knew, “Oh, there’s gonna be a moment where the mom is done with the babysitter, the mom is done with the nanny, she wants her out. The women are doing one of their women’s thing, the men are playing poker, playing cards, and McKenna crosses from the women’s world into the men’s world. And we’re cutting back and forth between those two.”
Those were, as David Lynch would call them, “big fish.” You know when you meditate you go down to the deeper waters and you get the big ideas. And that was a big idea that was very clear. I had no idea how funny those women were gonna be. I mean, when I actually got to see the reality of casting it I looked around and I was like, “Five monsters of comedy here.” Michaela Watkins, Jessica St. Clair! Annie Mumolo cowrote Bridesmaids, who’s just fucking hilarious as Kosher Amanda. You know, and Kathryn, Suzy Nakamura, all great comedians. And you know, I just got to sit back and watch them play. And it was amazing.
So there’s this idea that comes up in the film that I think is something that is explored a lot today, this idea of “getting out.” What to you is this idea of “getting out,” and is it something that is actually achievable? Does it mean what we think it means? And what does it mean to you, and what does it mean for the film?
Well I like when [Rachel] says “I want out,” and [her husband Jeff] goes, “Fine.” And she goes “Not out of this marriage, out of this head, out of this life, we have too much.” I really consciously made it so that Jeff had designed an app and now suddenly they were just like beyond loaded. And I consciously wanted to put her in that place where I could remove the sort of notions of aspiration, you know, aspiration to their house or aspiration to a little bit more money or even aspiration to a job. I feel like she was in a position where her husband said to her, “Baby you can stop working, whatever you wanna do, take your time to figure it out.” And that feeling of “You could have anything” became a blinding kind of painful life for her that reflected back on the lack of meaning in her life, she wouldn’t know what she would want. I mean I feel like I see that with a lot of moms, where you know I’m like running off to do this thing that means so much to me, and I’ll meet these other moms who are creating meaning around the time between Pilates and pick-up. And I could be wrong but I sense this like, feeling that I could be like, “Hey let’s just go in my car and smoke some pot and go somewhere” and they’d be like, “Okay!” I kind of have this dream that moms will go and see this movie after drop-off and before pick-up with each other. You know like, moms of little kids, of nursery school kids like, “Let’s go see this at 11:00 and get a salad afterwards and talk about it. And then like not tell our husbands we saw it.”
So you goal is that women will see it together, not that wives and their husbands will see it together?
I think it’s fun either way. I think it’s good for couples, apparently from what people have been telling me, some of them go home and have eyes-open orgasms afterwards. That’s what I’ve heard, they try, they go home and they have sex. People tell me that it’s a little bit like a kind of couple’s Viagra.
That’s gotta be a huge compliment, right?
Yeah, it makes me feel like uh, “Wow, what if some babies were conceived,” you know? Like I feel like, “Gosh you really can change this force of the world by making a movie and realize, ‘People are inviting me into their brains for two hours.’” What a privilege to be able to share ideas with people.
Check out Afternoon Delight in it’s opening weekend! Ticket information, here.