Kathryn Hahn in Afternoon Delight
Kathryn Hahn in Afternoon Delight

Women and Hollywood got the chance to interview Jill Soloway about her film Afternoon Delight, which she wrote and directed. Afternoon Delight opens in theaters on August 30th.

Women and Hollywood: You said in the press notes that the one clear thing was that you were going to make your directing debut with this film. Why were you so emphatic?

Jill Soloway: I really don't know, I think I was just READY. I wanted it so badly. I went to Sundance with a short and watched a bunch of features that were good but not mind-blowing. I think I recognized that in some ways I'd been paying more attention to negative feedback than positive. I'm a naturally open person -- some might say radically open. And if one person or one actor or one producer thought something I'd created wasn't good enough for them, I'd be ready to jump ship and move on.

So many features at Sundance seemed to be powered more on the director's need to be a director than any particular story. I guess it just so happened that at the moment I had that realization -- move forward at any cost -- this was the script that was in my hands.

In addition, although I'd come up through television with some great experiences as a writer, executive producer and showrunner, I realized that if I wasn't responsible for every detail of the final product, I wasn't really punching above my weight as an artist. All of these elements came together at just the right time and the forward motion felt undeniable.

WaH: The story came out of your creative restlessness. Why do you think this is the story that came out of you?

JS: There's a lot of me in Rachel's journey. I've never brought a stripper home, but I've always loved reading the memoirs of strippers and sex workers. I feel like they're the war reporters for women. They go to the front lines of a very particular kind of extreme conflict and live there, then write about it so we can experience it with them.

I've noticed that women are always punished for their sexuality in popular culture. Prostitutes are welcome on TV if they're a corpse on CSI and someone is pulling a DNA sample out of their ear. If this movie was approved by the paternalism that reigns in the creative powers that be, a child would have needed to die at the hands of the hooker -- everyone would have needed to be punished so that the "lesson" would be learned. I really think that lesson is so much more about our own relationship to shame around sex than any true threat sex workers wield. To that end, I've always had a driving need to create a character who was not a good girl, yet let her get out alive.

I guess in that way I'm much like Rachel. One aspect of this project was that I wanted to rescue and protect sex workers from the trope of getting thrown under the bus, while Rachel wanted to bring McKenna home and save her.

WaH: You wanted to do different things in this film in terms of your leading character. You wanted to take her out of the typical female conventions. Do you believe there is more freedom for male characters? How can we give more freedom to female characters in he future?

JS: My purpose as an artist is to heal the divided feminine in our culture. Well, okay wait, that sounds incredibly cheesy and like something a massage therapist might do at Esalen. My purpose in any given moment is actually to be funny. But I realized that my comedy works in service to this notion:

That inside every woman are many women. There are so many moms who don't want to be mommed to. And there are sex workers who make great caretakers of children or who are moms themselves. The Madonna and The Whore complex is alive in all of us, it is a necessary complexity rather than a competition. I hate the way women get waylaid from the possibilities of our power by taking up ground in opposing camps. Every Real Housewives episodes centers around who is or isn't a slut or a ho or a husband-stealer -- or whatever it is that distracts us.

When I was trying to get Afternoon Delight made, some people read it and said, "This movie can either be about motherhood or sex -- it's just too confusing if it's both. I knew that it had to be about both -- at the same time -- or it wouldn't work.

WaH: Why is Hollywood so obsessed with women being "good" and "likable?"

JS: People like their women in boxes -- the good mom, the bad stripper. Or even the good stripper and the bad mom! For me this movie was about pulling all those walls down and letting multiple parts of women's identities live in one place. In the film, sometimes Rachel is heroic, and sometimes she's the villain. Sometimes McKenna becomes a mother to Rachel and sometimes she loves being the most dangerous person in the room.

Audiences -- and producers -- are so used to feeling safe in the notion that ultimately women are good and are interested in love and beauty. I even found that as a director, the darker things I wanted to keep in were having a hard time staying in the movie once I brought my trademark openness to the editing process. People said, 'take out the abortion' stuff,' or 'take out the period sex'. But I really wanted the movie to represent real women -- human, real, deep and funny -- and occasionally awful.