AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
There's a new show on Amazon that breaks a lot of rules. It doesn't even seem to know there are rules. It's called, "I Love Dick" based on a book by the same name.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE DICK")
KATHRYN HAHN: (As Chris Kraus) Dear Dick, this is about obsession. How did we not know each other before now? This is about me missing you even though I've never met you, Dick.
CORNISH: That's Kathryn Hahn as Chris Kraus. She's obsessed with a guy named Dick played by Kevin Bacon. They meet at an art institute in Marfa, Texas. Our co-host Kelly McEvers watched the series and spoke to its star.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
"I Love Dick" is about desire and marriage and sex and art and boundaries - boundaries that get crossed and blurred a lot. Kathryn Hahn is with us from New York. Thanks for being with us.
HAHN: Oh, my God, my pleasure.
MCEVERS: This show is based on a novel that was written 20 years ago - wasn't very well known until it was rereleased a few years back. When did you first read the book, and what did you think about it?
HAHN: Well, first of all, I would say, I think that Chris would define it as autofiction (ph). It is actually a series of letters that she wrote to a gentleman that she was obsessed with named Dick while she was married to a man named Sylvere.
MCEVERS: Right, which all happens in the show.
HAHN: Yes. And it was through the writing of these letters - this obsession - that she kind of finds her voice as a woman and a human and an artist. I had never heard of the book before, and I was flabbergasted that I had never heard of it before.
I was challenged by it. I was so moved, turned on. I thought it was hilarious and messy and complicated and maddening and troublesome and just chewy.
MCEVERS: So in this TV show, the character Chris Kraus, as we heard, she falls for this man named Dick. And he's like the resident manly man and artist. Just talk about, like, when she first sees him and, like, what happens to her.
HAHN: When we meet Chris Kraus, she is in a particular high, like a high period of her creative life. She has a film. She's made many, many films - all very vague. And she finally had a film that was put in a - what you imagine is like a French side of the Venice Film Festival. So this is a huge coup for her.
At the same time, her older husband Sylvere - he gets a residency in this - at this fictional institute in Marfa. She drives him there to drop him off. And it's when they land in this kind of island in the desert that she learns that the film has been pulled from the festival because of a rights issue over a song. And so out of this - this like swirling self-hatred, you know, stew, come - like, appears this - the basically the Marlboro man who's like...
HAHN: ...Who's. Like such a gorgeous manly cliche. He's withholding. He's mysterious. He's condescending. He's dismissive, and...
MCEVERS: And he's on a horse (laughter)...
HAHN: And he's literally on a horse.
MCEVERS: ...The first time she sees him.
MCEVERS: The show, Chris Kraus, the character who you play, you know, she's realizing that these letters are her art. The person that she is obsessed with is an artist. Because of that and a bunch of other things, the show raises a lot of really interesting questions about art, like what is good art and whose art is valued? I want to listen to a clip. It's your - it's Chris Kraus, your character, talking to this young lesbian who works as a caretaker at the institute where Chris' husband has a fellowship. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE DICK")
HAHN: (As Chris Kraus) You know, I'm beginning to think, like, there's no such thing as a good woman filmmaker. It's like, how can you be if you just are, like, raised to be invisible - I mean, visible. I mean looked at. I mean, it's a wonder that any woman can think of herself as an artist.
ROBERTA COLINDREZ: (As Devon) I'm an artist too, so.
HAHN: (As Chris Kraus) Oh, I didn't realize.
MCEVERS: Over here, she is, like, so upset about how her art is not appreciated. And yet, she is kind of doing the same thing to somebody else, right?
HAHN: Oh, God, Chris Kraus. Yes. Yeah, I know. She's just jealous and petty and angry and small. Yes, absolutely.
MCEVERS: But yet has these concerns about, like, you know, it's not easy being a lady sometimes in these worlds.
HAHN: No, and especially - well, no. Just historically, we've been the object of someone else's storytelling. And so it is, how do you just take that and flip it and be the subject? It's - you know, we had an all-women writers' room, which, as far as we know, is the first time that's happened. And that was pretty extraordinary and also felt like, what's the big deal? You know, there was mostly women...
MCEVERS: (Laughter) Exactly, like, it's supposed - everyone's like, wow. But then it's like, wait a second, that shouldn't be a big deal.
HAHN: Right. And even Kevin Bacon was like - because so many people had been like, how did that feel not having someone in there to - and he was like, well, that's what has happened, you know, for centuries the other way around.
You know, we've been having our stories told by men. Just to have those - that energy and those eyeballs looking at you with empathy and with curiosity and not with, like, a judgment was like - actually, became an incredibly freeing for all of us because it just became about, like, more and more and more rather than hand-wringing and, like, is this right? Or is this, like - I don't know. I don't know. It was just like...
MCEVERS: Is it was too much?
HAHN: No. yeah, right. Is it too loud? Is it too ugly? Is it too - it's too unlikable.
MCEVERS: And one of the really amazing things is the men are the objects, you know?
HAHN: It is a great reversal, and you're right. And Kevin has even said this, like, it is, though - those two men - Griffin Dunne, who plays my husband also, and Kevin Bacon - like, those two characters are so beautifully examined. And they're such profound actors, the both of them. So, you know, by the end of it, their humanity is like - you know, he's like, it's crazy that it took an all-women's writing room to find, you know, such complicated, amazing...
MCEVERS: Men (laughter).
HAHN: ...Rounded men. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
MCEVERS: You know, we talked about Chris Kraus who wrote the book that formed the foundation of this show, I guess we could say, and how, you know, so much of it is about finding her voice as an artist and realizing that what she's doing and saying is art. You're an artist, and you're a woman. How did working on this show - I don't know - change you?
HAHN: Oh, so much. I mean, you know, this show has been like incredibly life altering for me just thinking like, wow, like how much of a good girl I had been for so long and what that meant. You know, I apologize if someone knocks into me on the street (laughter). I'd be the first like, oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, sorry. Like, just like my - it's such a default character thing of mine and just like how much I didn't realize I had been swallowing.
And so there was definitely a feeling of not apologizing for my voice that was inevitable. I think any of us that worked on this would say the same thing of just, like, authenticity and just, like, knowing your voice is of value and not for somebody else to, you know, use or pretend to know.
MCEVERS: Well Kathryn Hahn, thank you so much.
HAHN: Oh, My God, more please next time. This was just such a dream. I stole five of your buttons.
MCEVERS: We really, really appreciate it. Thanks so much for coming in.
HAHN: Thank you.
MCEVERS: The show is "I Love Dick," and it is out now on Amazon.
(SOUNDBITE OF KINOBE SONG, "CHASING CLOUDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.