Six Degrees of Intersectionality
TV’s Most Feminist Show: Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Hahn & Jill Soloway on ‘I Love Dick’
Intersectionality, the female gaze, feminist anger, and Kevin Bacon’s butt. Bacon, star Kathryn Hahn, and creator Jill Soloway on the power of Amazon’s provocative ‘I Love Dick.’
Back in January, we sat down with Jill Soloway, the Emmy-winning creator of Transparent, in Park City, where she was set to premiere her new Amazon series I Love Dick at the Sundance Film Festival. Snow was falling outside the window, the energy was high, and people’s voices were incredibly hoarse.
“It almost seems like the perfect time to be launching this show, because the show is all about feminist anger,” she says, eyes still wide with electric excitement.
Soloway had flown directly from Washington, D.C., where the previous day she took part in the Women’s March, for the impeccably timed premiere of her new show. “I don’t have to, like, turn off my revolutionary brain and turn on my TV brain,” she says. “This is wild.”
By title alone, I Love Dick carries a certain political, even baiting, charge. The half-hour comedy series, which launches on Amazon Friday, is a heady, raucous one, based on what had been considered a deeply unadaptable book by experimental filmmaker and writer Chris Kraus.
Kraus’ I Love Dick has been described as “sprawling, cerebral, and uncomfortably intimate” and is a lightning rod in the academic gender studies space.
The book chronicles Kraus’ move with her husband to Marfa, Texas, and an intense infatuation they both develop with a culture critic named Dick. As they collude to seduce him, Kraus, despite Dick’s attempts to stifle her, discovers her artistic voice.
“For me, I’m always on the lookout for the mechanics of a good story,” says Soloway, reacting to what had been branded the insurmountable feat of adapting Kraus’ complicated work. A love triangle in which a heterosexual couple falls in love with a man? “That to me is a juicy story.”
But Soloway, who created Transparent based on her own experience as the child of a transgender woman, saw a personal entry point into I Love Dick as well. For a hook, there’s the love triangle. But the story is also about a woman finding her voice in an environment of men who won’t validate it.
As with so much content coming out now that was developed before the election, there is a sudden, more visceral resonance in the themes I Love Dick explores, particularly as the feminist anger Soloway is talking about is veritably exploding into the streets in marches as we speak.
I Love Dick, then, is a series that confronts us with the power of that feminist anger, the female gaze, and just how woke Kevin Bacon is. (Also, for what it’s worth, just how great Kevin Bacon’s butt still looks.)
Yes, Bacon stars as the titular Dick, certainly underlining the entendre of the show’s name.
“He’s just a magnet of a human,” gushes Kathryn Hahn, who plays Chris in the series. “You can’t help but stare at his face.” Or, at least in the final scene of the show’s pilot, his perfect, 58-year-old butt. “His fantastic buttocks,” clarifies Soloway.
Bacon didn’t as much choose to star in the series as much as he was compelled to by his wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick. “I said to Kyra, Jill Soloway wants to talk to me about her next show. It’s called I Love Dick. She just goes: ‘You’re doing that.’”
At the time, Bacon only had the script for the show’s pilot which, on top of elevating Dick’s swagger and desirable mystique, also has him systematically—and in some interpretations, misogynistically—dismantling Chris’ film work and artistic perspective. (Chris explains her film is about women and society’s crushing expectations. Dick’s response: “Sounds boring.”)
“One thing I wanted to clarify was that if he was just going to be an asshole for the show, it’s not what I want to do necessarily,” Bacon says. “Of course, [Soloway is] smart enough to know that that sort of undercuts Kathryn’s character if the guy has nothing appealing ultimately about him.”
I Love Dick marks Hahn’s third collaboration with Soloway, after playing Rabbi Raquel in Transparent and starring as a stay-at-a-home mom who meets a stripper and makes her a live-in nanny in 2013’s Afternoon Delight.
(There's no articulating the joy of being in a room with Kathryn Hahn, who broke out into song twice while we spoke—a Christmas carol and then a spot-on rendition of Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time"—and soundtracked our entire conversation with an infectious, bemused giggle.)
Part of Chris discovering her voice means embracing and exploring her sexual desire, which saddles Hahn with provocative and explicit scene work and dialogue. (In other words, there are some intense sex scenes.)
“The recovering Catholic in me is like, ‘Oh god! I’ve got two children!’” Hahn says, erupting into an endearing snorty laugh.
In many ways, then, playing Chris meant something of a life-imitating-art awakening as well.
“Chris, boy is she scary to me, as Kathryn,” Hahn says. “I feel like she is a little bit like an id. I feel like there’s a Chris Krauss in so many of us that’s loud and unapologetic and messy and jealous and petty and hilarious and smart and”—and here she elongates the ‘s’ as she says it—“sssexual and hungry.”
She’s a woman that just sort of flings herself forward through life, she continues. “Just constant forward motion. And that’s a really uncomfortable state to be in. She doesn’t just demand to be seen, she is going to be the seer. That is radical.”
Internalizing that—and, more, employing that—is something that’s resonated all the more acutely given that the backdrop of our conversation is the street where thousands of women and men marched in the middle of a Utah blizzard the previous day in support of women’s rights.
She brings up what Michael Moore said at the D.C. march about now not being a time for shy people, and she sighs.
“I was raised to be polite,” she says. “I did all the proper gender and performance classes at Northwestern. I did all the steps to be the proper feminist. The polite feminist. We can’t afford that now. It’s not a time to be polite. It doesn’t mean being a horrible person. It means having a voice. Your voice has to matter. Whoever is bigger and louder has the bullhorn, so we all have to try to drown it out.”
When you talk with Jill Soloway and her collaborators about her work, particularly I Love Dick, there is a lot of talk about gender politics, identity politics, with terms like “intersectionality” and “the female gaze.”
Particularly in I Love Dick, which is set in a world of artists and academia—tenets of culture that may be deemed insufferable in some circles—there is value in making that talk still accessible and consumable.
“I’ve always wanted to use academia as a backdrop or a frosting to just kind of decorate,” Soloway says. “We do try to find a place where we can scale that back and use it for comedy and whimsy and absurdity, but never use it as story. The story is always going to be a love triangle.”
That’s not to say that I Love Dick, with its prickliness and its engagingly caustic humor, isn’t an education.
Bacon—whom Hahn labels a “delicious, game, woke human”—is still processing what he’s learned about the female gaze, for example.
“This is one of the things that just occurred to me,” he says. “When you think of objects from the male perspective, they’re not usually very complex. She’s hot. She’s not. She’s kind of a whore. She’s the wife. The mom. You know what I mean? Often times there is not really that much complexity.”
He goes on to relate that to playing Dick in the series. “With women I think, they might like what a guy looks like, but their appreciation for them goes to a bunch more things: Humor, or power, or charm, or gentleness, or strength. There are all these other kinds of things other than ‘you look good in a bathing suit.’ As a result of that, that’s where I think Dick actually becomes more complex.”
He stops for a second and starts grinning, that slow-crawl, devastating Kevin Bacon smile creeping across his face as he thinks and readies his punchline. “Plus, I would say purely in a just kind of tongue-in-cheek way, at my age to be an object is not the worst thing,” he says.
He’s embraced the introduction of the female gaze—watch I Love Dick this weekend, and you certainly will, too.