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Kathryn Hahn's Best TV And Film Roles

One of the shows announced on Disney+ Day was "Agatha: House of Harkness," a spin-off of "WandaVision" focusing on the character played by Kathryn Hahn. The announcement marked the latest step in Hahn's surge in popularity after "WandaVision," after she'd been the subject of Twitter memes and cast in the forthcoming "Knives Out" sequel. The attention is long overdue for an actor as talented as she is, an underrated performer who hadn't found quite the right role to make her a star.

Since her TV debut in 2001, Hahn has done consistently excellent work in both television and film. But she hasn't received the recognition she deserves, since she so often plays second fiddle to better-known actors, and her few lead roles have gone under the radar. "WandaVision" was on a large enough scale for people to finally take notice of Hahn, but her career is full of similarly strong performances worthy of that level of attention. Here are some of her best performances, in parts both small and large.

Lily Lebowski in Crossing Jordan

Hahn only had one screen credit, an unnamed character in the 1997 indie "Flushed," when she was given her first breakout role in 2001. That year she was spotted at a local theater festival by TV writer Tim Kring, who was about to start working on the NBC drama "Crossing Jordan." Kring said in an interview with Inverse that Hahn impressed him enough that he wrote her into the show, which ended up last all six seasons of its series run.

"Crossing Jordan" never received the awards or ratings of the biggest crime dramas of the time, but it did provide a consistent showcase for Hahn's talents. Her character, Lily Lebowski, was a grief counselor, and almost every week a different guest star was featured, each with a traumatic experience to discuss with Lily. These scenes are early examples of what a generous screen partner Hahn can be, careful to never overshadow her co-star while still giving them enough to make both of their performances better. Lily's occasional solo storylines showed that Hahn can do just as well on her own, and it's no surprise Hollywood started offering her roles while "Crossing Jordan" was still airing.

Alice Huff in Step Brothers

Hahn had taken several supporting parts in movies before making "Step Brothers" in 2008, including one in another Adam McKay-Will Ferrell comedy, "Anchorman." While her role in "Step Brothers" isn't substantially bigger than what she had been getting at that point, it makes up for its size with sheer memorability.

Hahn was one of the less familiar faces in "Step Brothers," whose cast was otherwise filled with respected dramatic and comedic actors. But even amongst such stars, Hahn's performance demands notice. She plays Alice, the wife of Adam Scott's character Derek, whose marriage has left her so unsatisfying that she attempts to start an affair with Derek's new stepbrother, Dale (John C. Reilly). Alice seems so bored in all her scenes with Derek that the switch to her single-minded devotion to Dale is shocking, like she's resorting to base animal instincts at the first sign of someone she likes. All of her outbursts are expressions of deep loneliness, but Hahn plays every scene like she's trying to stun the audience into laughing. Everyone in "Step Brothers" plays their parts as over-the-top as possible, but all the other actors look restrained next to Hahn's full-volume performance.

Milly Campbell in Revolutionary Road

The same year she played opposite Ferrell and Reilly in "Step Brothers," Hahn was challenged with acting against another powerhouse duo of actors: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the drama "Revolutionary Road." While the reunited "Titanic" duo are the big selling point of "Revolutionary Road," it's Hahn who helps give this story of stifling domesticity the depth it needs.

DiCaprio and Winslet get the showiest parts in "Revolutionary Road," frequently yelling and fighting over their collapsing marriage. By contrast, their neighboring couple, played by Hahn and David Harbour, are much more restrained, seeming to have the perfect life that DiCaprio and Winslet are only pretending to have. But Hahn doesn't merely play domestic bliss to contrast with the main couple, she plays a subtler kind of dissatisfaction. She's not aware of the troubles that will eventually tear DiCaprio and Winslet apart, and she looks at them as symbols of a perfect family life that she doesn't quite have. She does her best to hide the cracks in her marriage with neighborly politeness, but there's a sadness to Hahn's demeanor that suggests her marriage may not be long for this world either. Hahn is a constant reminder that "Revolutionary Road" isn't merely about one bad relationship, it's about the faults in every relationship that people are too proud to admit.

Annie in How Do You Know

Even when Hahn is in movies that aren't well-liked, she usually stands out as one of their redeeming features. One example is James L. Brooks' "How Do You Know," a story of corporate crime and woman's softball — which, despite its A-list cast, including Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson, ends up being more bizarre than interesting. But Hahn comes out of it unscathed, even getting one of the best scenes of her career to date.

In the early part of her career, Hahn plays many supporting roles to more established actors, and here she plays Rudd's pregnant secretary. Despite her role's small size, she's a highlight of all her scenes, finding the right tone for Brooks' dialogue while her big-name co-stars look confused about how to deliver it. And she gets to be the center of the movie's best scene: Over the course of just nine minutes, Hahn has to play the joy of a new mother, the overwhelming emotion of a bride-to-be, and a self-conscious reenactment of those feelings, since her birth and engagement are all being recorded for posterity. She's hilarious, but she also doesn't neglect to portray the sweetness of someone being overcome with joy at a stressful time. It's a brilliant performance in a not-so-brilliant movie.

Loretta Jamison in The Visit

Hahn has not often worked in genres outside of comedy and drama. Her role in M. Night Shyamalan's "The Visit" remains to this day the only time she's appeared in a horror movie. Hahn is physically absent from much of "The Visit," spending most of the film on a cruise ship far away from the main action, where her children come to realize there's something wrong with their grandparents. But the film doesn't work without her performance, which gives emotion to what otherwise would just be a fun horror-comedy. 

In what little screen time she gets, she embodies a mother who loves her children, but fears that she's not adequately communicating that love to them. A scene where she waves goodbye to the kids as they board a train begins with her goofing around before she breaks down crying, thinking about how much she'll miss them. And her return at the end of "The Visit" grounds it with a sincere message about the importance of family, as she singlehandedly brings poignancy to a movie that's more often grotesque than it is emotional.

Carla Dunkler in Bad Moms

Despite being such a reliable actor, studios have rarely given Hahn the opportunity to play the lead in major movies. One of her few widely-released leading roles is in 2016's "Bad Moms," and even there she shares lead status with Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis. The presence of bigger stars makes it hard to pin the box office success of "Bad Moms" solely on Hahn, but she's a key part of why it works at all. Her performance has a spark that makes the film come to life when it otherwise might have fallen flat.

Critics were lukewarm on "Bad Moms," but Hahn is the one element of it consistently singled out for praise. Hahn's Carla is the most debauched of the film's three central moms: single, sexually active, and putting frighteningly little effort into the responsibilities of being a mom. She is a fearless comedic performer and the movie's raunchiness rewards her ability to do anything for a laugh. She has so much fun breaking the rules of how to be a parent that it's almost a shame when she has to learn a few lessons on motherhood by the end of the movie.

Chris Krause in I Love Dick

One of Hahn's most fruitful collaborations has been with writer/director Joey Soloway. They gave Hahn one of her first leading roles in the 2013 indie "Afternoon Delight," then cast her in a recurring part on Soloway's Amazon series "Transparent." Soloway's biggest showcase for Hahn was their short-lived second Amazon series, "I Love Dick." Despite its short run, Hahn has said in an interview with the New York Times that she remains proud of "I Love Dick," and for good reason.

It was Hahn's idea initially to adapt "I Love Dick," a semi-autobiographical novel by Chris Kraus, for TV. She later told the Los Angeles Daily News that she was "creatively excited by the messy, complicated, unapologetic, maddening, hilarious character" at the book's center. While "I Love Dick" would seem at first glance to be a romance, with Chris (Hahn) chasing after a cowboy figure named Dick (played by Kevin Bacon), Hahn instead plays Chris on a journey of self-discovery disguised as a love affair. Hahn gets big laughs from how one-sided Chris's infatuation with Dick ends up being, but it's just as moving to see Chris come to a better understanding of herself by accident.

Rachel Biegler in Private Life

Hahn has yet to be nominated for an Oscar, but maybe the closest she's come was her performance in 2018's "Private Life." Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, "Private Life" got Hahn some of the best reviews of her career. While Hahn's Oscar hopes ultimately didn't pan out, her performance was still one of that year's best, a nuanced and funny portrayal of an ordinary person under extraordinary stress. "Private Life" focuses on the humiliating rituals that go into conceiving a child, which could play as either gross-out comedy or depressing drama. But Hahn and Jenkins make sure it's neither: They let laughs come naturally out of melancholy and uncomfortable situations, like they do in real life. 

Hahn is very funny in "Private Life," but her best moments are all offhand reactions rather than witty lines or outrageous behavior. Whenever her character tries to tell an actual joke in the movie, it lands completely flat and Hahn's awkward silence afterward is funnier than the joke itself. While Hahn has never been afraid to play embarrassing characters, usually they're sillier than Rachel, who self-destructs in response to serious situations. It's her most naturalistic performance, and it allows the audience to forget they're watching an actor, instead just observing an average human struggling and making bad decisions.

Ericka Van Helsing in Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Hahn first worked with Adam Sandler on 2016's poorly-received "The Do-Over," but the two would later collaborate with more positive results — Hahn appeared as the new antagonist in the third entry of Sandler's "Hotel Transylvania" franchise. It's partly thanks to her that "Hotel Transylvania 3" was better than both of its predecessors, Hahn providing a jolt of unexpected energy when the series' character dynamics had begun to feel stale.

The manic slapstick of the "Hotel Transylvania" franchise proved an ideal match for Hahn, allowing her to bring back the uninhibited comedic energy of her "Step Brothers" performance. Ericka Van Helsing, great-granddaughter of legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing, does nothing subtly. In private, she bellows in rage against vampires, and in public, she disguises herself in the over-the-top cheeriness of a tour guide. Hahn perfectly calibrates her performance to the elastic character animation, bouncing from phony generosity to diabolical scheming. She makes a great foil to Sandler, encouraging him to dial up his own energy. Plus, their existing chemistry together makes it much easier to buy the twist of Ericka falling in love with Dracula: They already know how to work off each other to create both laughs and romance.

Olivia Octavius in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Before her part in "WandaVision," Hahn took on another supervillain role in "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," playing a new version of Doctor Octopus. Alfred Molina's performance of that character in "Spider-Man 2" is so beloved that Hahn had a lot to live up to, but she succeeded in creating a Doc Ock that stood on its own.

Hahn's Olivia Octavius is one of the most inspired alterations to the Spider-Man canon in "Spider-Verse." Far from Molina's portrayal of Octavius as a tragic mad scientist, Hahn plays Octavius as a nerdy researcher. It's an amusing performance to begin with, but what makes it great is how little it foreshadows the reveal of her alter ego. It comes as a genuine surprise when she's revealed as Doc Ock: She plays Olivia so naturalistically that it would never occur to the viewer that she had supervillainy within her. Hahn's performance is an encapsulation of what makes the film work — it shows that there's still genuine surprise and humanity to be found in even the most famous superhero story.

Eve Fletcher in Mrs. Fletcher

In a 2019 interview with NPR, Hahn said that "the most complicated and messy roles I've been able to get have been offered through women." One such part was the titular character in the HBO miniseries "Mrs. Fletcher," where all seven episodes were directed by women. The female influence shines through in the finished product, where Hahn was free to non-judgmentally portray a woman's midlife crisis.

Hahn has previously played adult sexuality for laughs, most notably and hilariously in "Step Brothers." But even though "Mrs. Fletcher" is a comedy, Hahn's performance doesn't merely laugh off the middle-aged protagonist's sexual adventures. Eve Fletcher, recently divorced, has been saddled with a domestic life for so long that her attempts to get back into the dating game are understandably clumsy. Hahn has said to the Los Angeles Daily News that she gravitates towards "cringy" comedy, and "Mrs. Fletcher" offers plenty of that. But Hahn strikes just the right balance of finding humor in Fletcher's more ridiculous behavior while understanding exactly why she's behaving that way.

Agnes/Agatha Harkness in WandaVision

Twenty years passed between Hahn's debut on "Crossing Jordan" and the part that finally gave her widespread recognition. While she's still in a supporting role to bigger stars, "WandaVision" finally made it hard to ignore what a dynamic performer she is in her own right.

Like Olivia Octavius, Agatha/Agnes disguises her villainy in comedy. The show's satire of several decades of sitcom tropes means that Hahn gets to showcase her comedic range, playing the "nosy neighbor" archetype as it evolves from the days of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" to the drier tone of shows like "The Office." Hahn's decades of experience on TV makes her an ideal fit for this project, since she's worked through enough changes in TV-style that she perfectly understands the different acting approaches required for each version of Agnes. The extra challenge of the role is to play that parody of broad sitcom acting on top of Agatha's true motivations, which take on a much more serious tone even as they get their own catchy theme song. "WandaVision" perfectly bridges Hahn's considerable skills at comedy and drama, allowing her to become the star she was always meant to be.