A chat with Jane Adams, Jane Adams interview, Hung, Tanya, Frasier, Happiness
Jane Adams

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On HBO’s “Hung,” Jane Adams plays Tanya, an inactive poetry teacher with a penchant for baked goods who attempts to help Ray (Thomas Jane) and enable him to use that which God gave him to make a career both him and for herself…as his pimp. Bullz-Eye had the chance to chat with Adams in connection with “Hung” kicking off its second season, and we discussed Tanya’s relationships on the show, found out as much as we could about what we can expect from Tanya in Season 2 (she’s not big on spoilers, as you’ll soon see), and asked her about experiences on some of her past projects, including “Happiness,” “Frasier,” “Kansas City,” and “Little Children.”

Bullz-Eye: You and I met briefly at the TCA tour back in…was it January?

Jane Adams: Is that when it was?

BE: Maybe it was the last summer tour. I’m not sure!

"The script (for 'Hung') was sent to me, and I knew it was a series for HBO, and I just was at a point in my career where I was thinking, 'Nobody’s going to want to hire me because I’m not young and blonde,' so I wasn’t really looking at it. But then I noticed that Alexander Payne was directing it, and I had met Alexander years earlier, so I decided I should read it…and I liked it."

JA: I can’t keep that stuff straight! In fact, Anne (Heche) and I were just trying to remember when that was. I think it was…we found out we were picked up, so I think it was last year. But it’s so funny that you would bring that up, because we were at the airport recently, coming back from a shoot, and we were, like, “When was that?” It all just blends together.

BE: Even for the critics, believe me.

JA: Oh, yeah, for everyone! In fact, I’m sure it’s mostly for you guys, because you’re going to a lot of the panels. I don’t know how you keep the shows straight. I really don’t.

BE: I don’t keep them straight.

JA: Oh, well, there you go! (Laughs)

BE: Well, they sent me the screener for the first four episodes of the new season, so…

JA: …so you know more than I do! I’m so glad. You have a lot more information!

BE: Oh, really? Well, I’d just like to say…and I won’t give the context of when it’s said…but I can’t imagine that the phrase “bang bang bang bang, motherfucker” won’t turn into a catchphrase.

JA: Oh, yes. But…wait, it’s three bangs, as I recall.

BE: Oh, okay. I wondered about that. I thought it was three bangs, but the title of the episode has four. Well, anyway, it’s hilarious!

JA: (Laughs) I didn’t make it up. I can’t take credit for it.

BE: Well, to start at the very beginning, how did you first come onto the series? Were you familiar with (“Hung” co-creator) Dmitry Lipkin’s previous series, “The Riches”?

JA: No, I was not. The script was sent to me, and I knew it was a series for HBO, and I just was at a point in my career where I was thinking, “Nobody’s going to want to hire me because I’m not young and blonde,” so I wasn’t really looking at it. But then I noticed that Alexander Payne was directing it, and I had met Alexander years earlier, so I decided I should read it…and I liked it, so I went down to meet Colette (Burson, the other co-creator of “Hung”) and Dmitry and Alexander a few days later. I was up in Washington state, and I flew down to California to meet them. And the rest…is history. (Laughs)

BE: Given the premise of “Hung,” which everyone seems to want to sum up in a single phrase, how much of the depth of the series could you tell from reading the pilot?

JA: I thought it was funny, I thought it was smart…I think the depth I could see that I liked was that it was focusing on how bad the economy was. It wasn’t just another show that was pretending that things were as they always have been. It seems topical, which I really liked.

BE: Yeah, I’ve been describing it to people as being, in a sense, kind of a lighter take on “Breaking Bad,” since it revolves around a father doing what he has to do – in both cases, something decidedly out of the ordinary – to provide for his family.

Jane AdamsJA: Oh, Dmitry would love that you said that... (Laughs) …because, seriously, Dmitry and I love “Breaking Bad.” I remember the first time I told Dmitry that I liked “Breaking Bad,” because I said, “Is it okay for me to tell you this? I mean, I don’t know how you feel about this, but…I really love ‘Breaking Bad.’” And he said, “Oh, no, so do I!” (Laughs) He said, “I like to think that we’re sort of the comic… “ (Hesistates) I shouldn’t say what he said. You should ask him. All I can tell you for sure is that he likes “Breaking Bad.”

(Thanks to the fine folks at HBO, I was able to get Mr. Lipkin's comments on the matter: "I do love 'Breaking Bad,' and, sure, there are comparisons to 'Hung,' but not just in the similarity of the father doing illicit things for his family. I like to think that, like 'Breaking Bad,' we're breaking ground in terms of tone, because of the humor and absurdity involved in both shows.”)

BE: Fair enough. Well, it’s a complicated relationship between you and Ray in the series. How much of that was defined when you initially received the script? Had they laid out the character of Tanya pretty well?

JA: Yeah, I mean, maybe I improvised, “Do you want a parade?” I think I said that. That wasn’t scripted. Everything else was scripted, so it was all there. Also, Thomas and I really just kind of click, so it wasn’t difficult to…I think Tanya’s and Ray’s relationship goes deeper as soon as Thomas and I are in front of the camera and they say, “Action!”

BE: He seems like he’s, uh, something else, based on his TCA performance.

JA: Oh, yeah, you witnessed that! (Laughs) Uh, yeah…

BE: Even as it was happening, I was saying to myself, “These are going to be the best pull quotes I get all day!”

JA: Oh, yeah, that was fantastic…

(Writer’s note: You can read my full coverage of that panel here, but beyond the moment when he addressed a critic by saying, “Speak into the mic and tell me how you feel about my penis,” my personal favorite rant from Mr. Jane came when he addressed why the cast and creators of “Hung” were onstage. “You know, the fact is that it’s all fucking fate and luck, man,” he said. “This is fate and luck that we are all up here together talking to you about a show about a guy with a big dick. Right? Fate and luck. There is no reason this show should be good. The show should be bad. It’s about a guy with a big dick who fucks people for money. Fuck you.”)

JA: He and I…I don’t know, it’s just a dynamic that’s very Ray and Tanya that comes out somehow. I don’t know, it’s a mystery to all of us.

BE: With Season 1, you had a fair amount of work with Steve Hytner.

JA: Oh, yeah! Steve’s great.

BE: How was it to play with him? I mean, the scenes were comedic, but there were dramatic undertones to them.

JA: Steve’s great. From the outside, having glimpsed it…I mean, when we’re shooting it, I just try to stay in it, but…he makes me laugh. He really makes me laugh.

BE: The most interesting relationship that Tanya has going at the moment is the one with Lenore. I mean, man, you just want to hate her!

JA: Oh, good! (Laughs) Yeah, Tanya’s having a hard time with her, so I’m glad you feel that’s warranted. You know, what’s hard…it’s a little difficult for me and Rebecca (Creskoff) because we really get along in real life.

BE: They really up the ante with the relationship in Season 2. I mean, it was already pretty rough going in Season 1, but…

JA: Oh, I know! I thought they were going to kind of…I didn’t know it was going to get as hard as it gets. But it does get much more difficult for Tanya. It’s a lot of fun for us to play, though.

BE: You also get a few scenes this season with Lennie James.

JA: Oh, yeah! I don’t want to spoil anything…

BE: No, no, I won’t give anything away. But how was it working with him?

"Thomas (Jane) and I really just kind of click. I think Tanya’s and Ray’s relationship goes deeper as soon as Thomas and I are in front of the camera and they say, 'Action!' It’s just a dynamic that’s very Ray and Tanya that comes out somehow. I don’t know, it’s a mystery to all of us."

JA: Oh, Lenny’s great. It was very easy. He shows up and we shoot, and we have a lot of fun.

BE: Which of Ray’s clients have you found the most interesting?

JA: Frances. Absolutely Frances.

(Writer’s note: Not that we’d want to spoil anything for you, but she’s a client in the new season…and, as Adams implies, is very much someone you’ll be excited to meet.)

BE: In the pilot episode, when we flash back to your initial encounter with Ray, to say that you put Meg Ryan to shame is kind of to damn you with faint praise…and I’m sure this is a question that only a guy would ask, but is it hard to fake an orgasm on camera?

JA: (Laughs) Oh, that! I wasn’t sure what you were talking about for a minute, and I was, like, “I don’t think I’m anything like Meg Ryan…” Um…no. Everything’s easy and hard to fake. Everything. I mean, the yelling…that’s something different.

BE: Is that harder?

JA: No, it’s not really hard or easy. It just…is.

BE: Okay. Well, obviously, you’re no stranger to working on projects with strong sexual themes, but I was wondering about the experience of working on Todd Solondz’s “Happiness” and what that was like.

JA: Yeah, that was… (Starts to laugh) All of a sudden, I just went, “Wow, that was a long time ago!” But it’s like apples and oranges. It’s really different. I mean, Todd is a writer/director, and that was an indie film with no funds available, really, made for a very low budget, all on locations. There was nothing comfortable about that. And as a film, it had a beginning, middle, and end. “Hung” is a completely different animal.

BE: So what are the differences between film and series television? Because, I mean, you worked on “Frasier,” but you haven’t really started as a series regular since…what, “Relativity”?

JA: Yeah, and, plus, “Relativity” only lasted for, what, 18 episodes?

BE: Was it even that many? Maybe not all of them aired…?

JA: No, no, all of them aired. Most people only saw about six of them, but they did all air. Yeah, I’m sure it was 18. But that was it, and it was over. That was close. I mean, my character had a relationship with Adam Goldberg’s character, but that was an hour-long drama, so it was a different experience. This is…I think this combines a lot of things that are my favorite things to do: it’s supposed to be funny, it’s supposed to make people think, and it’s kind of dark, but…well, it’s also funny. It’s got all of that. But, yeah, it’s a series, and the nature of a series is that there’s no real beginning, middle, or end. They’re making it up as they go along, which is different than a film. It’s not like I’m taking this script and looking at the beginning, middle, and end, and saying, “Okay, here’s what this is, this is, and this is.” I don’t know that with “Hung.” I show up, I see what’s happening right in front of my face, and I respond to it. That’s it.

Jane Adams

BE: One of our other writers said…and he meant this as a compliment…that you’ve “cornered the market on awkward.”

JA: (Laughs) Well, tell him thank you, I guess.

BE: I promise, it was a compliment.

JA: Well, that’s nice, then. And I like that he said “awkward,” because my big thing is that I’m very interested in “awkward” but less interested in “pathetic,” and I’m always making that case. So tell him thanks for the support. (Laughs)

BE: He also wanted to know if you’d ever have the desire to just dive headlong into a slapstick role.

JA: Well, I think I did in Season 2. (Laughs) In fact, I think I literally did dive headlong. You saw Episode 4, didn’t you?

BE: I did, and I was just getting ready to mention that.

JA: Yeah, you should see me get…well, I’m not going to say, because I don’t want to spoil that for people.

BE: I won’t, either. I’ll just say that we do get to see a slapstick side of you.

JA: Okay, good! (Laughs)

BE: I brought up “Frasier” earlier, but I wanted to ask what it was like working within that ensemble, coming into an established show like that.

JA: What was it like? Um…that was a very different feeling. I like starting out and being part of the core cast. That’s great, and very exciting. I mean, “Frasier” was fun. It was fine. It just wasn’t like this is. But I liked it.

BE: I was also curious about the experience of working with Robert Altman on “Kansas City.”

JA: Oh, I love Robert Altman! That’s all I can say.

BE: Do you have a preference of working drama versus comedy?

JA: No. I like it all. And, y’know, for some reason, the roles that I play in comedies, the emotional investment in stuff is higher…or, if not higher, the emotional investment is necessary to keep the stakes high and keep things funny is almost more challenging with comedy.

BE: One of my friends wanted me to ask you about the experience of filming your date with Jackie Earle Haley for “Little Children.”

"The nature of a series is that there’s no real beginning, middle, or end. They’re making it up as they go along, which is different than a film. It’s not like I’m taking this script and looking at the beginning, middle, and end, and saying, 'Okay, here’s what this is, this is, and this is.' I don’t know that with 'Hung.' I show up, I see what’s happening right in front of my face, and I respond to it. That’s it."

JA: Oh, Jackie’s great. It was…well, inasmuch as you can say so for that scene, it was a great time. (Laughs) One of my favorite moments in that was when I was carrying that carry-out swan. You know, when you get to-go food in a faux-fancy restaurant, they give you those? I just remember that we kind of made that up. We had to go get tinfoil from craft services to make it!

BE: Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on that you thought didn’t get the love that it deserved?

JA: Well, with “Happiness,” we were all going to go to Cannes, and then October Films was the distributor, and they yanked distribution because they were upset about the content of the film. And that was a big bummer, because that was the first time that…I mean, we just had a killer film. And then Ted Hope’s company had to distribute the film, and they’d never done that before. It got a lot of attention, but it didn’t get the attention it deserved. I felt Dylan Baker should’ve been nominated for an Oscar.

BE: And just to close by getting back to “Hung,” can you speak to what we can expect to see from Tanya in Season 2?

JA: No, I really can’t! (Laughs) And I think you know that better than anyone by now! But you know what else? I can’t stand…this is just me, but I don’t like watching behind-the-scenes stuff and hearing what actors think about and them telling the audience blah blah blah. Ugh. I don’t want to know! (Laughs)

BE: Yeah, one of my friends can’t stand watching special features like outtakes because it totally takes her out of the actors’ performances as their characters.

JA: Exactly! You tell her that she’s right, and that I feel the same way! (Laughs) I feel like there’s this virus, this epidemic, where there’s just too much of that stuff, and I feel like it ruins it. I mean, I’m saying more to you right now because this interview is for print, but I don’t want to…I wouldn’t want to see myself talking about this stuff. It just takes me right out of it when I see other actors doing that. For me, I just want to watch what I’m watching and get lost in it.

BE: I knew there was an advantage to being in print.

JA: There you go. Well, it’s been good talking to you! Have a great day…and tell both of your friends that we think the same! (Laughs)

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