Kathryn Hahn considers her latest project, Hulu’s eight-part drama Tiny Beautiful Things, a gift in many ways.
As well as taking the lead role, the actress executive produced the series with Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon, among others. Based on Cheryl Strayed’s book of the same name, Hahn plays Clare Pierce, a writer going through a rocky time in her personal life who, somewhat ironically, finds herself becoming an advice columnist. It’s now available to stream on Hulu.
“Honestly, the only thing I needed for this role was the source material which is Cheryl’s amazing collection of her Dear Sugar essays, Tiny Beautiful Things,” she enthused. “In my humble opinion, it’s essential reading for every human being.”
Strayed is no stranger to page-to-screen adaptations. Her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which documented the writer’s journey of self-discovery during a 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, was turned into a movie in 2014 called Wild. It starred Witherspoon as Strayed herself.
Hahn, a fan of the acclaimed film, explained, “Her life story has already been so beautifully portrayed by Reese, and so we didn’t need another biopic. This was going to be its own thing.”
However, she admitted that a couple of pieces of Strayed’s life were “baked into” the Dear Sugar story.
“Liz Tigelaar adapted Tiny Beautiful Things, so this is her and the writers’ creation. I went along for the ride,” Hahn said humbly. “I didn’t need to go outside for anything else. It was all right there.”
The actress also felt “blessed” by the casting choices, especially Tanzyn Crawford as her daughter, Rae, and Quentin Plair as her husband, Danny.
“That connection happened so fast, and it felt so real, so complicated, gnarly, twisty, and beautiful right off the bat,” Hahn recalled. “With that and having Cheryl’s open generosity and compassionate heart like a kind of wind at my back to allow this to happen as well was incredible. I didn’t feel any pressure to be anything other than what was on the page and Liz’s collaboration to figure this bird out.”
Tiny Beautiful Things uses flashbacks highly effectively, flitting between Hahn’s character now and two decades earlier. Sarah Pidgeon plays the younger version of Claire.
“Sarah is remarkable,” Hahn enthused. “I didn’t have a ton to do with her casting, but I got some of her audition tapes. I heard she got the part and was so excited.”
“We did a workshop together because it was important to me that we had some time together beforehand.” That’s where Pidgeon studied the actress’ performance.
Hahn explained, “She was on set for a lot of the time that I was working in the first episode where she didn’t feature in many flashbacks. Sarah watched behind the monitor to ensure she could capture some of what I had been doing.”
“I wish we had more time together to work, but she was able to do it so well and cracked it really quickly. Her performance is amazing. Because there is 20 years difference between the two periods, so much changes. We, as characters, are different birds.”
Hahn knew there were boundaries.
“I couldn’t mimic her because she’s not thinking about her older self because she’s not there yet,” she revealed. “She’s absorbed in her experience as a young person, and I’m looking back at my 20-year-old self with so many other lenses on it. They are two different experiences. When you think about your younger self, you’re looking back at it through such a haze of memory, and she has no idea who I am yet. That is an interesting thing.”
Another interesting element of Tiny Beautiful Things that intrigued Hahn was how it framed and handled Claire’s age, embracing 49 rather than the traditional milestone of 50.
“I don’t think I was 49 when I made it, and they kept saying 49, and I was like, ‘It’s interesting. I’m aging up now. I’m going to roll with it.’ It is a landmark year,” the actress mused. “It used to be such a huge thing, especially for women, because there’s so much s**t around age, so much noise around it, and there’s an invisibility factor and misogyny around it.”
“I think in any job that I’m blessed enough to take on, especially in a role of this size, it’s exciting to me to be able to show younger women that you can gracefully, with pride, and face forward, boldly step into this exciting new chapter that is sexy, wise, powerful, deep, and just
Hahn concluded, “Honestly, screw whatever gaze is on you from the media, men, other women, or some magazine that tells you what you must do to stay young. The industry that is built on staying young is nuts. Anything that I can help to tell young women that age is beautiful and nothing to fear, I’m happy to be a part of.”