For those not yet familiar, Private Life is a film recently released at select theaters and on Netflix. The story focuses on a New York couple, Rachel and Richard, who at mid-life (41 and 47, respectively) find themselves on what has become an emotionally, physically and financially exhausting journey to have a child. Last week I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Hahn about this project — and for the curious fans out there, Kathryn's relatability does transcend from onscreen to off. She is kind, effusive and funny, and she could not have been more gracious to this rookie celebrity interviewer.
I discovered Private Life early on via Facebook where I read numerous posts from women who have been in the same, or very similar, circumstances to that of Rachel and Richard. Their enthusiasm for a film that finally portrayed, with painstaking accuracy at times, their personal experiences with fertility was a revelation. I asked each of them to share their thoughts with me directly because I wanted to pass them onto Kathryn. Who better to attest to the authenticity of a story than those who see themselves mirrored in its portrayal?
When chatting with Kathryn, I told her how much I appreciate her performance in Private Life, how I appreciate the purity she brings to every character she portrays and the many women I know who were so positively impacted by the delicate, but not uncommon, topic addressed in her project. Then, I share the responses I received from women across my social network:
"I wish everyone I know would watch the movie because I felt so isolated during the few years of that process; isolated from my family who were very judgmental and isolated from all of my friends who seemed to be getting pregnant all around me, who were also judgmental in a lot of ways.”
“I appreciated Kathryn's raw emotion, her ability to authentically express the fear and anger associated with what it feels like when you are told you cannot reproduce like everyone else on the planet. It was genuine and honestly, pretty damn real. It might seem extreme to those who haven't lived this journey but for those of us in the thick of it — it is just par for the course."
“What I appreciated most about this film, other than the fact that it brings the challenges of infertility to the surface/into the conversation, was how well it captured the rawness of dealing with infertility in a world that treats it as a dirty secret or something to be ashamed of. So many couples struggle with fertility (one in four I think) — and yet, when it happened to us, I felt like we were the only ones, because no one was talking about it. I'm so glad there's finally a film that's talking about it in a very real way.
I also really appreciated how well it captured the emotional distance and discord infertility creates in a marriage. That was certainly true for us — my husband and I simply had very different experiences, and that creates a divide that Kathryn Hahn and Giamatti showed so well. Beautiful and honest film — thank you!”
Read on to hear from Kathryn herself as she describes how it felt to play a pivotal woman in an against-all-odds place and how she believes "storytelling is an empathy machine."
This film resonates with so many women I know who have either been through or are currently go through the fertility process. What spoke to you about this role? Did you realize that you would, at least in my circles, become a sort of heroine in this film?
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Wow! You are going to make me cry. It is a profound journey that has been in the shadows. To Tamara [Jenkins, the writer and director], it was very important that this couple is going through this together. [Before making this film] I didn’t realize the odds are so not stacked in one’s favor. I had no idea, you hear the stories of people going into massive debt — if you have not been through it, you don’t know or really understand that kind of longing.
I know that you have two children, but did this experience create more empathy for those who pursue parenthood and have less than ideal circumstances and outcomes?
Yes, of course — any type of storytelling you hope is an empathy machine. I became a mom in my thirties; it didn’t happen as quickly or as easily as I thought. I did not have to go through nearly as much as Rachel, but just remember the feeling of how do you tell someone to stop that dream...
I found myself identifying with a character in the movie and realized that many of us who have not been on this same fertility path have probably made comments or had similar responses to those of the friends/family in this film. Did you recognize yourself in other characters in this film?
Oh gosh, yes. It’s so easy to judge from the outside of it — to say why don’t they just adopt or why don’t you just use a surrogate? People can just be so flippant! All of these little statements that if you don’t have to experience are so easy to judge. Plus, the reality that all of those losses that can happen during the process are a little mourning in themselves.
It's really unfair that in the years that are so precious, when many of us are trying to figure out who we are, having children is the last thing we think about. And yet those are our most fertile times.
As a parent, I felt that so much of what happened in this film was relatable. I could feel the longing with both Rachel and Richard was palpable, but I loved how both perspectives bore equal importance.
To Tamara, it was very important that this couple is going through this together. For her it was more about a marriage than about a baby. The baby is the carrot that is dangled, and all of that can be amazing and the science we have now is incredible, but it takes its toll on a couple when the emotional and monetary cost can be so high.