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Entertainment

HBO strikes comedy gold with Hacks

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
HBO strikes comedy gold with Hacks
Hollywood veteran and Emmy winner Jean Smart (right) and rising star Hannah Einbinder deliver the laughs as comedians at odds in HBO's Hacks. The 10-episode show won three awards at the recent 73rd Emmy Awards.
STAR / File

Fresh from its multiple Emmy wins, HBO’s Hacks — a comedy series about the stand-up comedy world — is now available to Filipino audiences on HBO Go.

Topbilled by the legendary actress Jean Smart and rising comedy darling Hannah Einbinder, the American TV show is the dark and wickedly funny take on a “mentor-mentee” relationship and the generational divide between a certified boomer and millennial.

Jean, who was last seen on HBO’s critically-acclaimed Mare of Easttown, plays Deborah Vance, the reigning Las Vegas comedy queen on the verge of being dethroned by acapella group and young-crowd favorite Pentatonix.

Hannah, who was named Just For Laughs’ New Face of Comedy and Vulture’s “Comics To Watch” in 2019, is the “entitled and woke” 25-year-old writer Ava whom Deborah is forced to hire to update her act.

The 10-episode Hacks won three awards — Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series (Jean Smart), Outstanding Directing For a Comedy Series (Lucia Aniello) and Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series — at the 73rd Emmy Awards held last month. Recently renewed for a Season 2, the series is a top performer on streaming service HBO Max and enjoys a 100-percent Rotten Tomatoes rating based on reviews from TV and movie critics.

The STAR virtually met with the lead stars and saw that their hilarious sparring is not limited to the show. When asked if sparks flew during their first meeting on set, like how their characters met for the first time (both their favorite scene, by the way, where they deliver the laughs by slinging “insults” at each other), Hannah joked, “Sparks? I would call them meteors.”

“Stars even. Planets, you know. It was instant. It was instant for me,” she added, to which Jean quipped, “Not for me, no.”

“It takes some getting used to,” the 70-year-old showbiz veteran continued to tease her younger co-star.

“And that’s sort of a dynamic, right, in love,” mused Hannah. “And she’s getting me. It’s all in good fun. We love it. No, I love it!”

Turning a little serious, Jean disclosed she was floored by Hannah’s audition tape for the series. “I also looked up Hannah’s stand-up material and I was just so impressed with her. I said, ‘Definitely, that girl has to be in the final mix here,’ and so that was when we met in person.”

Jean further recalled the “strange circumstances” they were in when they finally saw each other in person. “It was at the height of the pandemic and we met in a giant, football field-sized, completely empty soundstage. It was sort of like a bad detective movie where they’re questioning, there’s a lamp and there’s one chair, and another chair opposite it. And then, they put a Plexiglass between us because they want to see a picture of us standing next to each other, to see how we looked physically together. But, she was always my first choice so I was thrilled when they cast her.”

“And those are strong sparks that fly,” Hannah mused. “I mean to go through Plexiglass, the heat alone of the spark, it’s up there.”

Below are more excerpts from the interview set by HBO Asia for select Asian press.

On what the show and role mean to the stars:

Jean: “For me, when I got this script, I just thought this checks every box I could hope for in a role. If I could have sat down and written a list of things I wanted in my next job, this checked every single thing on the list. I’m still kind of amazed that at this stage of my life, in this stage of my career, I am being given these incredible opportunities.

“I do think that it’s meaningful and important that, you know, this is an older woman who is grappling with her career and questions about how she has spent her life, summing up her life and her career, and being challenged by this younger woman. But what’s wonderful about the show is that neither one of them is right, neither one of them is wrong. So that’s kind of the fun of that interaction.”

Hannah: “I would say that the character of Ava is very important to me. This project came at a time when… I come from a stand-up background and during the pandemic, that went away, and there was no sign of when it would return. This used to be my life, this show. And because it showed me how fulfilling a new medium could be, how fulfilling acting could be as an expression of my soul through the beautifully written words that our creators provided us with and through the collaboration with Jean and the rest of the cast, and so this character, especially as a young, queer character, was huge. It was so important to me, and I’m certainly glad she exists.”

On getting into their characters’ love-hate relationship:

Hannah: “Oh my God, every time either of us had to be mean or get into a fight or any of it, and they’d yell cut, I’d be like, I’m so sorry. I have to say it, I’m so worried about what people think and I’m such a people-pleaser. I’m a comedian, so I am, you know, desperate for external validation (laughter). So, it was like a lovely vacation to step inside someone who had no concept of how her honesty affects others. It was so nice. I was like yeah, for 12 hours, I get to not give a f*** basically. I liked it! She’s a character. And you know, I’m from Los Angeles and I came up in the L.A. comedy scene, and Ava is like a lot of people I know, so it was very easy to step into her vibe.”

Jean: “Getting to abuse Hannah Einbinder and getting paid for it was an incredible delight (laughter). But, I mean, like kind of the reverse of what Hannah said is that getting to step into a character who is fully aware of how much she frightens people and intimidates people, and who uses that when she needs to.

“The thing I like about the way they wrote Deborah’s character was that they didn’t make her just a sort of two-dimensional diva who was dismissive and rude of everybody and demanding and temperamental… She has enormous respect for the people who work around her and work for her. She knows what it takes to succeed. Anybody who works hard has her respect. Unless she’s in a bad mood.”

On real-life mentors as acting inspiration:

Jean: “I had a really extraordinary acting teacher in college. In fact, I’m still friendly with her. I still see her occasionally but unfortunately, she’s not well right now, she’s in her 90s. But when I met her, she was about 40 and a gorgeous, dynamic woman who taught at the University of Washington. And she was a professional actress. She wasn’t just someone who had worked briefly, dabbled in acting and then decided, ‘Well, I’ll just teach.’ She was a working actress which is one of the things that made her such a good teacher. We were all a little bit scared of her. But she was very supportive of me, and very kind.

“I remember going to see her, I was 18… she was doing a play in Seattle and playing the lead. I remember seeing her and just being just blown away by her and thinking, ‘Wow! That’s my teacher up there.’ Then years later, when I decided to go to New York, she was very, very helpful and supportive, and introduced me to a good friend of hers who was a casting director in New York. She’s the first person that comes to mind as a mentor.”

Hannah: “Yeah, the show highlights a rich tradition of mentorship within comedy. It’s a huge part of it. It’s hard to start as a young comic without someone going, ‘Alright, these are the good open mics, these are scary, don’t go here, go to this show,’ you know, giving you notes on your material.

“It feels like the expression, it takes a village? It really does take a village to cultivate a comedian, I think, like especially where I came up. It was a really beautiful, supportive, sort of insular community full of mentors.

“There are countless people who I look up to and who took me on the road for the first time, let me open for them on the road. You know, paid me before I even knew you could be paid to do stand-up; I was just getting beer or doing it for free. And not good beer. I want to be clear about that. Well drinks, okay, just the least. But I mean it, truly countless (mentors). It’s such a rich tradition in stand-up.”

(Stream Hacks on HBO GO. Download the app at the App Store or Play Store on your device. You can also access HBO GO via Cignal, Globe and Skycable or at https://www.hbogoasia.ph/.)

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