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With Afternoon Delight, Chicago’s Jill Soloway Aced Her Directorial Debut

A talk with the Gold Coast native, who won the Sundance directing award for her debut film. It opens at Landmark Century Centre Cinema on September 6.

Jill Soloway

Photography: (Soloway, film stills) Courtesy of Film Arcade
 

You couldn’t turn a corner at the Sundance Film Festival this year without hearing about Afternoon Delight, the directorial debut of Jill Soloway. The premise seems straight out of an improv setting: A wealthy housewife with marital troubles takes in a wayward sex worker in hopes of reawakening her sex drive.

Soloway, 48, has always reveled in the absurd. When the Gold Coast native performed at Chicago’s stalwart comedy theatre the Annoyance in the mid-1990s, she flexed her kook muscle penning cult favorites such as Miss Vagina Pageant and Real Live Brady Brunch; she made her name in Hollywood as a writer for the show Six Feet Under; and this year she took home the Sundance directing award for her debut film. “I like throwing out the craziest idea and attempting to make some sense of it,” says Soloway. “[I want to] play it for the truth.”

Juno Temple and Kathryn Hahn
Indie darlings Juno Temple (top, Dirty Girl) and Kathryn Hahn (bottom, Stepbrothers) star.

Soloway’s approach reeks of the outlandish, a trait the Annoyance is also known for. Although it’s been 21 years since she was onstage at the theatre in Uptown, Soloway still credits much of her writing and directorial style to Mick Napier, the Annoyance’s founder.

“[Mick] created a safe space where anything was possible,” reflects Soloway. “At the time it didn’t feel like an influence, but as I began moving through different environments, I brought some of those rules with me.”

One seminal lesson? Never let a smart joke or good idea settle; there’s always room to push further.

If the Afternoon Delight plot played out on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, it could easily spin into a slapstick story where a bored housewife and her call girl houseguest start a brothel. Soloway’s version, however, is straight from the Annoyance rule book: A desperate woman goes to envelope-pushing—even cringe-inducing—lengths to resuscitate her love life.

Having Jane Lynch, an old friend from the Annoyance, aboard was the tipping point to getting the film financed. “She’s a brand, she’s a tone,” says Soloway of the Glee star. “She’s got pedigree. When you approach agents, you start with ‘Jane Lynch is attached.’ ”
 

GO Afternoon Delight opens September 6 at Landmark Century Centre Cinema. For info, landmarktheaters.com
 

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