Kathryn Hahn was widely expected to win an Emmy on Sunday night, but in one of the evening’s few genuine upsets, Julianne Nicholson won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series Etc. Hahn will just have to settle for her MTV popcorns and being everyone’s favorite right now. Also, she can take another run at the Emmys, this time in a leading category, after she portrays comedy icon Joan Rivers in a series for Showtime. Hahn will star as Rivers in The Comeback Girl, a bio-series set in the 1980s, after Rivers’ ground-breaking talk show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, was cancelled and her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, died by suicide. The series will focus on Rivers emerging from these devastating personal and professional losses, which includes her rebranding as a fashion maven by way of red carpet punditry. Hahn is collaborating with her old Northwestern classmate, Greg Berlanti, on the series.
Joan Rivers was a trailblazing, complicated woman, so this is a juicy role for anyone to get, but it feels just a little bit like a consolation prize for Hahn because SHE SHOULD BE PLAYING LUCILLE BALL. I love Nicole Kidman, but she is ALL WRONG for Lucy. Hahn, with her hyper-expressive face and voice she can modulate from whisper-refinement to broad bray, is much more the embodiment of Ball’s own fluidity as a performer. I just cannot get over casting Nicole Kidman as Lucy, I just canNOT. That said, I’m sure Hahn will make a great Joan. Again, she has the expressiveness and can do the broad inflections comediennes of that era were known for, but Hahn also has the range to play colder, darker characters, too. She went big with it in WandaVision for Agatha Harkness, but she can do unlikeable and mean in ways that should work well for Joan Rivers, whose legacy is complicated by her frequently nasty jokes/commentary on women.
If you count The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is clearly inspired by Joan Rivers to the extent that they should probably be acknowledging her somewhere in the credits, this is the second time a non-Jewish actor has been cast to play Rivers/a Rivers-inspired character. Like Rivers, Midge Maisel is a Jewish woman, but Rachel Brosnahan is not Jewish. Hahn, playing Rivers herself, is also not Jewish. As we talk about representation and inclusion, we never really mention all the non-Jewish actors playing Jewish characters (like Chris Evans playing an Israeli spy in Red Sea Diving Resort). People will inevitably say “it’s called acting, anyone can play anything”, and yes, sure, in an idealized world that would be so, because every actor would have equal access to every role. But we don’t live in that idealized world yet, and it is just interesting to me that we are now two-for-two with non-Jewish actors playing Jewish Icon Joan Rivers (or a character heavily inspired by her). It’s just something worth noting as we continue to push for better representation in Hollywood.