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‘Hacks’ star Hannah Einbinder on Ava’s ‘Lose Yourself’ moment and her wish for Season 4: ‘I’m hopeful there will be an adversarial turn for some of it’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

This piece contains spoilers for Season 3 of “Hacks,” including the season finale

“Hacks” star Hannah Einbinder isn’t the type of person who is obsessed with social media. However, she has still seen some of the praise heaped upon her performance in the Emmy Award-winning comedy series after its stellar Season 3 finale. 

“It’s very nice and I appreciate it. I really do,” Einbinder tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview. “It makes my heart warm. I’m glad people are smiling and laughing and love it.”

Created by Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky, “Hacks” returned to Max after a two-year break with what many critics called its best season yet. The third cycle of episodes picked up a year after the events of the Season 2 finale, which saw legendary comedian Deborah Vance (played five-time Emmy Award winner Jean Smart, who has won two Emmys for her “Hacks” performance) successfully execute a comeback special with the help of her writer, Ava Daniels (Einbinder). But in an unexpected twist, Deborah fired Ava at her highest moment, an effort to push her Gen Z protege out of the proverbial nest.

When Deborah and Ava reconnect 12 months later, it isn’t long before they fall into old habits and work protocols. The third season successfully expanded on their co-dependent relationship against the backdrop of Deborah’s push to become a late-night host. But even after Deborah secures the job – something she couldn’t have done without Ava – the veteran performer again chooses to shove her young disciple overboard. After offering Ava the head writer position, Deborah backtracks and is caught in a lie, leading to a confrontation between the two women three years in the making.

The scene is a standout moment for Einbinder, who is already a two-time Emmy nominee for her performance on the show. Aniello, who directed the finale, said Einbinder’s work was “the most incredible acting I’ve ever been a part of” in the sequence, an argument that forces Ava to alternate between several different emotions within seconds.

“I have to say, it is such a credit to the writing that I’m given. I can’t hold back those emotions when I read those words,” Einbinder says of the scene. “When I’m at the table read, I’m sobbing; when I’m memorizing my lines I’m sobbing. It’s really hard for me to turn that off. And so it just feels so innate – especially when I am looking in Jean’s eyes…. So really, I just tried to collect myself beforehand and just enter the scene and remain present and it just kind of flows. I feel like I come from the Jean Smart school of acting: just show up and let ‘er rip.”

“Hacks” is Einbinder’s first television acting role, so it goes to reason that Smart would have such a huge impact on her work. Getting to act across Smart during this key moment for Ava was a “help,” Einbinder says, especially because it was such a contrasting moment for both actors. 

“I obviously have scenes with a lot of other people. But the majority of my scenes are with Jean. So as I am in the scene, I’m also really paying attention to what she is doing, and I am learning from her in real time. But that’s also happening in between takes when I’m watching her walk through the physicality of things – she has not only just her natural ability but also a very intricate technical approach that is just very straightforward that I’ve been able to observe and tried to absorb,” Einbinder says. “But specifically in the context of that scene, she’s really stoic as Deborah, and it’s really powerful to be so consumed by emotion as Ava and be across from someone impenetrable. Particularly because she is someone who I have seen in our work together — and, of course, off-screen as well — as this joyous, hilarious comedic force. So to be confronted with her stoicism in a moment where I’m totally raw, it does heighten my ability to perform.”

A hallmark of “Hacks” is that the show doesn’t take sides with its characters and instead allows for a more nuanced approach to people and thorny issues. But Ava makes some strong points about her relationship with Deborah in the finale – particularly in terms of how the late-night show would ultimately improve with Ava in the head writer role she was promised. Einbinder says getting to unload in character was “super cathartic.”

“Ava’s been kind of slapped around by Deborah throughout this show, and Ava is no angel. She’s transgressed in her own ways. But I think there’s a lot of harm that Deborah has caused in her own life, and especially to Ava and that comes with all of the really great ways they benefit each other,” Einbinder says. “But yeah, the confrontation definitely felt like the ‘Lose Yourself’ moment for her, if I may reference Eminem.”

After storming out on Deborah, Ava returns to the late-night show for her first day of work. But “Hacks” ends its third season with a twist: Although Deborah thinks Ava has accepted her staff writer position, Ava has other plans. She threatens to expose Deborah’s one-night stand with the network boss – an illicit affair that happened before Deborah was hired – unless she’s given the head writer role. The season ends with the two women on opposite ends of the table, looking ready for a battle to come.

“I look forward to more of the dynamic that’s teed up in the finale. I am hopeful that there will be an adversarial turn for some of it,” Einbinder says of what she wants to see happen when “Hacks” returns for Season 4. “Not all the way through, but I would love to play it out with Jean. I think we would have a lot of fun being enemies.”

But before that can happen, Einbinder will debut her first stand-up special on the streaming platform. The comic’s one-woman show, “Hannah Einbinder: Everything Must Go,” debuts on June 13, the day Emmy Awards nominations voting opens. (The special, however, will be eligible for Emmy consideration in 2025.)

“This hour is something that I’ve been working on for many years,” Einbinder says. “Before I ever had any hopes of doing anything else. I just wanted to be a stand-up comedian. That is my first love. And my career as a comedian has been made possible by my career as an actress. I’m so grateful for that. This special is something that I have thought a lot about and done all over the world and toured and whittled and perfected and spent years. So I’m just excited for people to see it because I love comedy. I am a student of comedy and this feels like my purest contribution and my purest expression of comedy in the solo performance and writing space.”

“Hacks” streams on Max.

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