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How A 'By Any Means Necessary' Quest For A Child Inspired Netflix's 'Private Life'

Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn play a couple who are desperate to have a child in the Netflix film <em>Private Life.</em>
Jojo Whilden
Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn play a couple who are desperate to have a child in the Netflix film Private Life.

Writer and director Tamara Jenkins was in her early 40s and struggling with infertility when she and her husband began what she calls a "by any means necessary" campaign to have a child.

It was an emotionally draining time. They looked into international adoption and also began in vitro fertilization treatment. A friend in whom Jenkins confided encouraged her to write about her experiences, but Jenkins demurred.

"I was horrified and just repulsed," she says. "I would never write about this stuff."

It was only after a successful IVF cycle and the birth of her daughter that Jenkins began reconsidering. At some point, she says, it began to seem "emotionally legal" to fictionalize her own story.

Jenkins began working on what she calls a "buddy movie" about a couple, also in their 40s and living in New York City, who are desperate to have a child. Private Life, which begins streaming on Netflix and playing in select theaters on Friday, stars Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti.

"The two of them are set off on this caper with the intention of having a baby, and they're both responding to it in their independent ways," Jenkins says. "It was important to me that it was a mutual crisis — that it wasn't just her problem. They're both falling apart. You know, they're hitting up against the limitations of being a human being simultaneously."

Interview Highlights

On how Kathryn Hahn's character blames second-wave feminism for her infertility

It's such a demented thing to do, but I sort of understand what she's saying. ... I get why she feels betrayed by some notion of "be independent and pursue your career," and it's not like Gloria Steinem ever said that, exactly. She really can't be blamed, but I know what Kathryn's character is talking about, some sense of, like, license to pursue the other part of your life — not the wife part, not the mother part, but the other part. And then suddenly she feels like the rug has been pulled out from under her and this thing that she delayed is now possibly not available to her.

On why Jenkins waited until her 40s to have a child

Tamara Jenkins was initially "horrified" by the idea of writing about her infertility. Later, after her daughter was born, she changed her mind.
Jojo Whilden / Netflix
Tamara Jenkins was initially "horrified" by the idea of writing about her infertility. Later, after her daughter was born, she changed her mind.

Marriage and having babies didn't look so good from my childhood's point of view, so maybe I wasn't rushing to do it anyway. But that combined with pursuing a career and being a writer — I was a performance artist and then I was an actor ... then I decided to go to graduate school and film and then trying to make films — and it was all very consuming and not conducive to having a kid. I didn't have the money, for one, and I lived by the skin of my teeth and didn't have the health insurance and ... I wasn't doing anything that seemed particularly stable.

On being an older parent in New York City

One thing about New York is that there are a lot of older parents. ... Also, there's a lot of older dads. There's a lot of second marriages, so suddenly you feel young in terms of the men. But I mean it's certainly something you notice, but something about New York blurs that a little bit.

If I was in the Midwest maybe it would seem a little different. But I guess maybe [there are more older parents] because people moved to New York because of their careers. And I think that I'm not the only person that delayed having children in this town. I mean, jeez, go to those fertility clinics. They're packed.

On her unconventional childhood, in which her older brother became her legal guardian

Our family was super fractured. We lived with our father, then we lived with our mother a little bit, then we moved to Cambridge [Mass.] and my big brother became my legal guardian. ...

My brother was getting his Ph.D. and me and my little brother lived in this Harvard housing, and we lived on food stamps and student loans that my brother took out. Our lives improved and we became much better students at school, which was ironic because of course everybody from the outside thought, "Oh, they don't have any parents. It must be wild over there." But we were the opposite. We were really like monks. We were so happy not to be in a chaotic place. We were trying to find sanity.

Lauren Krenzel and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz and Molly Seavy-Nesper adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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