It’s 9 A.M. on a Thursday in L.A., and when Hannah Einbinder gets on the line, she has already been awake for a couple of hours. It’s the only time the Hacks star has to chat before a packed schedule of travelling and press for the hit comedy’s upcoming third season kicks off, but judging by the way she speaks—in low, slow and thoughtful sentences—it doesn’t sound like she’s phased by any of it. (Although she jokes that she “wakes with a forceful fright” most mornings.) The skies are clear after an unusual spurt of rain, the air is crisp in that way it can be when winter is fading into spring and the 28-year-old has matcha flowing. The vibes, it’s safe to say, are very chill.

That’s also true of season three of Hacks (currently streaming on HBO Max and Crave)—well, sort of. It’s a year after season two ended—with veteran comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) firing her young writer, Ava (Einbinder), to help her find career independence—and the two characters are now thriving. Deborah’s filmed stand-up special has brought her more acclaim, more money, more fans and more opportunity, while Ava has found success as a writer on a buzzy show as well as a stable long-term girlfriend. But both women—who haven’t spoken since that fateful evening—feel like something is missing.

Sandy Honig

Hannah Einbinder is wearing a blazer and skirt by Dolce & Gabbana, heels by Manolo Blahnik and earrings by YSL.

It’s not a spoiler to say that it isn’t long before Deborah and Ava, as Einbinder puts it, “find their way back to each other and, of course, chaos ensues.” Hacks is beloved for its sharp writing, hilarious and insightful take on women of different generations navigating the comedy scene and Smart’s transcendent Emmy-winning performance, but it’s the relationship—a love story, really—between Deborah and Ava that is the true heart of the show. Even with their vastly different approaches to comedy (Deborah leans more “What is woke?” while Ava sounds like the cynical, wry queer millennial that she is) and borderline toxic dynamic (Deborah is controlling and prickly, while Ava lets her opinion and their work completely consume her), the admiration and tender affection they can’t quite admit to feeling for each other is what draws eyes to the screen.

Before I was into comedy, I was a competitive cheerleader—I was a flyer, which is the position that gets thrown into the air, so I guess I'm kind of a thrill-seeker.

“The power and the force of the bond that people share when they understand each other on that level is so strong that reason can fall by the wayside,” says Einbinder. “There’s this magnetism [between Deborah and Ava] that can’t be stopped. These are two women who are trying to be better, but they are both working against a lot of emotional difficulty. They’re doing their best, and I root for them because I have to be able to root for all people. I have to think that everybody can grow and change and deserves the chance to do that.”

Born in L.A. to parents who have also worked in the industry (her mom is original Saturday Night Live cast member Laraine Newman), Einbinder—who, as a rising stand-up comic, took a liking to acting after her team suggested she start to broaden her scope and branch out—had only been auditioning for about a year before Hacks came along in 2020. Ava became her first major role and is also one of the first characters the newcomer really related to on the page. (They’re both queer people in comedy, after all, although Einbinder says Ava is more of a loose cannon and kind of like an “untherapized” version of herself.) And that comes through in her performance, which has earned her two Emmy nominations in the supporting actress in a comedy category. Einbinder embodies Ava in a natural and authentic way. She is both a familiar character type—someone you can imagine having in your life—and unlike anyone you’ve ever actually met.

But appearances can be deceiving. The actor says that during the filming of Hacks’ first two seasons, she spent a lot of time in her trailer beating herself up; while doing press, she often expressed that she had a lack of confidence on-set, stressed about getting fired and wanted to prove that hiring her wasn’t a mistake. But when it came time to make season three, something shifted. “I finally felt like I was set—I was like, ‘They’re definitely not going to Aunt Viv me,’” she says, referring to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air character who was notoriously replaced with another actor. She explains that she’s always struggled with “intense self-loathing,” but time and acting experience have helped her gain a more grounded sense of confidence, which has also flourished under the warm admiration and belief of series creators Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky. Einbinder references a scene from Pixar’s animated superhero family flick The Incredibles in which matriarch Helen Parr/Elastigirl is crying and racked with self-doubt while Edna Mode watches on, unimpressed, before shouting: “What are you talking about? My God, you are Elastigirl! Pull! Yourself! Together!” Aniello, says Einbinder, is her Edna Mode.

Sandy Honig

“I trust her so much—she is like my North Star and the person I want to please the most,” says Einbinder. “She’ll look me in the eye and tell me she’s happy with me, and after a while, that just sunk in and I started to believe it. I think people with low self-esteem have the tendency to discard any positive feedback, but I have gone through a lot of changes in my life—personally and professionally—and the way I feel about my work is the way I’ve come to feel about myself, which is actually better than I ever thought possible.”

Einbinder is no stranger to allowing confidence and security to develop over time thanks to doing stand-up, with which bombing onstage is something you have to get used to if you want even a shot at a career. She’s been getting up onstage since she was 21, when comedian (and Nailed It! host) Nicole Byer was on her college campus to perform and asked the student improv group if any of them wanted to open for her. Despite having never done stand-up in front of a crowd before, Einbinder volunteered, and she has never looked back. “Before I was into comedy, I was a competitive cheerleader—I was a flyer, which is the position that gets thrown into the air, so I guess I’m kind of a thrill-seeker,” she says, connecting the dots to what it is she loves about stand-up. Before Hacks was even a blip on anyone’s radar, she made her national TV debut on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in March 2020, becoming the youngest person to do stand-up on the show, and she still performs regularly to raves when not on-set.

So, with a renewed sense of empowerment, what comes next? More stand-up (definitely—her debut standup special drops on Max on June 13th), more Hacks (hopefully) and any acting work that feels good and allows her to surround herself with cool people while connecting with audiences. “Stand-up is such a solitary pursuit—it’s great and I love it, but you’re doing it all on your own, and what I love about acting is that I get to be a part of a team again,” she says. “It’s almost like cheerleading. With acting, I get to go be a part of something that’s like an organism, this working thing. What I love about comedy is comedians, and what I love about acting is actors. They are unafraid to look into the white-hot, fiery abyss of darkness in the world and try to find something good in it—try to make people smile and take away their troubles for a bit. I think it’s a nice thing to do.”

Publisher: Sophie Banford Editor-in-chief: Joanna Fox Writer: Patricia Karounos Photographer: Sandy Honig Stylist: Jamie Mizrahi Hairstylist: Jerrod Roberts Makeup: Molly Greenwald Hannah Einbinder is wearing a dress by Toteme, and earrings by Ferragamo