Total Film

REBECCA HALL

REBECCA HALL has had a very good year – profession­ally and personally – despite lockdown. As she stars in psychologi­cal horror The Night House, she tells Total Film about reckoning with her own past, realising a long-awaited dream, and haunted bread…

- WORDS JANE CROWTHER PORTRAIT MOLLY CRANNA

The Brit star faces her fears in The Night House ahead of her directoria­l debut.

I’m working towards ‘proud’…” muses Rebecca Hall down the line from her home in New York. She pauses, her switch in attitude almost perceptibl­e through the static. “No, I am proud – immensely proud,” she determines. “I’m not working towards it, I am. I’m also mostly surprised. I do look back and it’s a bit shocking that we managed to get through everything we did.”

The prolific actor is reflecting on the last couple of years, in which she had her first child, made her first horror and wrote and directed her first film. Add to that the lockdown that stalled the film industry and Hall still managing to star in one of 2021’s biggest blockbuste­rs that proved audiences still wanted cinemas; bowing her debut film to great acclaim at virtual Sundance earlier this year; and seeing her latest movie actually make it to the big screen this summer, and – well, yes, she should be pleased with herself.

Perhaps it’s the British disinclina­tion for showing off that’s tempering her self-celebratio­n – with her precise English diction, her lineage from her directing-legend father, Sir Peter Hall and descriptio­n of the Covid crisis as “everything going tits up”, Hall is very much a UK success story. But she’s also always walked with her feet in two worlds. She grew up with dual UK/US citizenshi­p thanks to her mother, opera singer Maria Ewing. With an innate ear for an American accent and a stacked CV glittering with blockbuste­rs and iconic directors, the 39-year-old also moves in Hollywood circles, now residing in the States with her actor husband, Morgan Spector, and their toddler daughter.

Duality is something that works well for her – she can comfortabl­y portray strong and sensual as well as weak and anxious, and her choice of work shows an appetite for exploratio­n, having worked on projects and genres as diverse as Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town, Christine, Please Give, The BFG, and Godzilla Vs. Kong. Though, she says with disarming honesty, not everything she’s done has been work to shout about. “Acting’s funny,” she laughs. “You sign up to something you think is going to be great, and then often you see the thing, and it’s so far away from the thing you imagined. It can be quite bruising, you know?”

Frank, eloquent and self-aware, Hall seems to have reached a ‘no BS’ stage of life and during our chat is open about the place she’s got to with unpicking her own racial background, her creative needs and her ambitions. “I’ve had a better hit rate than a lot of people with this,” she admits of her career so far. “There’s a lot of films that I’m very proud of as an actor, and the film in general. There’s tonnes of films that I’ve been in that I think are really good. I suppose I just wanted a bit more of something, which was really about getting behind the camera.”

Wearing three hats while making her latest film was the way to get to a decades-long dream of getting behind the camera to direct. In The Night House, she stars as a woman who’s just lost her husband to suicide and suspects the bumps in the night in the home he built might be supernatur­al, and Hall (who’s in pretty much every scene) found herself prepping for her directoria­l debut, Passing, while juggling the demands of carrying a film and being a new mother to an eight-month-old. “It was a particular­ly crazy year of my life. I had a baby.

I had six months off, and then shot Godzilla Vs. Kong, and then I shot Tales From The Loop, and then I shot The Night House, and then I shot Passing, all before my baby turned one, which was kind of insane,” she admits. “There’s a hilarious photograph of me that my husband took, and I’m nursing my baby and also storyboard­ing Passing on a break from The Night House. You really have to turn yourself up to make sure that you’re carrying the whole thing, and delivering it, and landing all the beats as much as possible. It’s literally doing all the heavy lifting. On a film like Godzilla Vs. Kong, the monsters are doing the heavy lifting. You’re just standing on the sidelines, cheering!”

Attracted to the project for its “bold exploratio­n of grief” and the opportunit­y for genre to address ideas indirectly with metaphor, Hall hopes that a film she describes as a “damn good scare in a house in the woods” will also promote conversati­on around pre-existing ideas and notions about onscreen violence towards women. “She doesn’t get out of the house,” she says of her character, “and she doesn’t run away screaming, she runs into it. Which is such an unusual idea and inversion of this trope.”

Her next film out of the gate, is far more personal. Based on the 1929 Harlem renaissanc­e novella by Nella Larsen, Passing tells the story of two Black friends who live very different lives when one them chooses to pass as white. Hall read the book at a key point in her life and wrote a screenplay adaptation almost immediatel­y, but it took her a decade to get the project to the point of shooting. “I spent a lot of time in America as a child, and with that came a sort of different reckoning with racism in this country, because I don’t think you can spend any time in this country without seeing it, and looking at it, and thinking about it,” she explains. “The book came to me at a point of my life where I was done not talking about my African-American heritage, and I was trying to understand it, because it had honestly been quite obscured from me. I began to understand that what my grandfathe­r must have done was white-passing when he married my grandmothe­r. But I didn’t have a full understand­ing of that concept.

“In my twenties, if there were conversati­ons going on about anything like this, I would start to say, ‘It’s my belief

that my grandfathe­r was Black. I don’t know what that makes me. I don’t know why I’m grappling with all of that, but this is my reality.’ And somebody handed me this book and I was gut-punched by it. Not just because of the personal connection I had, and the context I was able to acquire from reading this work of fiction, but also because I was just blown away by the level of nuance and ambiguity and complexity in this tiny, slim novella. I thought that was so modern, and so fresh, and so provocativ­e – in the best possible way.”

Though Hall had long wanted to direct, she shied away from it even with a father and half-brother (Edward Hall) as helmers. “If anything, I think it was a little bit overdeterm­ined in my family that I would be an actor. That narrative started very young, and I would do it, and my parents were proud of me. Theatre is the thing in my family, because that was my father’s love and his brilliance. But from when I was very little, I was like, ‘I think cinema might be my thing. I think I want to make movies.’ But it’s an intimidati­ng thing to step into, and do – for all the reasons that it’s intimidati­ng for a woman to do it, but also because of who my father was. It took me a long time to get the confidence. I talked myself out of it again and again. ‘Put the script in the drawer, Rebecca. You’ll get to it later.’”

So what was the catalyst for actually going ahead and making a black & white, 4:3 ratio arthouse film? An ambitious movie she chastised herself for as “arrogant”. She laughs. “A combinatio­n of having a baby, and growing up, and maybe not being as fulfilled with acting as I had wanted to be, made me realise that actually directing is an act of arrogance, and you might as well just get on with it.”

Passing was shortliste­d for Sundance 2021’s Grand

Jury Prize and will be seen on Netflix later this year, while lockdown saw her and her spouse create a segment for upcoming star-studded anthology movie With/In, informed by the hobbies people took up during their time indoors. “It ended up being actually brilliant and very, very funny, and very silly – so it’s about a haunted sourdough starter called Mother!”

Though Hall feels directing is her true calling, she’s intent on keeping duality going in her work, too. “I am fulfilled by acting. I’m never going to give it up. I love it, and it is a part of me,” she insists. And with the great box-office numbers on Godzilla Vs. Kong, we may next be seeing her back in that world. “That was tremendous good fun. Will we see my character back? I don’t know. You tell me. No one’s called me, which is a troubling sign, you know?” She pauses before adding a little British underplayi­ng. “But I heard it did well…”

THE NIGHT HOUSE OPENS ON 20 AUGUST. PASSING WILL DEBUT ON NETFLIX LATER THIS YEAR.

‘It was a particular­ly crazy year of my life. I had a baby. I had six months off, and then shot Godzilla Vs. Kong, and then I shot Tales From The Loop, and then I shot The Night House, and then I shot Passing, all before my baby turned one’

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 ??  ?? OLD HAUNT
Hall stars in horror-thriller The Night House (below).
OLD HAUNT Hall stars in horror-thriller The Night House (below).
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Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson star in Hall’s first directoria­l feature, Passing (right).
NEW DIRECTION Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson star in Hall’s first directoria­l feature, Passing (right).
 ??  ?? EARLY MAGIC
Hall entered a lot of people’s radar for her performanc­e in The Prestige (below).
EARLY MAGIC Hall entered a lot of people’s radar for her performanc­e in The Prestige (below).
 ??  ?? MONSTER SUCCESS
Hall with Alexander Skarsgård and Kaylee Hottle in Godzilla Vs. Kong (above).
MONSTER SUCCESS Hall with Alexander Skarsgård and Kaylee Hottle in Godzilla Vs. Kong (above).
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