She first appeared in front of the camera of Christopher Nolan and Tom Vaughan in 2006, then burst onto the screen two years later alongside Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Since then, Steven Spielberg, Stephen Frears, Patrice Leconte, Ben Affleck and Ethan Coen have directed her. After some thirty films, Rebecca Hall put her acting career on hold in 2021 to direct Passing, her first feature film. A member of the Feature Film Jury alongside Vincent Lindon, she talks to us about her career.
How did you get started on screen?
I made my debut in 1992 in The Camomile Lawn, a five-part British mini-series directed by my father. I was 9 years old and he didn't want me to be in it. It's not easy to select to expose your child in this way and your first instinct as a parent is to protect them from it. But one day when I was waiting in the audition room with the producers, they asked me to try out. Three hundred girls had come through the door and all of them had been turned away. They showed me the lines and I agreed to read them to them. Then I did some tests in front of the camera. So that was the series that launched my career.
What was your relationship with film then?
I was already madly in love with it. But my dream was not to become an actress: it was to direct. I had grown up in this environment and my greatest wish was to make films. It was my great ambition and I always knew that one day I would succeed.
When did you decide that it was time to make your dream come true?
I wrote the script for Passing fifteen years ago, but it was impossible for me to make the film any earlier. It's based on a short story of the same name by Nella Larsen, but it's also the story of my mother and grandfather, who were African Americans living in Detroit. They are both dead now. When I read the story, it resonated with me in a very powerful way. I sat down and wrote the script. I was 25 years old and not ready to start. When I felt the time was right, it took me eight years to make it. So I've been thinking it's my time for eight years now! But at the beginning, nobody believed in it. By making this film, my dream has come true! I want to do it again. It is now my most important ambition.
And the actress Rebecca Hall?
I haven't given up on the idea of continuing my acting career. So far I've experimented with a lot of different spectrums and I've loved it. But I'd like to go back to something closer to my experience on Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Let's go back to your debut. It was a certain Christopher Nolan who revealed you...
Quite quickly, I gained experience in the theatre. But the real starting point in film was actually with Christopher Nolan. I recorded an audition on video tape and sent it to him. The next day, he called me to play an improvised scene with Christian Bale. What happened to me was completely crazy! The casting was already set. Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine and David Bowie were also there. I had also managed to get a role in Tom Vaughan's Starter for 10. That was the year that the big break came for me.
What do you remember about the shoot?
I think I'll never forget my first day on set. There's a very intense scene towards the end of the film where Christian Bale and I were fighting. It was the first day of shooting the film, but also my first time on a movie set! I had met Christian Bale once and we had never rehearsed the scene. I can still hear Christopher Nolan saying, "Let's improvise". I've never been so scared in my life!
What role has changed you?
I don't know... I have to say that I am a very flexible person. In any case, I am definitely not the hyper-sexualised American girl from Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It took me a while to get rid of that label. When you break through the screen as a character, everyone looks at you through that prism. I like to play characters that are very different from me so that people don't know who I am. I also see it as a kind of exploration of myself. I always find a little bit of myself in all my characters.
What have you learned from your time in the theatre?
Theatre acting has taught me that it is important to approach a story as a whole in order to understand your character. In film, we sometimes miss pieces of the puzzle because everything is more fragmented. I have always approached my acting and my characters as a whole story. I always know where my character is going and where I want to take him.