October 27, 2021
The Actor has just directed her first film, an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing. She discusses the family story that inspired her, cultural appropriation and class in Hollywood
Rebecca Hall on race, regret and her personal history: ‘In any family with a legacy of passing, it’s very tricky’
It would be easy to assume that Rebecca Hall has never had to fight for anything in her life. Now 39, she made her screen debut at the age of 10 in The Camomile Lawn, the 1992 TV series directed by her father, the British theatre grandee Sir Peter Hall. Her stage debut came a decade later, in his production of Mrs Warren’s Profession. There followed 15 hugely successful years as an actor, working with Steven Spielberg (The BFG), Christopher Nolan (The Prestige), Woody Allen (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and many more. But for more than a decade she has been struggling to build a second career, as the director of a movie that some would say she has no right to make.
That movie is Passing, which Hall has adapted herself from the 1929 novel by the Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen. It is an emotionally resonant study of racial identity, seen through the eyes of two Black Women, Irene (played by Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga), both of whom, to varying extents, “pass” as white. Hall remembers first encountering the book in her early 20s and feeling a rush of inspiration: “I was sat there reading and I could just suddenly start seeing it: their two faces, seeing each other in that tea room, and I had that idea of looking from Irene’s perspective and panning through someone staring at you and then coming back. That was really there, and very potent, in black and white in my head.”
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