Rebecca Hall discusses making the move from acting to directing, her new racial-identity movie “Passing”, and more in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
“Passing”, Hall’s directorial debut, is having its world premiere on Jan. 30 at the Sundance Film Festival. It “follows the unexpected reunion of two high school friends, whose renewed acquaintance ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.”
The film stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as the two lead actresses, Irene and Clare.
Despite bosses having initial worries that Hall wasn’t the right person to helm a film about the Black American experience, upon discussion, they found out she was a BIPOC American whose mother is Black.
“I don’t have any experience of being a Black person in America,” Hall says. “I don’t know what that feels like because I present as white, I go through the world as white, you know. But what I do have an experience of is being raised by people who were also raised by people who made choices that were shaped by living in a racist society.”
Hall remembers her mother being vague about her background, telling the magazine: “Sometimes it was talked about as, ‘Your grandfather — maybe he was Native American. Maybe he was a little bit Black. We don’t know.’ But when I looked at my mother, I always, my whole life, thought, ‘That’s a Black woman.'”
Hall explains how some responded to her background with laughter, with her saying she recalled thinking, “What does that say about you? What does that say about what you think about racial stereotypes, your expectation of what Blackness is?”
Revealing one friend then introduced her to Larsen’s novel back in 2007, Hall says: “I was flailing around. Identity is a hopelessly complex issue. But I read the book, and I was powerfully moved by it in a way that was really difficult for my 25-year-old brain to handle. I think much better when I’m writing than when I’m speaking, which is why being a public figure has always been a little bit problematic for me. So, my solution to understanding was to sit down and adapt it into a screenplay.”
Hall, who adapted the book in just 10 days, says she then put it in a drawer and waited “until I gained some arrogance” to consider directing, adding: “This is my dirty little secret: I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker, and I’ve been going through life as an actor, quietly spying on everyone that I work with, thinking about how I’ll do it.”
Hall says she was constantly told things like, “You’ll never get it made,” telling the mag: “And I suppose that just gave me a little bit of a dog with a bone situation.”
Thompson says of working with Hall on the flick, “What I was struck by is that even though she is somebody who is so talented as an actor, she didn’t sort of strong-arm me. She was very specific about certain things, more than any director I’ve ever worked with in terms of how every scene was shot. Everything had to be just right in terms of timing and where the bodies were inside of the frame.”