Happy New Year everyone! (I know it’s a little late to say that, but given that this the first news update of 2017, I figured why not). Rebecca was featured in yesterday’s edition of The Times–promoting the upcoming UK release of Christine and sharing some insight on dementia, which her father, Sir Peter Hall, was diagnosed with several years ago.
THE TIMES – ‘I have melancholy resting face,” the actress Rebecca Hall, 34, says, apologising. It’s true that her angular face — which has been compared to a Modigliani painting — can look severe in repose. However, when larking about, she looks like a beautiful tomboy.
There’s also a new glow of happiness, which she puts down to life with her new husband, the American actor Morgan Spector (whom viewers of Boardwalk Empire will know as Frank Capone). Hall never thought she would get married and swore she would never date an actor. After years of a peripatetic actor’s life, though, she has finally put down roots. They married in New York in September 2015. Home is now Brooklyn with Spector and their two cats, Max and Viv. “It’s so unfair when people talk about crazy cat ladies. I know plenty of men who have cats. My husband got me into cats and I love them so much.”
The marriage took everybody by surprise. Many people seemed to think that Hall was still with the British director Sam Mendes. After Mendes’s six-year marriage to Kate Winslet broke up in 2010, Hall was forced to deny that she and Mendes, a close friend, were in a relationship.
They had worked together intensively on the Bridge Project for which Mendes took Shakespeare and Chekhov around the globe using a British/American company that included Ethan Hawke and Simon Russell Beale (with Hall cast as Varya in The Cherry Orchard and Hermione in The Winter’s Tale). The rumours went away, but quietly, a year after his divorce, they got together.
Just as quietly, it seems, they separated. She and Spector have been together for three years. They met in December 2013, rehearsing the Broadway play Machinal, in which they played forbidden lovers on stage. He joined her in London that Christmas for a break before the play opened and by July they were publicly a couple.
They have just spent their second Christmas in Brooklyn. They try to “divide up Christmas every year”, she says. “My husband is really keen to live in London for a bit, so we’re doing it half and half, depending on work. But his parents are in northern California, so New York is right in the middle for both of us.”
Her father, the British theatre director Sir Peter Hall, founded the Royal Shakespeare Company. Sir Peter, 86, retired in 2011 after being diagnosed with dementia. For several years the family formed a protective circle round his illness, but now feel it’s important to be open. “It’s a very sad disease,” Hall says softly. “It does seem an irony for humanity that our physical bodies are getting stronger and stronger and living for ever — but we’ve got no idea how to look after our brains.”
We think of Hall as quintessentially English. She was head girl at Roedean and studied English at Cambridge for two years, before leaving to act full time. Actually, though, she’s half-American. Her mother, the opera singer Maria Ewing, grew up in working-class Detroit. Her grandfather was part-Sioux Native American, part-black. Hall lived with her mother after her parents split up when she was five — but father and daughter have always been close.
“My father’s in a really good place now,” Hall says. “He’s looked after very well, but he’s very much in the later stages of dementia and it’s a very difficult thing for a family to adjust to.”
He directed her several times — including her West End debut (Mrs Warren’s Profession) and later as Viola in his 2011 National Theatre production of Twelfth Night — his 80th birthday present to himself.
Her mother was Sir Peter’s third wife. So Hall, 34, is part of a modern, blended family. She has five half-siblings from her father’s other marriages — to Nicki Frei, Jacqueline Taylor and the actress Leslie Caron — including the theatre director Edward Hall. It helps to pull together when a parent is ill, she acknowledges, brushing away a tear.
“I think we go through phases of not seeing each other very much. But it’s like all relationships. We think of each other as being family, which is a feat in itself, because none of us grew up together, really. So it’s extraordinary when you think about it.”
Early on in her career, Hall was compared to a young Vanessa Redgrave. After great character parts — the lead in David Nicholls’s film Starter for 10 opposite James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch, David Frost’s girlfriend in Frost/Nixon, the demure girl in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the scientist Maya Hansen in Iron Man 3 — she now has her first bona fide lead in the independent American film Christine, released here this month.
The film, which won rave reviews in the US re-creates the life of the American news reporter Christine Chubbuck, who killed herself live on television in 1974, at the age of 29. Hall is quite extraordinary in the role, although filming took a toll. When she held the fake gun to her head in the last scene, “I could not stop shaking for hours”.
Hall has been acting since she was ten, when her father cast her in his TV production of The Camomile Lawn, but she has finally learnt that she doesn’t have to take her work home. “It’s a real maturing on my part. For most of my life I’ve been, ‘Work, work, this is my work.’ I go into this bubble and disappear from my friends and family and go down whatever rabbit hole, then I re-emerge and have to work out all my relationships again. But because the role of Christine was so emotionally all-consuming, when I went home at 6pm I made a really conscious attempt to let go and remember who I was again. I had to value my life. I’m coming to the realisation that my work does not suffer by the living of my life, it just makes it richer.”
Christine is released on January 27.
Rebecca Hall’s perfect weekend
Candlelit dinner or riotous pub evening?
It depends on my mood.
Green juice or croissant?
Green juice — croissants always make me feel a bit ill after I’ve had one.
Twitter or telephone?
Telephone. I think the 140-character soundbite is dodgy for society.
Ski or sun?
Sun. I’ve never skied in my life.
I couldn’t get through the weekend without…
My husband and my cats. They’re called Max and Viv.