If acting is part journalism, part investigation, and part psychoanalysis of the character, actor Rebecca Hall embodies them all. Throughout her career, which began early on with the big bang of Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige”—which she bagged just on the strength of a video audition she sent in herself— and then quickly lead to head-turning performances “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Frost/Nixon,” Nicole Holofcener’s “Please Give,” Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” Joel Edgerton’s “The Gift,” and Antonio Campos’ startling “Christine”—she has demonstrated the uncanny ability to be charming, but also emotional, vulnerable and absolutely convincing in everything she does.
She has learned from some of the best, and as the dedicated daughter of a famous opera singer (Maria Ewing) and theater director (Sir Peter Hall), she has forged an incredible work ethic that has led her to a place of immersion in a character. But it’s not method either (generally). Hall preps, plans, and obsessively does the work of a journalist, an investigator, and therapist to understand the ins and outs of her character, does the work and on the day, is ready to be unleashed.
While she gets ready to finish her upcoming directorial debut “Passing,” (which is in post-production now, more on that soon, but some context here), Hall is currently starring in “Tales From The Loop” on Amazon Prime. From writer/producer Nathaniel Halpern, producer Matt Reeves (the recent ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise), and exec-producer and filmmaker Mark Romanek (“Never Let Me Go”) who directed the much-lauded pilot episode, “Tales From The Loop” is mind-bending lo-fi sci-fi, but with a decidedly emotional, humanist bent. The thoughtful and compelling sci-fi anthology series— inspired by the evocative paintings of Simon Stålenhag— centers on the interconnected stories of disparate people in a small town who live above ’The Loop,’ a mysterious machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe, making things previously relegated to science fiction, possible.
In the series, Hall plays Loretta, a physicist who works at The Loop and is also the daughter-in-law of Russ (Jonathan Pryce), the scientist, physicist and genius who founded the underground facility. Also a mother, Loretta lost her already-distant and obsessed mother at an early age due to a freak accident involving the Loop. Introverted and inward, a deep existential melancholy runs through Loretta, but is one day challenged by the discovery of another freak unexplainable occurrence.
“Tales From The Loop” is on Amazon Prime now. This ‘Loop’ and acting excerpt is from our forthcoming long-form Deep Focus podcast conversation that will run later this week and covers this, her entire career, “Passing” and so much more.
To paraphrase, you once spoke about the “one true way” into a character, like if you’re totally being honest with yourself. Can you talk about that and how it applies to your ‘Loop’ character Loretta?
She was a really interesting one because it was very clear to me what issues with her were. Sometimes I think there’s a certain amount of investigative work that you have to do as an actor, and then try and expose that in your performance and explain why someone behaves, how they behave, through the choices and how you play them. Sometimes you don’t have to worry about that and you can just play the tougher aspects of a character because it’s sort of explained without you having to do anything. But in the case of Loretta, it’s clear in episode one, exactly, why she is, who she is. I just found her very appealing somehow, because—I guess it’s a bit of a theme. If I’m being completely honest with myself. I’m always attracted to these characters that are clearly very emotional and passionate, but somewhere along the line, they’ve been forced to put up some sort of defense mechanism. That means that you have to hide with that because that’s the sort of interesting challenge for me. The whole thing about being on camera is this idea of minimalism, smallness, the camera finds you and all the rest of it. And it’s always struck me as a sort of interesting dilemma. It’s like, how do you be incredibly small and show the thing that’s not being said? How do you be loud was being completely silent? And that’s what the tone of the show is like, so that’s very appealing to me.
So, what makes you want to take a role on in general?
It has to appeal to one of three criteria. Is it going to be fun? How am I going to learn something? Is it going to take me somewhere interesting? If it has one or more of those than I’m in, if it has only one of those, then I’ll do a bit more investigation. And then there’s the sort of overarching one that I apply on top of all of those three things, other things, which is, is it something that I’d like to watch, which can sometimes win out over the role. Honestly, sometimes there’s something about the thing that strikes me as artistically interesting, and I just want to be a part of it. It’s not always because it’s such a challenging role or whatever. Sometimes it’s like, okay, the role is, yeah, you know, but it’s the thing that I actually think is worthwhile and want to be a part.
So, to that end, what was the thing in “Tales From The Loop” that made you want to jump in?
It was a lot of things. It was a role that was fascinating, the project itself felt very refreshing and unusual and it had a lot of artistic merit and ambition. All those things really got me. I like genre pieces. I like sci-fi and those things. There’s a very trendy, sci-fi high concept movement going on in television right now, which I really enjoy. Things like “Legion” or “Black Mirror,” I love those [kinds of] shows, but I think there is a sort of darkness to them. Like a dark edge, inherent to the genre, a kind of ironic strand running through them. But I found something quite interesting that ‘Loop,’ was of that ilk, but its face notes were ones of emotional sincerity and humanity, which I thought was quite brave and refreshing, frankly. It didn’t come down to something dark, it came down to something quite heartfelt and an attempted to just talk about very real things that we all go through, grief and just the, the problems of time passing and change and all its aspects good and bad.
What was so appealing about it to me, was the philosophy of time. That when you’re talking about quantum physics, particle physics, theoretical physics, it’s often about time and to take that and sort of flip it into it metaphorical relative make a show about the fact that time is the biggest problem about being a human cause. Because it is. If it weren’t for time, we wouldn’t die and things that were good wouldn’t get worse and vice versa, So, it’s just a very beautiful sort of poetical device actually.
Right, I guess what I’m talking about is a texture that you implicitly know, but don’t actually act.
I don’t have to do any of that. Don’t, don’t forget I’m still a consumer of art. It’s important to understand all those things because I want to feel them too. And I want to experience, you know, that, but I can’t play it you’re right. I just played the scene.
I spoke to [“Tales From The Loop” director and exec producer] Mark Romanek a few weeks back and he told me this story about an actor he didn’t want to name who had to cry in a beautifully sad scenes, but was sort of goofing off and talking about recipes right beforehand, and he was a bit worried. Then the scene happened and boom, emotional fireworks, and obviously that was you [laughs].
Ha, I was going to say, was that me?
It was. So, tell me a little bit about that, the craft and precision of that. The technique of channeling emotion at the drop of a hat and crying.
Yeah, I don’t know. People ask me about this all the time, and I have no idea, Mark Romanek actually asked me about it a lot. He kept saying, “How do you do that? How can you be telling a joke and then go into it?” I don’t know. My dad was a theatre director and he worked with Judi Dench a lot and she was the queen of this. She’s a notorious practical, joker, notorious! In a rehearsal room, she’s hilarious and all over the place, and then, okay, let’s do the scene. I watched this happen several times and suddenly she just slips into it and it’s breathtaking. And you were in tears within 30 seconds.
Now I’m not comparing myself to her, but I think there are schools of actor that work in this way and in a sense have to be somewhere else so that they don’t check themselves too much [so] they remove the element of self-consciousness and they just dive headfirst into the emotion, whatever it is.
Right, the opposite of method in a way.
Yes, kind of. And then there is another school of acting that needs to be fully immersed all the time. And flip quite fluidly between the two, according to what the job or the mood or the day, honestly. I don’t know if it’s technique. I don’t, I don’t know what it is. It’s just sort of listening to myself and letting it happen. If I get in my head too much sometimes then it can stop the thing happening. Acting is very, very strange and a very strange thing to talk about. You know, people are able to imagine themselves to be other people and then immediately start feeling what they’re feeling. I don’t know.
It strikes me your regular approach sounds like immersion. Do all the prep, the homework, being super prepared, and then unleashing it on the day.
That has always been my mantra and my school of thought: I work very fastidiously and obsessively prior to shooting far more than I do on set. Because when I turn up, I have a strong understanding that I’ve done all the homework and I know who the person is. And the best thing that I can do is just be free to let the instinctive part kick in, and have no idea what’s going to happen. That’s when I do my best work, I think when I don’t know what’s going to happen. When I try and plot it out too much, it’s not as good and I don’t like it. I’ve done both, but that’s where I learned, I do all the work beforehand and then I turn up on the day and I’m more likely to be chatting and cracking jokes up until someone calls “action.”
“Tales From The Loop” is on Amazon Prime now. More from this interview soon.