Movies

Rebecca Hall on ‘Resurrection’ & Seeing Acting as an “Extreme Sport”

In multiplex movies like Godzilla vs. Kongor Holmes & Watson, the actress Rebecca Hall is often a genteel presence, a reassuring face against a much larger canvas. But then there are those other films—Christine, The Night House, and now, Resurrection—where Hall becomes a sheer avatar of angst. These are characters at risk of being utterly engulfed by a void, and as an actor she doesn’t look back, entering with total commitment (and a splash of mordant wit).

In Resurrection, Hall taps that vein of intense emotion to play Margaret, a biotech exec and single mother to a teenage daughter (Grace Kaufman). All is going swimmingly until a man from a very dicey past relationship, David (Tim Roth, the picture of unctuous menace), keeps popping up in her life. Margaret tries to fight off being drawn back into David’s sadistic web, while keeping a white-knuckle grip on her family life.

“She lends all of her characters a real sense of dignity. She’s just so formidable,” Andrew Semans, the director of Resurrection, told me. Their unpredictable film follows Margaret to the end of her rope, adding a touch of the surreal to the stalker-adjacent story. It’s another triumph for Hall, who also wrote and directed last year’s Passingfrom the Harlem-set 1929 Nella Larsen novel. Below, she talks about the appeal of the new movie’s profound Greek unease, inspirations from mythology and theater, and her character’s haunting seven-minute monologue.

How did you get involved with Resurrection and what drew you to its narrative?

I think it hit me at a very specific moment. I had just wrapped [shooting] on Passing, but hadn’t done any of the editing or postproduction yet. But I didn’t feel like, “Wouldn’t it be nice to do something low-key and not very pressurizing after this intense experience of directing something?” I had the complete opposite reaction. I was like, “Well, if I’m going to do acting, I want it to be as fulfilling as this experience I’ve just gone through. So it’s going to have to be something big.” You know, the extreme-sports version of acting [laughs].

What’s the most frightening thing about your Resurrection character’s situation?

Her situation is very frightening… but it also felt to me that the film has this mythical quality, in the sense of the Greek myths, which examine basic, universal human emotion. In this case, it’s anxiety, terror, existential terror, and we’re also dealing with abuse and gaslighting. The Greek myths take a set of emotions and, to hold them, create a vessel that’s outlandish and metaphorical and enormous. So Margaret takes on this almost mythical quality of the lioness—the ultimate mother, the ultimate avenger. And it struck me that the level of emotion has to justify the ending. So despite all of her “I’ve got my life together” rigor, at her center is this huge amount of rage and a sense of injustice, coupled with panic—pure, unadulterated panic.

Aside from everything else, these feelings also feel very present right now. We’re in an hour of anxiety and existential terror, a feeling of “how are any of us in control with what the hell is happening in the world?” I think this is why the film gets under people’s skin. It’s not because everybody has an experience of being in an abusive relationship—although I know many people who have, tragically. It’s just examining the pure, raw emotion of it, and giving you an experience that ends in a kind of sick catharsis.

There’s definitely a simmering theatrical quality to the movie’s face-offs. I thought of Harold Pinter, or Edward Albee’s The Play About the Baby.

Yes, exactly! I had completely thought about that. It is very theatrical and heightened. That was part of what appealed to me.

At one point, you deliver a seven-minute monologue. How did you think through that speech?

I have had other experiences on the stage, where I’ve had to deliver huge monologues. I don’t think anything will be as hard as the one I had to deliver in Machinal, which is this expressionistic play written in the ’20s, because it’s probably five minutes of utterly unconnected thoughts. So I knew how to handle this. I prepare extensively in terms of whatever I have to do to imagine that I am the person experiencing what I’m experiencing. But in terms of practicing the lines, even how I’m going to say them and how I’m going to look when I’m saying them, I never do that. I genuinely don’t really have any idea what I’m going to do until I’m doing it.

When I last interviewed you, you talked about mapping out your characters on paper. What does the map look like for Margaret?

It’s very big and very intense. I do that for everything. I even did it when I was directing, for all the characters. Margaret’s one looks a little insane. But it’s a tool that I can’t be without, because I think my most important responsibility to the director is to deliver a performance that’s cohesive, so that when you get the edit, you stand a chance of having something that holds together from A to Z and goes on a journey.

And there’s a real feeling of spontaneity moment to moment in this film.

There can be a logic to the whole thing—but you’ve got to just jump off the cliff. That’s my firm belief.

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