Interview with Rebecca Hall
Rebecca Hall: I was born and educated in the UK and went to university to study English Literature at Cambridge. The question of whether my family influenced my choice of career is a bit which came first, the chicken or the egg? Of course they have shaped who I am-there isn't a parent who doesn't! However, they never encouraged me to do anything that wasn't what I wanted.
TS: Why did you choose to do the play Machinal and the role of Helen Jones?
RH: it is an extraordinary piece of writing that needs to be voiced and take up more than a footnote in America's theatrical history. It was as simple as that really-being a part of getting it performed felt like reason enough.
TS: Can you share your initial thoughts about the play after you first read it?
RH: I have never had a more visceral response to anything. I felt like I couldn't breathe for a minute.
TS: What kind of preparation and/or research do you have to do in order to play the role? Is the fact that the play was inspired by the Ruth Snyder murder trial important to your process? The play is often described as "expressionistic" - is that valuable to you as an actor?
RH: The preparation and research is always extensive for anything set in a period. How one goes about doing that for a play is very much determined by the company and director. We all have to do it together, so we know we are all existing in the same world. That is the work of rehearsals. But there is always a lot of reading and immersing, whether it's films, photographs, music...whatever sparks one's imagination about the era and the part.
In rehearsal for Machinal. Photo by Jenny Anderson.
I don't believe Sophie Treadwell meant the play to be about Ruth Snyder. I believe it is an emotional response to witnessing that case and processing the feelings that it generated, but it is not about her specifically; it is about a society in a much broader sense. If she wanted to write the Ruth Snyder story, I doubt she would have so pointedly called the character I play "young woman" or occasionally "Helen." So, no, I've deliberately chosen not to think about Ruth Snyder too much. Helen is and should be an ordinary woman, like any one of us, an every woman.
Lyndsey said in rehearsal once, "No writer writes to an 'ism.' I thought that said it all really...it's interesting to know what expressionism is and what is meant by that - but you can't really let an "ism" take precedence over the humanity of a story. In that sense you can't act an "ism" either.
TS: Can you share some of your thoughts about Helen's relationship to her husband, mother and child with us?
RH: That is a complicated question. I think right now my thoughts are that none of these relationships are really hers, as it were. She didn't choose any of them and is oppressed by each one in different ways as a result.
TS: What do you look for from a director?
RH: Clarity, taste, honesty, vision, the ability to make an actor feel safe to be their bravest, and a respect for the material -- not much then really!
TS: Do you think the author, Sophie Treadwell, was writing from a feminist perspective?
RH: I think if you are a woman, it is impossible not to write from a feminist perspective.
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From This Author Roundabout Theatre Company