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Hall's fight for nuance in the #TimesUp era
Actor struggles with the moral dilemma of working for Woody Allen as allegations of sexual assault linger

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Friday, February 9, 2018 – Page A18


Rebecca Hall has come to a conclusion about Woody Allen. It's just not the conclusion you might assume.

The British stage and screen actress, 35, has worked with Allen on two of his films: her breakout role, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and the upcoming A Rainy Day in New York.

In mid-January, she posted the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund logo on her Instagram, with this text: "... Woody Allen gave me one of my first significant roles in film for which I have always been grateful. ... I have, however, subsequently realized there is nothing easy about any of this. In the weeks following I have thought very deeply about this decision [to work with him on Rainy Day], and remain conflicted and saddened.

"After reading and re-reading Dylan Farrow's statements of a few days ago and going back and reading the older ones - I see, not only how complicated this matter is, but that my actions have made another woman feel silenced and dismissed. That is not something that sits easily with me in the current or indeed any moment, and I am profoundly sorry. I regret this decision and wouldn't make the same one today. It's a small gesture and not one intended as close to compensation but I've donated my wage to @timesup."

News reports blasted headlines such as Hall Regrets Working With Allen. But something was missing in that truncated reading - something that's crucial to both Hall's character and her choice of roles: nuance. She's drawn to projects about moral Gordian Knots: In The Town, her lover is a good guy and a vicious bank robber. In The Awakening, she debunks spiritual hoaxes - until she sees a ghost. In Christine, her character becomes unhinged by being marginalized, yet isn't wrong to feel that way.

In The Dinner, her character struggles to reconcile her beloved son with the horrific thing he's done. In Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, she plays an inventor of the lie-detector test who's forced to keep her life a secret. And in the new film Permission, which she also produced, her character Anna, a music student still in a relationship with her childhood sweetheart, confronts a dilemma: How dare you say that your perfectly nice life may not be what you want?

In a phone interview this week, Hall expanded upon - and complicated - her feelings about the Allen situation. (A brief synopsis: Woody Allen's daughter Dylan Farrow accused him of molesting her when she was a child; police investigated twice and brought no charges; Farrow's journalist brother Ronan wrote the pieces that broke the Weinstein scandal; Dylan called out Hollywood for its hypocrisy in continuing to work with Allen in the wake of #TimesUp; many stars, including Timothée Chalamet, have donated their salaries from Allen's films to the cause.)

"I made a personal choice," Hall says now. She has a quick intelligence and usually speaks rapidly and confidently, but here chooses her words carefully. "I've been deliberate in saying that the choice wasn't making a judgment one way or another. I don't believe anyone in the public should be judge and jury on a case that is so complex. I didn't [donate my salary] to make a public judgment. I did it because my conscience was affected when I became aware that a woman felt indirectly invalidated by my decision to work with a man whom she believes assaulted her.

"I wanted to do something," she continues, "that would publicly say, in this moment, that when a woman says something, or a man says something, I think it's really crucial that the message is, 'You will be listened to.' That is as far as I can go. Beyond that, I don't know. I'm not sure we will ever know."

That Hall had positive experiences working with Allen "makes me all the more conflicted about it. And saddened," she says. "To be clear, what I'm saying doesn't affect the work I did with him. It doesn't affect what I think about him, from what I can see of him.

I'm not saying that I know. I'm saying that I'm not sure it's up to any of us to say whether we know or not."

These supercareful conversations are the norm now, when it feels as though half the world is walking on eggshells - when, for example, a lifelong feminist such as Margaret Atwood is publicly castigated for saying that she believes in due process; or when Justin Trudeau corrects a woman who's praising him for being woke to women's issues ("We say 'personkind,' not 'mankind,' " he replied, later explaining it was a "dumb joke").

A plea for nuance can bite you in the ass.

Yet Hall is trying for just that.

Her life has always been attuned to it. Take her position on marriage, for example. Her father, the legendary English theatre director Sir Peter Hall, was already twice divorced when he married Hall's mother, the American opera singer Maria Ewing, in 1982, the year Rebecca was born. They soon separated and later divorced. "So I was always cynical about marriage," Hall says.

But then she co-starred - and fell in love - with Morgan Spector in the 2015 Broadway revival of the play Machinal.

"I got to the point where marriage was the thing I wanted to do most - make a leap of faith," she says. "If you're aware of how absolutely preposterously improbable marriage is, it's the most hopeful thing you can do." The couple are expecting their first child in a few months.

Permission is filled with awkward scenes in which Anna and her childhood sweetheart, Will (Dan Stevens), stumble toward uncomfortable realizations. On the eve of their engagement, they decide they need more sexual experience, and agree to sleep with a few other people. It does not go as planned.

"The big clue of the movie is that it pretends to be about open relationships - and it's not," Hall says. "I know people who have successful open relationships.

There are ethical ways of being non-monogamous that stand you in better stead of it working out. These characters are the textbook examples of how not to do it. They're a disaster. Because actually what the film is about is a woman giving herself permission to work out who she is and what she wants in life. And to grow up."

For Hall, the film asks a question rarely explored in movies, but experienced a lot in real life: "How do you question or release yourself from a relationship where both parties are nice people and everything is essentially fine," she says, "and yet you're plagued by the idea that you want to break out of it?" To further complicate matters - because isn't complication what this is all about? - Hall and Brian Crano, Permission's writer-director, have been friends since they were students at Cambridge. Crano's husband, David Joseph Craig, plays Anna's brother Hale. And Hall's husband, Morgan Spector, plays Hale's partner Reece.

You might think people so entangled wouldn't want to lay bare discomfiting relationship truths, but Hall felt the opposite: "You can't pull the wool over anyone's eyes. We all know each other too well. There's no hiding on set. That can at times be quite confronting. But it's creatively fruitful. And we'd been having these kinds of conversations for years, as our 20s became our 30s.

Things we'd witnessed, people we knew. It's all in there.

"I'm of the mind that you should do the work, have those conversations about what you want and vow to keep having them," she goes on. "Communication has got to be the key, right?" She laughs. "Oh, I don't know, I'm early days with it [marriage]."

As for working with Allen again, "I don't see how I could with a clear conscience if things remain as they are," Hall says.

"But I don't know, I really don't know. You can't put this case into a black-and-white schema. There are complicated aspects on both sides. It is possible to believe that one party is not lying, and also not be convinced of the other party's innocence and/or guilt."

It's possible. But tricky.

Because revolutions, no matter how righteous and necessary, aren't nuance-friendly.

Permission opens Feb. 9 in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa.

Associated Graphic

In Permission, Rebecca Hall again portrays a complicated woman: Anna, a music student stuck living a life she doesn't want in a relationship with her childhood sweetheart.

Huh? How did I get here?
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