Rebecca Hall: My art belongs to Daddy

Her dad is the most famous director in the business, which can't hurt if you're an actor. But it's a lot to live up to. Luckily, Rebecca Hall is up to the task. Charlotte Cripps meets her

Rebecca Hall has three big roles in this year's summer season of plays at the Theatre Royal Bath. The season is directed by Sir Peter Hall. And yes, he's her dad. "I would always be known as Sir Peter Hall's daughter, even if he weren't directing me right now," she says about the renowned theatre and opera director. Sir Peter is now in his seventies, and has been married four times (his third wife - the Detroit-born opera diva Maria Ewing is Hall's mum).

Rebecca Hall has three big roles in this year's summer season of plays at the Theatre Royal Bath. The season is directed by Sir Peter Hall. And yes, he's her dad. "I would always be known as Sir Peter Hall's daughter, even if he weren't directing me right now," she says about the renowned theatre and opera director. Sir Peter is now in his seventies, and has been married four times (his third wife - the Detroit-born opera diva Maria Ewing is Hall's mum).

Although dad is founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, former director of the National Theatre, former artistic director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera and knighted in 1977 for services to British theatre, the young actress says he does not cramp her style. "I hardly see him," says Hall, 22, who has just stopped for lunch during rehearsals for Galileo's Daughter, a new play by Timberlake Wertenbaker, which her dad is directing. The playwright is sitting in on the rehearsals while Sir Peter works with a cast that includes Julian Glover as Galileo (who played Vladimir in Sir Peter's recent revival of Waiting for Godot) and Hall as Galileo's daughter. He also directs her in George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman. Both plays are in rep with Molière's Dom Juan (here presented in a translation from 2001 by Simon Nye as Don Juan), in which Hall gets a breather from dad and is directed by Thea Sharrock, who also directed Hall in DH Lawrence's The Fight for Barbara last year in the Peter Hall Company season.

Despite Hall's star credentials, she is living humbly in a shared house in Bath, chosen from the theatre's digs list, with three other actors from the cast. "My room is a tad claustrophobic, but I have a small television," she says. She did get a bit fed up the other Sunday and relocated to her dad's lush hotel around the corner, The Royal Crescent, where she had the full works - roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and lemon tart - before flopping in front of his larger television set to fall asleep with the football on, like any other normal daughter might. "Actually, I am very lucky that somebody has such faith in me. I have probably got to where I have got to quicker than other people because it is my dad," she says, unflustered by what some people will always suggest is nepotism.

"When dad offered me the part of Vivie, the daughter in Mrs Warren's Profession, I thought he was off his nut," says Hall of her West End debut in October 2002. She had just walked out of her second year at Cambridge, where she had been reading English, determined to act "come hell or high water" - when her dad handed her the script. "How could I walk straight into a lead role in the West End, with everybody saying, 'Here comes the director's daughter'?" she asks. Nevertheless, she took the plunge. "I thought I might as well stand in the firing line and get the 'dad' thing over with as soon as possible," she says. She was terrified of "falling flat on my face" but was not the only frightened one. "After the press night, dad went home and went green and grey. He said: 'Oh my God, what am I putting my daughter through?'" But it paid off. She won the Ian Charleson award in 2003 for her performance.

Hall is down-to-earth, un-luvvie, despite having spent most of her childhood standing in the wings, waiting for her mother - who famously got disrobed in Sir Peter's production of Salome at the Royal Opera House. "I used to have a shower running for her and help her out of her outfits," says Hall. Then, at the age of eight, Hall starred in The Camomile Lawn, Sir Peter's Channel 4 adaptation of Mary Wesley's novel.

"Coming from parents who are in the public eye, I learnt early on not to take it all too seriously," she explains. "I am not going to get completely self-obsessed and wrapped up in it all. Not to say I am tough. I am as vulnerable as anyone else. It takes a while to develop a thicker skin."

Hall is strikingly beautiful, with long limbs, long brown hair and brown eyes. She's wearing a necklace - "It's a bird of peace" - and clothes that are "a cross between vintage and charity shop". She has a sticking plaster on her foot: "I cut it kneeling as a nun in Galileo's Daughter because the Poor Clare nuns didn't wear shoes," she says. As the adoring Maria Celeste, she is dressed "in a brown sack". The play examines the relationship between father and daughter. "It is about the absolute love of a child for her father. But she then realises that he can't be perfect," says Hall.

What happens when the rest of the cast want to crticise the director and she is there? "I support them," Hall says. "There have been times when actors are tired and stressed and pissed off with the director - that's normal - but they don't want to put me in a difficult situation. The way I deal with it is that I always give them a hug and encourage them to talk about it. I usually agree with them," she says. "I would never go running back to dad and tell him."

Hall, when in London, lives in Highbury with her flatmate, David Birkin, nephew of Jane and she has been going out with the 24-year-old songwriter/actor Freddie Stevenson for the past year. She is no party animal and likes reading and listening to classical music. She also went to see Bob Dylan play at Finsbury Park recently and desperately wants to be in a Woody Allen film. "I read in a newspaper that Woody Allen has been casting for a new film in London about British life. I am really upset that I wasn't asked to audition for it," she says. "If Woody Allen is reading this, I want a part. Please call my agent!"

But after the Bath season she and dad are to move to the new Kingston Rose Theatre where she stars as Rosalind - "a dream part for me" - in Sir Peter's production of As You Like It. The play then travels on to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Then does she hope to move away from her father? "I actually think it would be insulting," she replies, "if he offers me more great parts to turn them down merely because it is my dad offering them to me." And is she going to knock on any doors while out in Los Angeles? "Yes, I would like to get into films. Not to say that means I would leave the theatre. I come from a theatre background, of course. But I am very curious about film." She looks up. "One aspect of my mum's personality that has influenced me is her love of Hollywood and the golden era of black-and-white films."

Hall's parents divorced when she was five years old. "It made me very independent," says the actress, who moved between Roedean, and bedrooms at her dad's house in south London and her mum's house in West Sussex. "My childhood was very colourful and I am very good friends with both my parents. We have no secrets."

Hall's mum will be coming to see her perform in Bath. Her boyfriend has already been to the previews of Man and Superman, in which she plays the beautiful temptress Ann Whitefield, "who gets the man she loves". "For this part I even put on some make-up and a corset," she says.

In Don Juan, she plays Elvira. "I am one of the jilted wives for two scenes: I scream at him few times and then I make a guest appearance at the end as the grim reaper. But you wouldn't know it's me," says Hall, lighting up suddenly for the first time. "Well, it is much more light hearted," she says of this particular part, as if the pressure is lifted from her to be so seriously good. Having to live up to being the new Vanessa Redgrave must get tiring.

"Yes," she says, "I almost have to prove myself doubly because I am up against judgement even more, being who I am."

The Peter Hall Company season is at the Theatre Royal, Bath (01225 448844; to 14 August

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Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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