Dree Hemingway on the line with actress Rebecca Dayan, talking first impressions on her new film Novitiate (2017), playing pretend as an adult and foiling true crime as a child.
DREE HEMINGWAY: Wait, I was going to put on a face mask. We’re going to do an interview in a face mask over the phone because you’re wearing a face mask and I’m jealous that your skin might be more glowing than mine… so I watched the movie [Novitiate (2017)] this morning. It’s such a fucking great movie and you’re amazing. I like that you’re the little minx. I remember when you were starting to film it. How did you prepare for the role?
REBECCA DAYAN: Well first, Maggie [Betts] the director had sent us lots of books and we worked on the character. I think she worked with every actor on the character ahead of filming the movie. Just by having lots of conversations and working on some themes. So I think we were preparing for a year leading up to finally filming because it got pushed a couple of times. After that, we were super lucky to have rehearsals which is not something that always happens on independent films, and we had a week of nun camp (laughs) basically where we had a real former nun who taught us how to walk and how to genuflect, which is when you put your knee down. Someone also came to teach us sign language, and it was nice to have all that bodywork before. Even if you don’t necessarily do it in the scene it’s there in your body memory and it just helps you be in character. Also the habit helps.
DH: The nun that trained you, she was obviously more of a modern nun but did she discuss the time period of the nuns in the film?
RD: She was I think her late sixties so she started being a nun not too far from that time. She was probably a nun in the early 70s - she didn’t seem to have much objection to how it was. She didn’t really tell us how different it was for her.
DH: it’s a really good film. I’m very proud of you. I was watching with very proud loving eyes.
RD: I was nervous that you were going to see it.
DH: No I was so excited. It’s a really special film.
RD: I think it is.
DH: I also felt that it touched base on things with religion, showing the questions people have, even people who are in that position of becoming part of the church or marrying god.
RD: What I liked about how Maggie wrote the movie, is that she doesn’t really make a judgment too much on religion. She’s not really saying whether it’s a bad thing or a good thing. Of course you see stuff that’s pretty harsh and hard to understand, why young women would put themselves through that, but it’s more about spirituality and how that is beautiful and something that everyone needs in their life.
DH: Not only are you a fantastic actress and my favourite human being but I don’t know if the world knows that you are literally my favourite artist. You were painting during the time of waiting for this film, right?
RD: Yeah absolutely. It definitely influenced my research for my art show which was about women, and women’s sexuality which the movie is also about at the end of the day. It also focuses a lot on love and sexuality and that’s what my show was about, how religion kind of made female sexuality taboo. I read a piece by a writer that now I’m forgetting the name of, obviously, who questioned the original meaning of the word virgin and said that before Christianity it didn’t actually carry and religious meaning. It just meant a woman who didn’t belong to a man but then Christianity changed it, so that’s what my first solo show was about. That was definitely influenced by preparing for the movie.
DH: It’s funny, you can tell. I was watching the film and then was I reflecting on when I had all of your art in my house in Los Angeles. There’s an elegance about your portraits of woment. There’s clearly a sexuality but it’s not sexual…
RD: Not aggressive
DH: There’s a innocence about it that’s really beautiful that I think is very much portrayed in this film with the women. What are you doing right now besides wearing a facial mask in a gorgeous apartment?
RD: Well my premiere is tomorrow, in New York, for the movie, so just you know, being anxious about that and hoping that everything goes well and that people like the movie and go see it this weekend.
DH: I mean, people are going to love this film.
RD: Yeah I think so.
DH: For sure, hands down. It’s really gorgeous, it’s really different and I feel like there’s a lot of film, especially American films, that don’t step out of the boundaries of the box, if you will, and I think this one does. It’s cool especially for the time that we’re going through right now, being able to work with such incredible women must have been really powerful.
RD: Yeah that was definitely one of the first things that, aside from the universe of the film, it was definitely one of the factors that appealed to me to work on this movie was Maggie the female writer/director and Cat, the cinematographer is also a woman and the producers are also women and it was almost an entirely female cast. It’s really an ensemble piece. I mean, there’s a main character but I feel like every character is fully fledged and has one if not many moments that are very important and powerful in the movie.
DH: I completely agree
RD: Nobody is a really a cliché of a young women. Everyone is complex character. You know as well as me, it’s not often that you get to read stuff where you’re like, I would be happy to be in this movie, in almost any role.
DH: It’s true. I was watching that and I was like everybody has their own little story and history in this film. Did you always want to be an actress?
RD: I was acting when I was a kid. I did a lot of things. I wanted to be an artist, I always wanted to be creative. I remember the first time I said I wanted to be an actress was when I was five or six and I just couldn’t decide what job I wanted to do. I was like maybe I can be an actress because then I will get to play any job. I can be anything, I could be a spy, I could be a teacher. I could be all the things that you want to be.
DH: What was your wildest dream job growing up? I wanted to be marine biologist and an animal whisperer. I think I am an animal whisperer but I’m deeply afraid of the ocean although I love it. I don’t know why.
RD: I definitely see you as an animal whisperer. I wanted to be a spy of some kind, like a secret agent. Like going on missions, travelling, doing dangerous things, I thought that was cool. Also arresting bad guys.
DH: I could see you doing that! (laughs)
RD: For some reason I kind of imagine that wearing some sort of superhero outfit. I wasn’t picturing it with a suit or anything like that, it was more superhero kind of stuff.
DH: What would be your superpower if you were a superhero?
RD: Probably teleportation. That’s still something I hope people are going to invent eventually.
DH: I think the fantasy of being an actress is why I wanted to become an actress. Basically being able to make magic, to pretend play magic my whole entire life.
RD: Yeah, it’s the best. When I was younger it was this idea I had which was not fully formed, and then growing up I just saw the realm of possibilities in story telling. I think that’s amazing. I was always fascinated by stories as a child. Giving stories a voice is something I’ve found really important. Sometimes I feel like being an actor and an artist is irrelevant and I should go back to school and study something that can actually help people live a better life. I remember saying that to an older, wiser friend of mine and his response was - you can't think like that, because what you’re doing is also very important, telling stories and putting beauty into the world and messages and art is also very important for people's happiness and wellbeing and to open peoples minds. People need to go to the movies and feel things because they need to get away from their lives and understand things about their lives.
DH: For me growing up, film was like therapy in a sense - it was my way of dreaming bigger, therefore I think that what we do is super important. It’s not us curing cancer, it’s allowing people to dream bigger. May it be someone watching a character and wanting to kind of emulate that…
RD: Even things that are very foreign or hard to… you know, having a glimpse into other peoples lives that are very different to ours and just having other perspectives on the same questions that we all have about being human.
DH: We are superheroes (laughs)
RD: Yeah, totally.
DH: Tell me a weird story of when you were a kid.
RD: OK… it’s kind of a scary story. I was always afraid. My nanny, he would either make me watch Bob Marley concerts on VHS or horror movies, so I was always terrified. I had this panic that there were going to be people coming into our house to take us away and rob our house. The one day I was eight or nine, I was nine because my brother was born. He was a tiny little baby. We were outside the house having lunch with my parents and my sister and I went inside to pick up something and there was a man inside the house who was standing in the hallway. I remember having the weirdest feeling. I have this really clear memory of it. He was standing in the hallway in between the living room and the dining room and my brothers crib was right there and he was standing tower over him. For some reason I thought it was maybe someone who worked for my parents hotel or whatever, and the guy turned around and he looked at me and he waved goodbye with a really creepy smile and then ran out of the living room door. My dad ran after him and came back 30 minutes later with the guys t shirt that he'd left. There was a little article in the paper about a little girl who caught a burglar before he managed to…
RD: Yeah that was me. The guy finally got arrested.
DH: Basically you were a child spy! (both laugh) That’s amazing.
RD: I was terrified for so long after that
DH: What do you want most in life?
RD: God I hate you, what’s with all these crazy questions?
DH: It’s like bipolarness going on right now. A metronome of things.
RD: Peace, peace. Peace for myself, peace for other people.
DH: But for you, we get world peace, but this is not a pageant.
RD: I mean no world peace but just like, happiness.
DH: If you could plan out your next 10 years where do you see yourself? It doesn’t even have to be career wise.
RD: The next 10 years… that’s always been a hard things for me, projecting super far into the future.
DH: I can project that you’re going to be the biggest artist ever so I can be like “yeah I’m friends with Rebecca Dayan, do you know her? She’s amazing.”
Photographer: Zackery Michael
Stylist: Liz McClean
Makeup: Charlotte Day @ See Management
Hair: Marco Braca @ Walter Schupfer Management
Styling Assistant: Merina Casa
BANNER IMAGE: All clothing: Christian Dior