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When Kate Hallett, 18, was recording the quiet, moving voiceover that bookends Women Talking, she had a lot going on. Not only was she doing work for her first feature role, she also was finishing up high school in Alberta, where she was in a production of Newsies. “It was bizarre, I will not lie,” she says. “The direction styles between my high school director and Sarah Polley are very different. It was just so confusing.”
Hallett, a native of Canada who lives at home with her parents, has had a lot of surreal experiences since the release of Women Talking, which she booked on her second-ever movie audition. They have ranged from the emotional — survivors approaching her about the impact the film had — to the giddy. (At Telluride, she got to meet Paul Mescal; she’s a big fan of Normal People.) And now, the film has earned Oscar nominations for best picture and best adapted screenplay for Polley.
Onscreen, Hallett plays Autje, one of the youngest of the Mennonite women gathered in a hayloft to determine their plan of action following a series of brutal rapes in their community. In a cast filled with Oscar nominees and winners and other legends of stage and screen, the young Hallett holds her own. In her narration, she conveys a careful optimism, while onscreen she wavers from pained to playful. Not that she wasn’t intimidated by the likes of Frances McDormand and Jessie Buckley — who plays her mother — but the cast was so welcoming that any fear dissipated. “I found myself getting comfortable pretty quickly,” she says.
Hallett’s comfort and safety were of high importance for Polley, who has spoken out about her own negative experiences on sets as a young actor. If Hallett had a stunt to do, Polley would constantly be checking to see whether she was OK. “She was like a second mother,” says Hallett. Polley also was there for Hallett when the material took a toll.
A self-described “emotionally sensitive” person, Hallett had a difficult time dealing with the themes of assault when she started working on the project. She was allowed to lean in to those feelings and the tears that came with them. “I never felt afraid to be emotional,” she says. “It was always easy to just let it out if I needed to because everyone was so understanding and willing to give me the time and space that I needed.” Hallett also made use of the on-set therapist, Dr. Lori Haskell. “There was one day where I had a specifically hard scene, and she knew and was there to talk afterward,” she says.
Entering the media cycle for the film, Hallett was nervous, but it turned out to be easier than she expected. “What makes speaking about it so magical is that none of us has to lie and be like, ‘Oh, it was this great experience,’ ” she says. “It actually was this great experience, and it’s just a really meaningful film.”
Hallett, who became interested in acting by watching gag reels from Marvel movies on YouTube, has plans for her career to be more varied and hopes to act in an adaptation of one of her favorite books: “I want to be in a fantasy book where I get to be in this entirely different world and get to fight dragons,” she says.
This story first appeared in a Feb. stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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