A BRIEF ENCOUNTER
A Spotlite on HANNAH YELLAND
By Tyler Malone
Brief Encounter‘s Hannah Yelland is up for a Tony Award this weekend for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play. It’s not a bad beginning to her American acting career. Though she has worked on the stage and screen in Britain for a number of years, she recently moved Stateside, and Brief Encounter was her Broadway debut.
The daughter of actor David Yelland, this blonde bombshell is a true acting talent. Just by looking at the company she keeps–i.e. the other ladies nominated this year for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play–you can see she’s a hot new talent. You don’t get nominated in the same category as Vanessa Redgrave and Frances McDormand unless you’re doing something right.
I had a brief encounter with this hot new talent for our HOT issue, and we discussed her role as Laura in Brief Encounter, her Tony nomination, her ideas about the stage and screen, and much more.
Tyler Malone: Tell us a little bit about Brief Encounter and your character Laura…
Hannah Yelland: Our Brief Encounter was based on the one act play by Noel Coward called Still Life, and also the subsequent film by David Lean, with a screenplay by Noel Coward. It is set in 1938 and tells the story of a married housewife, Laura, and a married doctor, Alec, who meet in a train station and begin a series of meetings which manifest in their falling in love with each other. In our play, pre-recorded video was magically used and characters interacted with each other from screen to stage; music was also a large feature, both original music (set to Noel Coward lyrics) and also established music by Noel Coward himself. The play also brought to life other characters, which not only provided comic relief and compelling stories in their own right, but also accentuated the ultimately ill-fated love between Alec and Laura. My character, although rooted very much in the rather stilted, conventional world of the 1930s, is also a woman who re-discovers the freedom and passion that existed in her as a child, and whose life is dramatically changed by her chance meeting with a stranger.
TM: How does it feel to be nominated for a Tony?
HY: Of course it feels incredible. While our show was extended, it closed with so many others in January, so it is a huge testament to the work we all did that it, and my performance, have been remembered and recognized in this way. I am truly humbled, and know how fortunate I am. Brief Encounter was not only my Broadway debut, but it also marks my first job since moving to the U.S. this year. And I’m very excited about the weekend–I’m sure it will be a very special night. My mum is flying in and I’ll be with her and my husband for the show, so we intend to have fun!
TM: You’ve done some film and television work in addition to your work in the theater. What is the difference between working on the stage and screen?
HY: I have done some screen work, but I think my more challenging work to date has been in the theater. I’d like to work more in film, and to be challenged in the same way in that medium. They are both based in truth–all acting is–so in the theater, I think it has to do with stamina over the course of the run and a technique that requires you to communicate to any size of audience in an immediate way. In film, there is a different technique, and many additional factors that contribute to the final product, many months down the road. In a sense, you have more control over what you do on stage, even though it is live, and therefore seemingly more of a vulnerable position in which to put yourself.
TM: Do you prefer one or the other?
HY: I love the theater. I’ve been brought up by parents who fundamentally believe in its importance and place in the world, and that definitely had an effect on me growing up. But I love going to the movies, and I think that there are so many extraordinary things happening in film now that would be exciting to experience.
TM: As you mention, you come from an acting family. Did that push you into the vocation you have today? Or do you think you’d have found your way into the theater-world whether or not you were raised by an actor?
HY: I think having an actor as a father and an English and Drama teacher as a mother had a lot to do with the kind of direction I took–although my brother escaped the bug entirely, he is a very bright professor of modern art. OK, so none of us are nuclear physicists, but I was given every opportunity to become whatever I wanted to be, and for that I will always be grateful.
TM: What are some of your favorite plays? Favorite films?
HY: That’s so hard. I am a huge lover of Chekhov, and Oscar Wilde–and of course Noel Coward–and I’ve played parts by Shaw and Ibsen (who have written some of the greatest parts for women). I’d like to do more of the classics, certainly, but I would also love to originate a character in a new play. In terms of favorite films: Out of Africa is one of them. It is so beautiful, and so incredibly romantic. I love Meryl Streep; I love Robert Redford. I love the landscape and the music. It all works perfectly. On a different note, I have always loved Four Weddings and A Funeral. I think I can quote every line. It is so, so funny. Such brilliant writing. But yes, very, very English. My husband finds it quite funny.
TM: If you could play any character on the stage or screen, who would it be?
HY: Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. She’s a thinker, an observer and a rationalist; three things which conceal her deeply romantic soul. I mask mine less, so it would be interesting to try to develop my inner rationalist!
TM: Is there any one actor that you would give anything to work with?
HY: No, there are many. Is that dodging the question? I’ve worked with many amazing people, including my father. I just love being around people who I can learn from, truly. I think it’s the only way to get better.
TM: You recently moved to D.C. with your husband, who works for the White House. D.C. is a different kind of town than New York City. It seems hard, to me at least, to escape politics there. Are you a very political person?
HY: When I first moved to D.C., I was of course struck by how different it is from New York, and also from London. It is a city that lives and breathes policy and politics–but it is very exciting in that respect. In every corner of the city so many extraordinary decisions are being made, and it’s very humbling. I am very interested in politics, and of course having a husband who works within that world makes me more so, I should think. But I’ve been tapping into the theater world of D.C., and there are many interesting and exciting things happening there, of which I hope to become a part.
TM: This issue is our HOT issue. You are definitely a hot young star, on the rise, what do you see in your future?
HY: I literally couldn’t tell you! I’ve been acting for over a decade in England, but I’m a newcomer to the U.S. and they say America is the land of opportunity, so here’s hoping that that’s the case for me! I’ve always just taken the opportunities that have presented themselves to me, so many of which have been wonderful. So I’ll just keep doing that and see what happens.
Hannah Yelland is a British actress, who has recently moved Stateside. She starred in her first Broadway role last year in Brief Encounter, and was been nominated for a Tony for her role as Laura in that play.
Hannah Yelland by Tyler Malone
Photography by Ilir Bajraktari & Sylvain Gaboury
Design by Marie Havens
Hannah Yelland, Opening Night Arrivals for “Anything Goes”, Roundabout Theatre Company’s Stephen Sondheim Theatre, NYC, April 7, 2011, Photography by Sylvain Gaboury for Patrick McMullan.com
(L) Hannah Yelland & (R) Dorothy Atkinson, Annette McLaughlin, & Hannah Yelland, Noel Coward’s BRIEF ENCOUNTER, OPENING NIGHT, Studio 54, NYC, September 28, 2010, Photography by Ilir Bajraktari for Patrick McMullan.com
Tristan Sturrock & Hannah Yelland, Noel Coward’s BRIEF ENCOUNTER, OPENING NIGHT, Studio 54, NYC, September 28, 2010, Photography by Ilir Bajraktari for Patrick McMullan.com