While Hannie May’s acting skills were put to the test in the film Breakdown, it’s clear that the passionate actress passed with flying colors. The recent project is but one of many hallmarks in a career that has been characterised by overcoming challenges, to eventually rise to the top. Indeed, May has cited how the industry is shaped by contradictions. On the one hand, the stereotypical casting in some instances provides challenges for actors with multi-cultural backgrounds to explore their possibilities to the fullest. On the other hand, it’s opening the world up to an onslaught of more diverse casts on high-profile projects – from Crazy Rich Asians to Marvel’s upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s clear that the diversity of casting choices has stepped up to the next level, and May – as one of the industry’s breakouts – has most certainly stepped up too.
While much has been written however around increasing diversity of representation in film, the subject of this piece became clear when reviewing May’s work. The depth of talents rendered all socio-political commentary irrelevant, as the true significance of May as an actress comes to the forefront when watching any of her films. She simply makes it about the work, and makes it as deep and meaningful as possible.
In the case of Breakdown, it was up to May to not only lead a film, but also empathise with the character’s circumstances to the degree that any viewer would feel like the significance of mental health was given meaning and respect.
Ultimately, Breakdown is a display of a personal battle between self versus self, a real-life struggle that continues to go on today. In one particularly memorable moment, Hannie has to face a mirror and gradually let her inner self out while watching at her own reflection. The scene involves no dialogue, and is entirely fulled by the actress’ emotional expression.
The continuation of the story sees May’s character suffering from mental health issues, which triggers her to resent her own values and build up a significant fear from society. The internal crisis becomes an external one, providing a rich opportunity for May to showcase her significant emotional range as an actress.
In the words of one industry professional, May is a tour de force in the film and a reason for why and how it resonates with any viewer.
All the more impressive is how Breakdown was created and directed by Finnish filmmaker Cristal Alakoski, herself known for a prolific career in Europe marked by memorable projects like music videos and commercials with Finnish band Aija Puurtinen & Brooklynin satu for their popular song Maantie (Highway), and another music video for John Westmoreland with his acclaimed hit, The Sparrow.
Being the lead in a movie is one thing, but being cast as the only role of a film is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Even more impressive was the development of Breakdown and its unconventional filming process. While the role of Diana and her circumstances came with a lot of challenges, aside from being vulnerable to the audience, the project also did not have a set shooting script.
May expected the role of ‘Diana’ to come with different challenges, but this knowledge didn’t make it any easier.
“It was one of the film projects I’ve worked on that requires the majority of acting from improvisation. So the process of filming this project with Alakoski was also a journey of experimenting with the idea of the film together,” said May.
While the storylines Breakdown and May’s other recent project, Interrupted Girls couldn’t be more different, the emotional weight of each reflects the level of responsibility filmmakers place on May in casting her in such meaningful stories.
Indeed Interrupted Girls, the release of which preceded Breakdown, was one such impressive project which garnered May significant attention.
Directed by Christopher Cass, Interrupted Girls, focuses on two sisters who come from a broken home. May plays Elena, who is forced to side with her mum and go against her sister’s wishes.
Award-winning director Cass is best known for his work on Trey Pops (2020), Scrubbers (2014), and The Bus Stop (2017).
Christopher brought extensive experience from his career when directing May, and also boasted associations and screen experience with NBC. It was this epxienece that undoubtedly made May feel comfortable in front of the camera, expressing vulnerabilities about topics which – although incredibly specific, are also especially universal.
Hannie’s exquisite performance in Interrupted Girls is best effectively distilled at the moment where her character chooses pride when it was “happiness” that she wanted. When it came to “Elena” and her self growth during the film, the remarkable emotional access of Hannie’s talents made especially clear in memorable moments where she was vulnerable and driven by her emotions in a significant way.
Divorce is a hard topic to discuss, many families everywhere have been torn because of failed marriages, and struggling relationships.
May’s polished skills brought life to the character of Elena, further shedding light on the value of sisterhood With a statement as powerful as the one that Cass’ shared, it required a lot of strength to push through discomfort, two things that Hannie May provided with excellence and perfection.
In a scene where the two sisters fight, May shows the extreme of her character’s personality and emotions within the confines of no movement or dialogue. Her performance not only shows a strong internal life, but also reveals the contrast between the two sisters’ personalities and shows authentic real-life emotions which deeply connects with any viewer.
Ultimately, it’s these dual experiences on film that signify the mark May is leaving on her field as an actor, a storyteller, and more generally, a professional empathizer.
“What’s the most interesting to me in acting is finding the complexity in every single character,” she beams with a smile.
“The story behind what’s on the page, what I enjoy digging into, is always more than what I have to show in front of the camera.”