It’s been a busy couple of years for Gemma Chan.
After roles in blockbusters Crazy Rich Asians and Captain Marvel, the 36-year-old British actor was “craving doing something on a much smaller, much more intimate scale.” In her latest project, she takes the lead in I Am Hannah, one of a trio of TV movies directed by Dominic Savage, coming to Channel 4 this summer. Chan worked closely on the story with Savage, as did the other leading actors in the rest of the trilogy.
“I’d not collaborated in this way where I’d been so involved in developing the story before,” Chan says when we talk to her at Channel 4 HQ. “As an actor, I’m very used to serving someone else’s vision… It feels particularly satisfying to work in this way.”
The film follows Hannah, a woman in her thirties living in London and navigating being single, internet dating, and the pressure to settle down and start a family. “We knew we wanted to do something in the area of becoming a mother, societal ideas about motherhood, fertility,” Chan says, regarding her and Dominic’s ideas behind the plot. “I felt that I’d had a lot of discussions around this area… and it just felt like I hadn’t seen anything that had approached it in this way, having these open discussions.”
Although I Am Hannah is not autobiographical, the nature of the film’s script meant this was a much more personal way of developing a character than Chan is used to – all of the dialogue is improvised. “You don’t have the safety net of a script, so you can’t hide behind someone else’s words… everything that I do say has come from a place of truth, in some form or another, and that is exposing and scary.”
Chan is asked if there were any books or articles that influenced this film, if there was nothing to take inspiration from onscreen. “Not a specific story as such… I read the Cat Person story that went viral last year… I thought that was great because you were completely inside the head of the woman going through that, so I suppose… I wanted people to completely get what Hannah was going through and be going through it with her. So not a specific narrative, but I suppose in the effect of it.”
What does she want viewers to think about when they go away from I Am Hannah? “I don’t think I can tell people what to think,” Chan says. “I feel that if we can come away from it and empathise with what someone’s going through… that’s a good thing, and to be less judgmental with others and with ourselves. Nothing more specific than that.”
Empathy and self-acceptance lie at the heart of I Am Hannah, well-worn topics kept fresh by the candidness laid bare by the film’s actors under Savage’s direction. Chan may not be able to tell people what to think about her latest project, but her performance speaks for itself.
I Am Hannah airs on Channel 4 on Tuesday 6th August.