She announced this just recently. I was very surprised when I first heard the news. I had speculated that this or that movie star might be autistic, but Hannah wasn't one of the ones I'd had in mind.
But since the announcement, one thing about Daryl Hannah has made much more sense to me: her performance in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill,parts one and two. I think it's safe to say that her portrayal of Elle Driver in Kill Bill is by far her most highly-regarded performance. And Quentin Tarantino is a director known for an unusually-small amount of tolerance for improvisation by his actors. Small, if not actually non-existent.
That sort of approach to directing is ideal for me. (I've done a little bit of acting. Instead of "for me" I was going to say, "for autistic actors," but the thing is, I don't know for sure that any other actors besides Daryl Hannah and myself are autistic.) I don't like improvisation when I'm acting. I don't improvise, and to say that it is disorienting and unpleasant and difficult for me when other actors in a scene with me improvise, is a huge understatement. Some directors, such as Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Altman, encourage if not demand a great deal of improvisation. They've been known to say things to their actors such as "Read the script once and then thrown it away, it's just suggestions, it's not the law." Actors have come to them and asked things like, "What's going on with my character at this point?" and gotten answers such as, "Your character is whoever you are at the moment."
To me, that sort of direction is very frustrating. It doesn't help me. At all. When I go to a director for help, I want concrete suggestions -- and not suggestions about my "inner life," but very concrete feedback about my exterior: Should I speak this line louder or softer? Faster or slower? How's the expression on my face? How about if I open my eyes wider, like this? or look a little angrier, like this? Is that too much, not enough? How do you want me to pronounce this word? Can you read this line the way you want me to read it? How's my accent? Etc. Etc. Etc. For me, ideally, those are the sorts of issues a director is there for. And ideally, I'll get a lot of those kinds of instructions, that sort of extremely-specific information about what the director wants, before I even ask. The whole Method-acting, be-in-the-moment sort of approach just doesn't work for me. Maybe a director can get good results from me with that sort of approach, but frankly, I'd be very surprised.
For me, and for many autistics, everyday life and successful interaction with other people already calls for an exhausting amount of improvisation. Ideally, acting offers me relief from that: I know exactly what I'm supposed to say, it's right there in the script. I know where to stand when I say it -- they put a piece of tape of the floor to show me where to stand. And not only does the script tell me what to say, the director is ready with lots of feedback about how to say it.
I don't know Quentin Tarantino or Daryl Hannah personally, and I don't speak for Daryl Hannah just because she and I both happen to be autistic, but it doesn't surprise me at all, now that I've learned that she's autistic, that -- in my opinion, and many other people's -- her performance in Kill Bill has a wonderful, exciting quality that is lacking in some of her other performances. And since I've learned that she's autistic, and have been thinking about Tarantino and actors, it also doesn't surprise me that Robert De Niro, who is very much into the Method, be-in-the-moment school of acting, delivers a performance in Tarantino's Jackie Brown which, shall we say, sears itself into the viewer's memory much less than many other of his performances, and also much less than the performances of some other actors in Jackie Brown. His character is barely there. Perhaps from De Niro's point of view, Tarantino's directing style was overly rigid and gave him little opportunity to do anything, if his approach to acting equates "doing something" with the possibility that something may be improvised at any moment. There are all sorts of different ways to act and to direct, and De Niro certainly has delivered many brilliant performances.
Now if a director can handle Method actors and also actors who want a great deal of specific guidance and structure, both at the same time in the same performance, while fully answering everyone's needs and preferences, that would really be something. I don't know whether that's possible, though.
I'm very glad that Daryl Hannah came out as autistic. I hope it will show some autistic kids that you can be autistic and extremely successful at the same time. I also hope that Hannah's example will inspire some other prominent autistics who have been keeping their neurological condition a secret also to come out. The information could only help autistics, and the other people who have to deal with us in one way or another. The better we understand each other the easier and more rewarding the interaction will be.