Interview with Rebecca Hall


As the daughter of Peter Hall, the legendary British stage director and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Maria Ewing, a world renowned opera singer, it was pretty clear that Rebecca Hall was not going to end up working as an assistant bank manager. However, she plays one very nicely in Ben Affleck's terrific new film "The Town."  Along with her performance in Nicole Holofcener's film "Please Give,"  that makes two great roles in topnotch films for her this year.

I got a chance to speak to her last weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival and found her funny, candid, and tall.

PK: So you just came back from the Venice Film Festival?

RH: Yeah, we just got in yesterday.

P: How was that?

RH: You know, can't complain. It was a beautiful city and an exciting festival to be at. I've never been to Venice. So I had a few pinch-myself-I-can't-believe-I-do-a-job-that-I-love-that-takes-me-to-exciting-places-in-the-world type moments.

PK: You probably didn't get much time to admire the Rennaissance art, though.

RH: No, for sure I didn't. I spent two hours on a boat going around the canals just looking at buildings. I got a little bit of it.

PK: So like a Duck Boat tour?

RH: Yeah, like a Duck Boat tour.

PK: Did you do that in Boston?

RH: I did, actually.

PK: I've never done it.

RH: It's good fun.

PK: Some say Boston is  the hub of the universe. Others that it's a pretentious little provincial city. Where do you stand?

RH: I wouldn't say either. It's like, it reminds me of somewhere between London and New York, kind of mashed all together. I love the collegiate atmosphere that's there and the more sort of polar opposite elements.

PK: The Townie aspect?

RH: Yeah, the Townie aspect. And the Beacon Hill stuff which is almost like American aristocracy.

PK: Did you actually hang out in the Charlestown area?

RH: Yeah, hung out in the it the, isn't that terrible, I can't remember. {I think she's referring to the Warren Tavern].

It's been a year now. We spent a lot of time there and in a couple of pubs there and we walked around and we shot there, obviously and I hung out during the day. But we were staying in central Boston, so I spent more time there.

PK: You were staying where?

RH: On the Common at the Ritz Carlton.

PK: Oh, well it's very townie there too.

RH: Yeah.

PK: Ben Affleck gets to interview bank robbers and Jon Hamm and researches with FBI guys and Blake Lively hangs around with Townie girls and you get to talk to the bank managers, right?

RH: I think it was very clear from discussions I'd had with Ben that she was someone who'd come from out of town and just moved to Boston and got a job because she was well educated and got a good job, because she was of a certain class, but the job was to necessitate an independent lifestyle. Not because she had the need to become a bank manager, which is why she drops it so easily about halfway through the  film.

PK: So you mastered the Marblehead accent. Or as we call it, Mahblehead.

RH: I listened to a couple of people from Marblehead talking, and it was just an East Coast accent. I tried to think about someone who has an East Coast, general American kind accent who lives in Charlestown and there tries to dumb it down a bit on occasion. From my experience, people who move to areas where people speak very differently, they incorporate elements of those speech patterns into their way of talking. I tried to think about that, but I didn't extensively research it. I just wanted to make the voice and the accent specific to her. It's important that she's an outsider. It's important that she's different than the Townie lot. That she's a yuppie in a sense. But also that she thinks of herself as a tough city girl that can live by herself and can walk through the projects.

PK: Like yourself?

RH: Yes.

PK: You lived in some tougher parts of London, right?

RH: Yeah, I have.

PK: Have you ever had any traumatic violence happen to you like this character?

RH: Well, when I was younger, when I was about 20, I I lived in kind of a rough part of West London which was, in many respects, a bit like Charlestown. It had this influx of artsy people starting families there and there's lots of strollers and it's all very middle class and lovely by day, but then by night it's like a gang violence area.

PK: Were you in a gang yourself?

RH: No. But at the end of my road, there was definitely some dodgy dealings going on there. There would be some threatening looking people hanging out there. But they treated me great because I had nothing to do with gangland culture, so they'd just be like "Hi!" And I'd walk past. Although one day I got a brick through the window, by accident.

PK: It was probably from another actor.

RH: Yeah, it was probably from another actor, but I moved out quite soon after that.

P: Not to be too sycophantic, but you starred in two of my favorite movies of the year, this one and "Please Give."

RH: Oh really?

PK: Well, they're basically the same movie. Aren't they?

RH: Well you know, one's about a bunch of guys with guns and one's about a bunch of women with family problems.

PK: I think "The Town" could have used more mammograms.

PH: Or maybe "Please Give" could have done with more car chases.

PK: Was it a tough adjustment, going from one to the other?

RH: They came out in close proximity, but I didn't shoot them in close proximity. I shot "Please Give" and then did a bunch of stuff after "Please Give." Including a year's theater job and "Red Riding."

PK: That was quite a performance.

RH: Thank you.

PK: You got a BAFTA for that.

RH: Yes, yes, thank you very much. That was very nice indeed.

P: She was sort of like the Christa character [the tough Charlestown love interest in "the Town" played by Blake Lively].

RH: She was. The kind of 1970s Yorkshire version of it.

PK: I heard that Ben Affleck, as a director, is sort of laissez faire and kind of passive. Was that your experience?

RH: No, I think that's...I think if you're not on a film set you don't get an opportunity to see how the dynamics work. There's a huge different between being laissez faire and being relaxed and trusting an actor to do what they do. I mean, to do the polar opposite of that is to treat actors like they're automatons and that they're incapable of decisions. What Ben does, he understands actors because he is one. He says "Ok, what have you got to give? Ok that's good, now we're going to work with that." That  does not mean that hed oesn't care, that means that he is collaborative.

PK: So you can throw in lines.

RH: Very much so. He was very pro all that improvisation. That doesn't come from an "oh, whatever que cera, cera". It comes from "how do I make this the most authentic performance possible?"

PK: I read the book, which I think is a great book, but there was a relationship that you have with the character played by Jon Hamm which is not in the movie.

RH: A novel tends to have the ability to include many different subplots because you know, it's one person and the text. A film is a totally different medium and it's far harder to juggle a lot of subplots and storylines into one thing. Especially when the narrative is quite clear: it's one man's journey to see if he can save himself. You just have to tell that story in film. I understand why we couldn't go off on tangents. It had the potential to be about six films in one.

PK: Like "Red Riding." Do you think it could have worked as a TV movie trilogy?

RH: No, it's a film film. It's got car chases and action.

PK: I completely bought into it while watching the movie, but in retrospect your character seems a little credulous about this guy.  Like, she doesn't recognize the voice. She's a smart girl, but she doesn't catch on.


RH: Well, that's one of the things that attracted me to the role. It's kind of interesting, the denial the capability that humans have to be in denial. It doesn't matter how intelligent you are. If you go through trauma or stress and you're made vulnerable there's sort of this paradigm shift in your personality that happens to Claire after this horrible act of violence at the beginning of the film. You don't see or hear things that you don't want to. I think that's what happens to her throughout the entire film. I was very keen to play with that idea. On some level, she knows that he's trouble, she knows that he is lying to her, that his job must be more complex. I don't think for a moment that she suspects that he's the guy that's responsible for robbing the bank. But on some level she knows that he's dangerous, but chooses to deny it. It's like a sort of very very mild Stockholm syndrome.

PK: I was wondering if it's sort of a wish fulfillment fantasy.


You don't think that if there could be a sequel they would sort of  be like Bonnie and Clyde?

RH: There won't be a sequel.

NEXT: In which Rebecca Hall's mother clutches the severed head of John the Baptist.

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