Photo by Michal Schwartz
THE ROLES OF REBECCA HALL
If you meet Rebecca Hall, she might ask you about your family history. "It's always something I do when I meet people," she says with a laugh. "Alright, tell me about your family, what's the deal?" Though she's just one in a household full of performers (her mother is an opera singer, her father a director, and her half-siblings scattered across a variety of theater and film disciplines), she's adamant that most families have as intriguing a story to tell as hers. (She concedes that hers is "more externally colorful.") She mentions Sarah Polley's recent documentaryStories We Tell by way of example—the film is premised on the idea that every family has its own story.
Her excitement about family narratives is part of a deeper cultural curiosity—she's also a self-professed music nerd (currently deciding whether she likes Chilly Gonzales's latest effort) and a consumer of films of all descriptions. She's hard-pressed to pick a favorite genre, even. "I'm a fan, at the end of the day," she says. "I'm a real geek in this department." She tosses out a list of what she watches regularly, from Golden Age American films to French cinema, to the latest blockbusters, comedies, and drama, foreign and domestic alike. Her openness to experience also defines her choices of roles. This year alone, she appears in the upcoming Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG, theAntonio Campos biopic Christine about a young Floridian newscaster who committed suicide on live television, and Joel Edgerton's The Gift, a psychological thriller in the purest sense of the term.
The Gift follows Robyn and Simon, a young couple played by Hall and Jason Bateman, shortly after they move to a Chicago suburb. A chance encounter reunites them with Gordon (Edgerton), a schoolmate of Simon's who was known once as "Gordo the Weirdo." Gordo's overtures at friendship become increasingly aggressive, and while Simon refuses to discuss his past with Robyn, she senses something more at stake than rekindling a high school friendship. Hall approachedThe Gift with rigor—when Edgerton sent her the script, recommending her for Robyn, she returned to him and asked, "Is this just the wife who sits at home and then gets brutally victimized?"
"He wanted to make all three of those characters human and have faults and be complicated and real," she recalls. We caught up with her during a lull before she begins work on her next film, Codes of Conduct, to talk gothic horror and mental health—and the violent reactions some viewers have encountered during The Gift.
KATHERINE CUSUMANO: How are you doing?
REBECCA HALL: I'm doing good! I'm in L.A., so it's slightly earlier. I only got here a couple days ago—I'm slightly jetlagged, waking up today.
CUSUMANO: Where were you before then?
HALL: New York.
CUSUMANO: I feel like comparisons to the gothic thriller are pretty inevitable with this film, where the woman slowly starts to believe she's losing her mind because the men around her assure her that everything's fine.
CUSUMANO: It's very Yellow Wallpaper, in a way.
I have a question for you—did you hit yourself in the face? [laughs] I heard from several people who saw the film who had their hand up to their face for quite a lot of it because of the tension that we're talking about, and then in one scene in particular just whacked themselves in the eye. I heard of three people doing that.
HALL: No, not really. [Laughs] Sometimes you can incubate a character and that can take me a month just sitting on it imagining it, doing everything from sketching it to taking long walks, but sometimes you can see the character immediately. Robyn was just one of those, really. A lot of it is instinctive. Sometimes I can spend months doing things to make sure that my instincts work correctly, but ultimately it's still instinctive.
HALL: It usually falls into one of two categories. It's either a kind of film that I would like to see, and I don't understand how the films works. I'm curious about how you make a film like that and I want to watch the film. That incorporates directors that I want to work with, actors that I want to work with, all that kind of thing. The other choice would just be in a character—is it going to be a journey to understand this person? It's probably completely self-involved, but I think ultimately the further away a character is from myself, the more I end up finding out about myself by the end of it. It's always a sort of journey to go on.
THE GIFT IS CURRENTLY IN THEATERS. CHRISTINE IS DUE OUT IN 2016.
Rebecca Hall / ‘I was born in the wrong place and at the wrong time’