Of all the up and coming actresses going today, Rebecca Hall easily has one of the best careers. After battling with Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, Hall signed up for Wally Pfister‘s directing debut in Transcendence, where she plays against Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, and Morgan Freeman and holds her own and then some.
When Hall ushered me in to talk, we sat on a couch together and started with the interview after a few pleasantries. After a couple of moments, I noticed that she was maintaining eye contact, which not all interview subjects do. And then I realized I was looking right into her eyes, and I tried my darndest not to get lost in hers. Such are the challenges of talking to one of the most talented (and, to be fair, beautiful) actresses on the planet.
You made The Prestige in 2006, you might remember that.
Rebecca Hall: Oh yeah, you’re right. It skipped my mind for a minute.
So what was your relationship like on that with Wally Pfister, who was the cinematographer there and your director in Transcendence?
Rebecca Hall: He was so kind to me. I was more terrified than I’ve ever been on that job. It wasn’t technically my first film because I had just shot Starter for Ten and had wrapped it three days prior to going to LA, but because the two were so close together I kind of think of them as being my first film, respectively. It certainly the first time I shot a film in “Hollywood!” and been on a film set with massive movie stars. My first day was my big screaming/crying scene with Christian Bale so I was quivering, I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into, and I vividly remember Wally being there, and setting up the camera and looking at me like “everything is going to be okay.” And just sighing because he was so easy to talk to.
I was looking at the cast of Starter for Ten as research, and it’s like “Holy Sh—, everyone is in this!”
Rebecca Hall: Yeah, it was the class of 2000 or something.
Did your relationship on The Prestige lead to this?
Rebecca Hall: I’m sure it did. I haven’t asked him (laughs). Isn’t that weird? I think it was, he knew my work and had obviously worked with me up close and personal, so I don’t know how it couldn’t have informed it. He called me up when he asked me to do it and said “you’ve been this character in my head for a long time, there’s no doubt about it.”
So there wasn’t much of an audition process.
Rebecca Hall: I didn’t. No, he just said please do it.
Rebecca Hall: It goes in waves, you start cresting this wave where you don’t have to audition and you think “oh I’ve gotten to that level, ha, thing must be going well” and then you go right back into auditioning. It depends, it really depends.
He was there for the beginning for you, how was he as a first time director?
Rebecca Hall: I think that ninety percent of a director’s job in working with actors is getting their trust and making them feel safe, and that’s really hard for a first time director because they don’t have the shorthand of the work we know. The trust. But he garnered it in spades because he’s had so much experience. And it’s arguable that a DP watches the work closer than anyone else on the film. And quietly, in an observational way, they’re not thinking about a million other things, they’re looking at the actors, lighting them, and watching what they do. So he knew exactly how to relate to actors and knew when to leave them be. I trusted him, so I could do what I thought was right and he would pick the best version in the edit.
With this film, when you read the script, obviously Johnny Depp has top billing but you’re kind of the main character of the movie.
Rebecca Hall: Yes! He just sits there in the thing, and I’m the one running through the paces.
That had to have been awesome moment. “I’m on almost every single page!”
Rebecca Hall: It’s thrilling because, and I hate to say this, but it’s not very often you get something billed as a sci-fi action thriller that has at its center a female character who makes morally questionable choices and is emotionally driven, and has a whole journey. It’s just so rare. I was bit “really, is this happening? I should pinch myself.”
Rebecca Hall: No, I imagine she was doing her post-whatever course and he and Paul were doing whatever and we met around.
I thought it was great because you were involved with the coding, you’re not just the wife.
Rebecca Hall: Nor the victim. She’s right at the forefront of the research and she’s the one who makes it work so (laughs), yeah.
I’m guessing you shot out of sequence did you measure when you had to be scared of your husband?
Rebecca Hall: I did. There’s pre the two years and post the two years (that the AI builds its base) and it was an evolution where the wardrobe helped me as well, as the building became more slick with the white corridors I got this idea that she should become more businesslike and less soft and hippy looking like she does in the beginning. She gets colder and colder as she’s retreating because her primary relationship in her life has become a computer. She’s losing her mind, basically.
The moments she seems to be most terrified of her husband seem to be whenever he can touch her, whenever he becomes a physical presence. It’s almost like she’s shut off from sex at that point.
Rebecca Hall: She would have to, she doesn’t think that when she makes the choice to keep him alive, it’s made in a crazy, heightened, adrenaline-based denial, where you don’t think about the actual consequences of what it would be like if your husband was a computer.
You’ve worked with Woody Allen, you’ve been in a best picture nominated film, you’ve worked with Ben Affleck, I guess you’ve worked with both Batmans (she giggles), you’ve been in a Marvel movie, do you feel like you’re in the catbird seat? Do you feel like you have your choice of what comes next?
Rebecca Hall: No. You never feel like that as an actor. It’s a totally arbitrary thing.
I bet George Clooney feels pretty good about it.
Rebecca Hall: I don’t know. Also, I think it’s kind of waste to think of yourself in those terms. You can drive yourself crazy doing that. I don’t know.
Well, you’ve had an interesting career. Do you feel like by doing Iron Man 3, you’ve aced yourself out of doing other superhero movies, or are you happy that might be the case?
Rebecca Hall: Yeah that might not be such a bad thing. (laughs) I don’t think I’ve aced myself out, I’m open to all ranges of possibilities at all times, but that was definitely something that I hadn’t done anything close to and thought “I’m curious what that’s like.” And it was such an overwhelming and positive experience for so many reasons. I wouldn’t say no to it again but I think it’s all about balance for me. I like to have extremes of things and counter it with something else. After I did Iron Man I went and did a small budget independent French film directly after it, which is now coming out soon here actually. It’s called A Promise and is directed by Patrice Leconte. And equally I did Transcendence, which is technically an independent film, but nonetheless is a big effects-y type of thing, and then did theater for the last four months.
Rebecca Hall: I definitely have to put a little theater in there.
For me, I remember being eight years old and seeing Jaws, which exploded my brain. You were a little more of the manner born, but did you have that moment?
Rebecca Hall: For me it was movies, I grew up with theater and opera, my mum’s an opera singer and my dad’s a theater director, so it was that world, which is actually very different, not when it comes to the craft of it, it’s all acting; it’s all show business, I guess. But it is very different and I carved out my own niche for myself by becoming a movie fan, a real movie buff as a kid, that was my escape and that was the stuff that I loved. I loved movie actors, and my movie idols were like Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis, all these women who were so charismatic, frankly.
Have you see Ball of Fire?
Rebecca Hall: Yes, I have seen Ball of Fire, that’s a great one.
That’s one of my favorite films of all time.
Rebecca Hall: Yeah, me too. Me too.
Well, you mentioned Barbara Stanwyck, and if you hadn’t seen that…
Rebecca Hall: No I’ve seen that.
But she’s so great in so many films. Did you grow up watching Johnny Depp movies?
Rebecca Hall: Oh yeah.
Rebecca Hall: I loved Edward Scissorhands.
Cause you’re at the right age for that.
Rebecca Hall: Oh, totally.
So you love movies, what have you been watching lately?
Rebecca Hall: I have been so busy I haven’t seen anything in the cinema for a really long time, which I’m ashamed of. I’ve just been watching a lot of documentaries, I just watched The Act of Killing, which is so… I don’t what word to describe that.
Rebecca Hall: Yeah, that’s the one. (laughs)
I’m glad you’ve seen Ball of Fire, Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite actress.
Rebecca Hall: Really? I think she’s mine as well. She’s so simple and unassuming and the nuances… it’s so invisible it’s seamless, you just buy it. And she’s so funny and sassy and sharp. And technically so proficient.
I think with Ball of Fire, and Lady Eve.
Rebecca Hall: Lady Eve, yeah.
Oh, Lady Eve. Her sarcasm is so sexy.
Rebecca Hall: Exactly.
I love Howard Hawks, and the way she can control a man
Rebecca Hall: Like in Double Indemnity as well.
Transcendence opens in theaters April 18.