Rebecca Hall on her film career so far: ‘I’ve played too many repressed neurotics’

 

Electric cables are a strange thing to get sentimental about. But it’s what does it for Rebecca Hall, apparently.

The British actress can still remember the day she stepped onto her first film as an adult – 2006’s romantic comedy Starter for 10 – and saw a snaking pile of cables on the floor. It immediately threw her back to making her screen debut on TV drama The Camomile Lawn, and almost tripping over a similar coil of wires: “There was a weird nostalgia attached to them.”

Quite what Freud would make of Hall’s childhood memory is anyone’s guess. But on the surface, the message is clear: being on a film set offers her a level of comfort, of childhood familiarity. It’s hardly a surprise, being the daughter of esteemed theatre-director Sir Peter Hall, who directed her in The Camomile Lawn, and opera singer Maria Ewing, who raised her daughter to love cinema. “I grew up watching Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck,” she explains.

While it might be stretching it somewhat to put Hall in such esteemed company, this 32 year-old Londoner has already amassed a series of impressive credits, working with such talents as Woody Allen (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe), Christopher Nolan (The Prestige) and Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon). And, in this last year, she has finally cracked mainstream Hollywood, with roles in Iron Man 3 and Transcendence, by Nolan’s regular director of photography turned first-time director, Wally Pfister.

Playing boffins, in both cases, neither role stretched Hall’s considerable talent, but it arguably felt more exotic than what she was being offered in Britain. Cast in rather starchy productions like Dorian Gray, Hall admits she felt was being “trapped in a box” that she wasn’t particularly comfortable with.

“There was a moment when I thought: ‘I’m developing a name for myself for playing these slightly buttoned-up, repressed neurotics’ and I thought: ‘I don’t want to spend my whole career doing that’.”

Thankfully, along came Stephen Frears’s Lay the Favorite – with Hall playing an ex-private dancer-cum-cocktail waitress. The reviews were less than enthusiastic, but it allowed Hall the chance to shake things up. These past few months, she followed a three-month stint on Broadway, in Sophie Treadwell’s expressionist play Machinal, playing a woman inspired by real-life convicted husband-killer Ruth Snyder, by starring in forthcoming rom-com Tumbledown, alongside hot Hollywood comic Jason Sudeikis.

Just to add spice to the mix, this month sees her in A Promise, the new film from French veteran Patrice Leconte, the director of The Hairdresser’s Husband and Ridicule. “I’ve always wanted to infiltrate French cinema,” she says, “but felt I didn’t have the language so they’d never let me.”

In truth, it’s an uneven mix: French director, English cast and a German setting, adapted from the novel by Stefan Zweig, Journey into the Past. Yet if the cries of euro-pudding are never far away, Hall glides through the gloop quite easily. Set in 1912, in Germany, it’s primarily a love triangle, as Rickman’s wealthy industrialist hires a young man (Madden) as his assistant, who is soon making a play for his wife, the much-younger Lotte (Hall).

Film still from the movie 'A Promise' Film still from the movie 'A Promise' “This film is essentially about three people who are all harbouring things that aren’t available to the other two, and nobody ever says what’s going on,” she says. Not to worry: there are plenty of shots of furnaces being stoked to suggest the passions bubbling away underneath.

Understandably, it was the chance to work with Leconte that intrigued her: they met in Paris for a cup of tea. She spoke “very little” French and he had “considerably less” English.

“But the fact we actually managed to have a conversation without sharing a language at all was probably enough to make me think doing the film would be a good idea.” If you exclude her excursion to Barcelona for Woody Allen, it’s her first proper European film.

Even now there’s something fresh about Hall, something of the newcomer who hasn’t been over-exposed. She only started acting after wandering into the production office of The Camomile Lawn after school, catching the eye of the producer. “He didn’t really want me to do it,” Hall remembers of her father, “but he got roped into me doing it anyway!”

Then, after the first day of shooting, he asked her if acting was something she wanted to do more of. “It’s so embarrassing to tell this story,” she blushes. “Apparently I was like: ‘Yes, of course! Obviously! Are you crazy? It’s what I’ve always wanted to do!’”

So she never had a moment of teenage rebellion then, wanting away from the family business? “Yeah, I did,” she nods. “I did for sure. I did. There was a point when I realised that it was so boring to decide to be an actress, and so inevitable. I hated the trajectory of it. The whole thing of coming from my family and acting. Also I knew the rubbish that surrounds it. I went through a really holier-than-thou phase where I went: ‘Acting is a bunch of nonsense and its all narcissism and vanity, and who’d want to do that? It’s stupid! It’s not at all an artistic endeavour. I’m going to be an artist! I’m going to be a true creator!’ But that was bollocks!”

Now there are different problems, with Hall forced to face the peripheral pressures of a life in the public eye. She’s uncertain about the need for actresses to sell themselves in magazines. “I still don’t know that one. I really don’t. I think I probably arrogantly assumed you don’t have to do that, that talent will speak for itself and you should not. So I’ve tended not to. But I’m sure that’s not true any more. It doesn’t mean I’m going to change my behaviour. It just means maybe I won’t ever be as famous as some people, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

In front of me, dressed in a high-waist forest-green dress, gold flats and an eye-catching silver bracelet, Hall seems far removed from the bronzed Barbie-dolls that gravitate towards Hollywood. Pale-skinned, with big brown eyes and her dark hair in a bob, she has a shy smile and a graceful presence. Never mind her heritage – her mother is American, of Dutch, Scottish, Sioux and African-American origins – she’s ever so British. Then again, that’s what an education at Roedean, where she was head girl, and Cambridge, where she read English, will do for you.

So far, at least, she’s managed to cope with paparazzi – though it’s getting more intense. “I see them more and more. I’ve had them popping up out of bushes. I find it really silly to be all kind of: ‘Don’t look at me!’ On the whole I tend to go: ‘Hello!’ They get the photo and that’s it! I don’t need to run away and hide and be all dramatic about it; it makes it much more of a thing than it actually is. So what if someone gets a photo of me eating a sandwich and dropping ketchup down my front? It’s not the end of the world.”

Of course, interest was stirred when it surfaced that she and British director Sam Mendes were an item, particularly tricky given it came in the wake of his split from Kate Winslet. They met when he was an executive producer on Starter for 10, all those years ago, but post-Winslet, she was briefly cast – rightly or wrongly – as “the other woman”. Hall, however, has a firm policy when it comes to her private life. Or as she puts it: “Keeping my mouth shut!” Is turning the other cheek always easy, though?

“There are moments where you go: ‘Is this policy I’ve made of never saying anything [a good idea]?’ But I realised it doesn’t make any difference because I can scream and shout about trying to correct whatever story, but it will still be  an image of me that isn’t my reality and I’d actually rather keep my reality to myself, and frankly the fabled image that goes up there can be whatever it is. I’d have to separate the two and not worry about it. I think that’s the only way you actually end up not being very interesting. Just leave it alone.”

After appearing in Mendes’s productions of A Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard in 2008-9, would she consider working with him again? What about James Bond? After Mendes’s triumphant Skyfall, he will return to start work on Bond 24 soon. “It’s funny… you’re the first person to ask me that!” she replies, drily. “Yes, the James Bond franchise… what are you going to ask me about it? If I got offered a part in a James Bond film, I’d consider it like any other. I don’t think it’s very likely, though.”

Still, never say never again, as they say.

‘A Promise’ opens on 1 August

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence