Guest of Honor

Rebecca Hall Demonstrates Her Range

The actor details how she crafted her haunting performance in the biographical drama, before telling us what it was like to work for her dad (and Shakespeare).

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Rebecca Hall first made a name for herself on the British stage, winning awards in plays by Shaw and Shakespeare. Audiences worldwide saw her in Christopher Nolan’s thriller “The Prestige.” And she earned a Golden Globe nomination playing Vicky in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”

Her latest role is generating more awards buzz. In the indie film “Christine,” she plays Christine Chubbuck. A real-life local news reporter and host who, in 1974, committed suicide during a live broadcast.

The film portrays Chirstine as a decent and funny person, haunted by depression and struggling with TV news’s focus on grim crime. When Rico met Hall, she told him the film’s screenwriter, Criag Shilowich, had personal reasons for exploring the story.

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Rebecca Hall: He went through a sort of nearly 10-year extended period of severe depression. And he didn’t know why it started, and he didn’t know why it left him. The whole thing was baffling.

So, when he came across the Christine Chubbuck story late one night on the Internet, he looked at it and he thought, “Wow, imagine if I had gone through what I’d gone through but been a woman. And, more than that, been a woman in the ‘70s. And, more than that, had had my work, which was one of the things that got me out of it, taken away from me. Would I have made it?”

Rico Gagliano: Did you speak to him? Because it is actually fascinating watching you in this film. Your posture is affected. Everything about it really feels like you’ve taken on this character. Did you speak to him about…?

Rebecca Hall: I did, peripherally. I didn’t really need to. It was there in the script. Also, I don’t think there’s anyone under the sun that doesn’t know people who have gone through things like this. I definitely have a direct relationship and understanding of mental health issues with people who I’ve known.

The truth is, Christine is someone who represents these things, in the sense that we all know what it’s like to get depressed. We all know what it’s like to be stymied at work. We all know what it’s like to feel unloved.

It’s really hard for us all to admit that, if it were not for the fact of some arbitrary factors like brain chemistry, gender, time and place, we might be all be capable of tipping over the edge in some way. That’s a horrifying thought, but it’s a thought that I had to think about.

Rebecca Hall in "Christine." (Photo Credit: Joe Anderson)
Rebecca Hall in “Christine.” (Photo Credit: Joe Anderson)

Rico Gagliano: What about her surprised you? To whatever extent you looked into her life, what surprised you?

Rebecca Hall: Oh, there were lots of facts. I grilled Craig about all of the stuff that he’d got from speaking to people, obviously, and I had 15 minutes of footage that I watched a lot. Fifteen minutes of her doing her new show where she’s talking to someone about a zoning petition. It was quite dull, but I could glean quite a lot from that.

Rico Gagliano: Namely?

Rebecca Hall: Well, just listening to her register of her voice. And I know that I was watching it and sort of thinking, “Well, here’s someone doing her job that, on some level, she knows that she is off. And she’s desperately, desperately trying to perform all day what she perceives to be normal.”

And sometimes she’s really good at it. Sometimes she excels at her work, and she’s brilliant, and she’s really good at pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. And other days, she is really bad at acting, and it jars, and it’s kind of terrible. And I thought, “Oh, there’s something in that sort of duality.”

Rico Gagliano: This is a scene from early in the film where Christine is overcome while she is interviewing a man for her morning public affairs show. Obviously, the job of an anchor is to constantly project that you’re in control. And, often, to project that everything is jolly and fine, that we’re going to get through this.

Rebecca Hall: Yeah, and you’re on top of everything.

I do think there’s some sort of poetic something or other that this is a woman who desperately wanted to be famous for being a good journalist and for serving her community. And she got famous because of blood and guts. Her death — that’s the reason why she’s well known.

But I thought what was profound and important about the movie was that it’s a story about someone desperately trying to live, trying survive. And, actually, there’s a lot of life and light in spite of the pain that she’s in. And there’s a chance that the headlines cease to be about the blood and guts and actually about the conversation that she signifies.

Rebecca Hall in "Christine." (Photo Credit: Joe Anderson)
Rebecca Hall in “Christine.” (Photo Credit: Joe Anderson)

Rico Gagliano: Maybe that’s a good sentiment from which to pivot to, let’s say, happier topics. I first saw you in a Shakespeare production of “As You Like It” directed by your dad, Peter Hall, who was one of the founders of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Here is my question to you: I, for instance, grew up in a household that was really into classical music, and, as a young man, I completely rejected classical music. I was very into punk rock, the noisiest non-classical. I’m wondering if you had a similar rejection of Shakespeare and theater. I don’t know what the equivalent would be of…

Rebecca Hall: Yeah, I don’t know. I suppose that’s why I really fell in love with film really young. Because it wasn’t theater.

But, I suppose my father is a kind of… a militant Shakespearean, I would call it. You know, like, “There is nothing greater than Shakespeare. And Shakespeare did everything, and therefore, there’s nothing else left for anyone to do.”

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, cars: invented by Shakespeare.

Rebecca Hall: [Laughs.] Yeah, a lot of people don’t know that. But I think a lot of what he says is true. So, at a certain point, it just feels juvenile to constantly be saying, “No, no, no!” I actually agree with him on a lot of those things, and did from quite young.

Rico Gagliano: Well, maybe that, then, answers my next question, which was going to be how you dealt with what I would imagine would be the difficulties of having your dad as your director.

English stage director and director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (1960 - 1973), Peter Hall. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
English stage director and director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (1960 – 1973), Peter Hall. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)

Rebecca Hall: I always had a very good relationship with my dad in terms around work. From a very young age he would take me to the theater and then, directly afterward, ask my opinion on things. He always encouraged me to argue with him, but to support my argument. And that sort of combative sort of relationship that we had, I suppose, in a way, it felt very natural to take it into a rehearsal room because that’s really the dynamic between an actor and a director. And, you know, I didn’t do it lightly. I felt deeply uncomfortable about it in the beginning. I was like, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

And I had to have all sorts of rules. You know, when we first worked together, it was like, “Well, I don’t want to be on the advertising. I’m not going to do press because it’s too scary to go out to the world and say, ‘Nepotism, nepotism. Judge me, judge me.’” You know?

And I was like, “And when we’re in the rehearsal room, let’s not draw attention to the fact of that at all, and I’m with the actors, and I’m not going to have lunch with you and your….”

Rico Gagliano: Wow. If I was your dad, I’d be like, “You know, on second thought, forget it.”

Rebecca Hall: No, he got it. He got it, but the truth is it was very professional, and it worked, and it was a joy to have that time working with him because he is one of the great theater directors of our times.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, doesn’t hurt.

Rebecca Hall: I’m not a fool. I’m not going to say, “No, I’m not working with him” because he’s my dad.

Rico Gagliano: We have two standard questions that we ask everyone in the show. The first is: if we were to meet you at a dinner party, what question should we not ask you?

Rebecca Hall: Should you not ask me?

Rico Gagliano: Yes, I bet you it’s about your dad, now that I think about it.

Rebecca Hall: It is, actually. No, it’s fine.

Rico Gagliano: Sorry.

Rebecca Hall: These days, I’m really happy to talk about my father. I mean, isn’t this a trap?

Rico Gagliano: Yes. You’re on to us.

Rebecca Hall: Because now, then it’ll be out there in the world, the thing that everyone will then ask me. So how can you expect me to be honest about it?

Rico Gagliano: Also, I get to then follow up and have you talk about the thing that you don’t want to be asked, but you brought it up. So, then, I win.

Rebecca Hall: I’m now trying to think of something really irritating and flip and facetious.

Rico Gagliano: That’s a win for me, too. Either way.

Rebecca Hall: Yeah, and don’t ask me what my next tattoo is.

Rico Gagliano: OK. Do you have a tattoo?

Rebecca Hall: Yeah, I have two.

Rico Gagliano: All right. Should I ask you what they are?

Rebecca Hall: No.

Rico Gagliano: OK, there you go. We did it! Our second question is kind of the flip of this, which is: tell us something we don’t know. And this could be about anything.

Rebecca Hall: That I have a tattoo.

Rico Gagliano: Yes, but I know that now. It could be about yourself or anything in the world.

Rebecca Hall: I can do an uncanny impersonation of Björk.

Rico Gagliano: Please do that now.

Rebecca Hall: My party trick is to do Björk doing any song that you — on the spot — any song that you say. Then I’ll do it in the style of Björk. I can’t do it now!

Rico Gagliano: Oh, God, this is… oh, come on! Of course you have to do it now.

Rebecca Hall: No!

Rico Gagliano: This is a radio show, and this is an audio trick that you have. Oh, what song must it be? What is the — I’m going to ask the booth — what is the least Björk song?

Rebecca Hall: Yeah, that’s the trick.

Rico Gagliano: Our producer, Jackson, wants it to be “Happy Birthday.”

Rebecca Hall: [Sings “Happy Birthday” as Björk.] There you go.