By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com August 21, 2012 at 12:00PM
Since first emerging on screen in 2006 at the age of 24, with impressive roles in "The Prestige" and "Starter For Ten," Rebecca Hall has been one of the most exciting young actresses of her generation. Cropping up in everything from Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon" to Nicole Holofcener's "Please Give" and Ben Affleck's "The Town," Hall has consistently wowed in her smaller performances, even winning a BAFTA for her turn in "Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1974."
And now she's finally graduating to leading lady status. In "The Awakening," she plays Florence Cathcart, a professional skeptic that takes down fraudulent spiritualists in the aftermath of World War I, who meets her match while trying to debunk a reputed haunting in a country boarding school. The film is a lot of fun, in large part thanks to a tremendous performance from Hall, which suggests she's got plenty more leading roles to come.
And indeed, Hall is hugely in demand. Stephen Frears' "Lay The Favorite" is awaiting release from The Weinstein Company; the Tom Stoppard-penned miniseries "Parade's End," co-starring Benedict Cumberbatch, starts airing in the U.K. on Friday and she's currently mid-way through filming "Iron Man 3," her first foray into blockbuster territory, in which she'll play scientist Maya Hansen. Late last week, we spoke to Hall on the phone about "The Awakening," which has began rolling out in limited release this past weekend, her tentpole debut and more. Read some highlights from the conversation below.
From her debut in rom-com "Starter For Ten" to a hard-bitten crime thriller like "The Town," Hall has refused to be constrained by genre in her career so far. "The Awakening" marks her first move into horror, but it was the part, rather than the type of film, that was the attraction. "I didn't set out to do a genre," she told us. "I think I just look for a part that looks like it's going to be fun to play, something different from what I've done before. I'm always looking for worlds I don't know much about, or a subject matter I don't know much about."
And part of the appeal was the way in which her character, Florence Cathcart, has more of a sense of humor than you might expect in a film like this. "I think it's a bit short-sighted to play any character and not explore, in some respects, the way they act when things get really bad," Hall said. "We all have a propensity to laugh [even at terrible moments], that's her coping mechanism. In high drama, or high tragedy, or anything, it's not really human unless there's some humor at the same time. And vice versa. So I guess I tend to gravitate towards projects which tread a dodgy tightrope between two things, which aren't really one or another."
There's no way of faking fear.
We were intrigued as to how technical she found performing in a horror film to be, compared to some of the other work that she's done of late, given how geared "The Awakening" is towards freaking out the audience. Hall told us that, as it turns out, "'Lay The Favorite' [the Stephen Frears-directed gambling comedy that premiered at Sundance this year] was the most technical job I've ever had to do... I worked harder on that than I've ever had to work on anything." But a film like "The Awakening" presented its own challenges. "Physically, it was very challenging," Hall told us. "Something that always interested me about the shooting of this, is that you can't fake adrenaline. If you act scared, your body produces adrenaline. Maintaining that level of fear, doing it take after take, was physically exhausting, much more than I had anticipated. Running around screaming, I've got a whole new respect for anyone who's ever done that in a movie."
It was easy to leave the work at the office.
Florence Cathcart ends up in some pretty unsettling situations, and we were curious as to how much shooting a film like this one lingers on the mind, especially as she's not had as much experience in the spookier end of the spectrum. Was it like any other job? Or did she find herself suffering from nightmares once she wrapped for the day? "I was able to leave it on set," she answered, before continuing, with a laugh, "It's not really that scary when there's a grip standing there eating a sandwich."
Shot almost two years ago, "The Awakening" was, at the time, Hall's first solo lead (the film premiered at TIFF last year, and was released in the U.K. last November). Furthermore, it also marked the feature debut of TV veteran Nick Murphy (who has since wrapped on his follow-up, "Blood," with Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham), and the first big credit since breaking out with "A Single Man" for DoP Eduard Grau (whom Hall describes as "amazing"). But having worked with veterans like Woody Allen and Stephen Frears, Hall is aware that a different, younger energy can be useful on set too: "When you work with filmmakers, and it's their first film, there's an exuberance and optimism, which is quite... There's no room for being jaded. Thinking that you know it all."
The currently-filming "Iron Man 3" marks the first time she's had to work with effects.
Having mostly stayed on the indie side of things, Hall is now getting her first blockbuster experience, playing scientist Maya Hansen in the much-anticipated "Iron Man 3," due for release next summer. The Shane Black-helmed project is "still filming... we're on hiatus [because of Robert Downey Jr's ankle injury]," and Hall says that it came out of a desire to try something new. "I suppose I thought I might as well try it once," she told us, of her first venture into the franchise world. "It's something that I haven't done before." And it definitely seems like she's getting to try out some new things. "[There's] certainly more visual effects stuff than I've ever experienced before. I'd never even done green screen, I'd never done any of that before. I usually shoot stuff that's on location, so it's a whole new world."
"The Awakening" is in theaters now.