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Rebecca Hall on making brave decisions, George Elliot, and becoming Christine

Born in London to Sir Peter Hall, the British stage director and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and to American opera singer Maria Ewing, it comes as no surprise that Hall has pursued an accomplished acting career across film and stage.

There is one prismatic quality to Hall’s eclectic body of work, one where openness and curious instinct has led to roles which traverse a wide and colorful spectrum of emotion and genre. In 2010, Hall won the BAFTA TV Award for her work in Paul Garland’s miniseries Red Riding, and her turn in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona saw her nominated for a Golden Globe Award. She has inhabited an array of characters – having played a jet-set girlfriend in Frost/Nixon, an author proving supernatural hoaxes in the ghost story The Awakening, and a scientist in the blockbuster Iron Man 3.

In her most recent role, Hall further reveals to us a profound ability to tap into various dimensions of character, one moment discomforting and the next darkly humorous. “I thought there were so many different acting challenges, and there were so many things that intrigued me and frightened me about it. But I wanted to do it,” says Hall of her decision to play Christine Chubbuck in the upcoming biopic Christine, about the young news anchor who committed suicide on-air. It is with courage and empathy that Hall has captured the many complicated facets of personality in a character study of an individual who, although known for a specific and tragic act, is so compassionately portrayed.

We recently spoke with Hall about making brave decisions, her favorite books, and the challenges of her most recent role.

How did the photo shoot go yesterday?
It was fun, it was very fashion. I enjoy dressing up on occasion, so it was good fun to have the proper frilly things to wear. (Laughs)

I recall reading somewhere that your dad once asked you if you wanted to be an “actress” or a “child actress” – stressing the importance of childhood. Can you tell me about your childhood and the experiences that really contributed to the actress you are today?
That’s a big question. I think it’s arguable that there isn’t any experience that doesn’t contribute to the actor that I am today, so it’s sort of everything: the good, bad, the ugly. To get into the details, I don’t know where I’d start, I’ll save that for my biography. (Laughs)

You grew up in a creative household with amazing parents. Do you remember some of the creative things that sparked imagination in you during your childhood?
Yeah, I had a kind of strange one because my parents were together for only five years and so they just had me, but my father was married a couple times more than that and has five other children. I had an experience of being an only child and all of the stereotypical things that [that] brings, you know – making my own fun, reading a lot, being quite solitary, being quiet. Also, I would have this quite rambunctious sort of eclectic, fun, wild family that I would see in different contexts. I had the experience of having brothers and sisters and also not at all, which I always think is interesting. (Laughs) Both of my parents were really at the height of their careers when they had me, so I spent a lot of time in rehearsal rooms as a kid, which is something that I actually genuinely enjoyed. I don’t think they always wanted to pat me off with a nanny or whatever, so quite often they’d sit me in the back of a rehearsal room with a coloring book and a piece of paper and some pens, and I could just observe. Those are the fond memories I have of watching my mum sing and rehearse and work, and also watching my dad direct, and getting to watch all of these actors and all of these musicians and all of these people and these worlds.

You went to study literature at Cambridge. Who were some authors you enjoyed reading? I am very curious to know.
I have very eclectic taste. When I was at college I read all the things I had to read. At Cambridge you study exclusively English Literature, so I read a lot of Dickens and all those early novelists and Chaucer and all that kind of thing, but the stuff that I loved was George Elliot. I loved George Elliot and then I loved some Thomas Hardy and then when I sort of broke out of having to do English Literature, I kind of discovered American stuff whether its Carson McCullers, all those people. But then there’s Virginia Woolf and Virginia Woolf is a big one for me. I try to read as widely as possible. I think it definitely helps what I do for a living as well as my actual living.

You ended up leaving Cambridge one year before graduation. What was that turning point, that moment when you realized it was the right thing to do?
I suppose it was in part impatience to get on with my life, but it also came from a deep set desire to buck this trajectory I saw forming that felt very institutionalized. I had gone from a boarding school to a big earnest university and I thought, “Oh, it would be very easy to get my degree and have that to fall back on for the rest of my life.” It’s difficult to talk about because at the same time I don’t want to do it a disservice, it really was an incredible experience. All of my best friends are people that I met there and people that I admire, and I learnt a lot. But I suppose that I wanted to leave without the final bit so that I knew I could make a brave decision about my life that I didn’t have anything to fall back on – that I could do something radical like that and not have this comfortable paperwork. I suppose a part of me wanted to know that I could make a brave decision like that so that I could carry on making brave decisions for the rest of my life, and buck conventional trends. It sort of set me up in that way, or I wanted it to. It was basically impatience to get on with the rest of my life. I knew what I wanted to do, I had known for a long time.