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Stars of Sundance: Rebecca Hall

“When the script landed on my doorstep, I was in a really dark frame of mind,” says Rebecca Hall of Christine, the true story of Christine Chubbuck, a Sarasota morning show correspondent who committed suicide live on the air in 1974. “I pushed it to into the corner of an apartment I was living in and it upset me every time I looked at it.”

Hall was in the midst of her debut Broadway performance run in Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal, a play about Ruth Snyder, the first woman to be photographed while executed in the electric chair. “I was incredibly trepidatious about something based on a true story,” she says. “The story is so shocking that it does play on your mind. [Chubbuck] forced her tragedy on the public consciousness. It’s out there in the world. But when I read the script, I realized that what it was trying to do was artistically explore the questions that she left us with. I thought that was actually extraordinarily brave and important. After one read, I knew I had to do it.”

Even with past projects as diverse as Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Prestige, and Iron Man 3, it took some convincing for director Antonio Campos to find Hall’s range right for the part. “I don’t think a lot of what I’d done up until this point would suggest I was a slam dunk for it,” she says. Hall is English and seems preternaturally poised, whereas Chubbuck was an Ohio native living in south Florida with a wooden unease about her. “And it took a while to get everything together,” Hall adds. “It wasn’t like everyone was like, ‘Yeah, great, I’ll throw money at that.’”

Indeed, the subject of the film—the disturbing depiction of a woman careening toward her own public self-slaughter—isn’t particularly marketable. But the resulting film is an astonishing, stylized portrait of one of the most oddly sympathetic characters to hit Sundance since Dawn Wiener in Welcome to the Dollhouse. Apart from its inherent darkness, the film is oftentimes suspenseful, moving, and even funny. Co-starring Michael C. Hall as a charmingly oblivious co-reporter and a pitch-perfect Tracy Letts as the incensed news director, Christine is anchored by Hall’s tour-de-force performance, easily one of the most uncanny of her career. In terms of research, “I didn’t really have much,” she says. “Antonio was very clear that he wanted me to create Christine from the script. What I had was about 20 minutes of her doing one episode of her show that the writer [Craig Shilowich] gave to me. I was able to pull sound from it and listen to her voice for part of each day.”

Following the premiere, Hall is confident that the right message comes across. “There is something unusual about seeing a film with a woman at the center who isn’t saved by a man—who’s not saved by anyone—and who is deeply problematic,” she says. “There’s a luxury in storytelling to be able to make comprehensible that which is incomprehensible. You add to the world’s capacity for compassion and empathy, and I think it is an empathetic film. And I think it’s really original, which is really rare.”