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The Good Fight

Three weeks ago, Rebecca Hall joined Instagram, and she already feels conflicted. “It’s a very un-me thing to have done,” she says. “I’m quite secretive and private.” So why join? “I got a little bored of being above it,” she confesses, laughing.

We’re in a café around the corner from Hall’s Brooklyn Heights apartment, and she’s grappling with what exactly bothers her about the social platform – being sent shoes and feeling obliged to post them, for a start: “On Instagram, you’re battling with that all the time.”

Not that the 34-year-old is against supporting emerging designers; she gladly talks me through today’s outfit: a drop earring by Brooklyn jeweler Winden; a white T-shirt and wide black pants by another local designer, Uniforme; and her “trusted Stan Smiths, which I wear nearly every day of my life”. But joining Instagram has put her in such a quandary that she even wrote herself a memo to clarify her thinking. “This is embarrassing,” she says, “but I’m going to have to bring it out.” There, on her iPhone Notes, under the password for her air-conditioning system, is the following: “As a public person, to some degree there is a relationship between the world and your image. And when you’re in control of it you’re an artist. But when it’s dictated by the market you’re a product, and that requires constant vigilance.”

To be fair, she also has the following note: “If you don’t like my peaches, don’t shake my tree.” This one has us roaring with laughter.

That’s the thing about Hall. She overthinks everything and can be uncompromising to the point of absurdity. But, like Woody Allen, who must have seen a bit of himself in her when he cast her as the neurotic one in 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Hall can be drolly entertaining, even when she’s tying herself in knots.

She also cares so deeply about things that are important to her – like doing meaningful work – that you find yourself rooting for her; especially when you realize good parts don’t come easy, despite her having worked with everyone from Steven Spielberg (The Bfg) and Christopher Nolan (The Prestige) to Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon).

“I would consider selling out [to be] playing a two-dimensional candy part, where I was there to look pretty, which I’ve tried really hard not to do,” she says, “but it happens anyway.” Of her role in Iron Man 3 – a franchise Hall liked because it was funny and starred Robert Downey Jr. – she gripes: “My part was a lot bigger than what ended up being shot.” And there was one film, she confides, “where at the time of taking it I liked the script. Then the script radically changed during filming and there’s nothing you can do. You are at the mercy of other people’s decisions.” Indie parts are better but, “I’ve been in enough independent films to know they can disappear,” she says.

All of which makes her big-hitting performance in the small-scale drama Christine testament not only to her talent but also her nerve. Based on the life of Christine Chubbuck, a Tv reporter from Florida who shot herself live on air in 1974, the film delivers Hall a lead role you suspect she has been waiting for her entire working life: a whip-smart career woman who wants to succeed but is hampered by personal demons and sexism.

“I liked her positive sense of humanity,” Hall says of the character, “which sounds odd about someone who was clearly a depressive. But there are roles that have a weirdness about them that you love, because they are so over the top but also true. Like [Robert De Niro in] The King of Comedy. But they are nearly all men,” she points out. “It’s rare that women get those roles because women have to be likeable all the time.”

Has she felt pressure to be likeable? “Yeah, it comes up 100% more with women on set than it does men. If men are unlikeable they are charismatic and sexy, but if you are abrasive on film as a woman, then it’s like, ‘People are not going to find you attractive.’ It has happened to me: ‘Can we just do one where [you’re] less angry?’”

Her father, British director Sir Peter Hall, once told her not to be afraid to play crazy people. “What he meant is people who are unlikeable,” she says. “He said, ‘You have a good sense of humanity that will always come through, which you don’t have to worry about.’ It was a really beautiful thing to say. I think about it a lot.”

The downside of playing the highly-strung Christine was being plagued on set by tension headaches, neck pain and extreme shakes (after firing the gun). The upside was Hall’s then-boyfriend, now husband of one year, American actor Morgan Spector, being there to “take the edge off”. In a wry bit of casting, he has a cameo in the film as Christine’s gynaecologist. “It was a good in-joke,” laughs Hall.

It was the first time the actress had allowed a boyfriend to join her on location. “Morgan didn’t insist,” she says, “but he was like, this is going to be hard, so if you want me there to cook a meal for you at the end of the day, I can be. He prides himself on being there for people. That’s why I married him. It wasn’t long after [filming wrapped] that I thought, ‘Right, that’s that.’”

Previously, Hall had sworn off marriage. “I come from a family of divorce,” she says. (Her father and mother, American soprano Maria Ewing, divorced when she was six.) “I have an inbuilt cynicism. Also, I’m a feminist and there’s part of me that’s like, doesn’t it originally have to do with handing over land from one person to another?”

At this point, she loses me, attributing her change of heart to the legalization of gay marriage, and even referencing Christian existentialism. So, you mean, you fell in love? “Yeah, of course I fell in love,” she relents, smirking.

Hall will fly to Nova Scotia in a few days, where Spector is filming, for one of their fortnightly reunions. She misses him “terribly” but has plenty to occupy her here, such as practicing piano (“I play a lot of Bach; it calms my mind”) and hanging out with friends, including her former Cambridge University roommate, former Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens, who lives nearby with his wife: “I’m godmother to their kids; I pick them up and take them home.”

She likes entertaining with her husband when he’s around; he cooks (“Amazing roasts”), she mixes cocktails (“Tequila. You don’t feel rotten the next day”) and DJs: “I usually get to a level of craziness where I dance for hours to anything that comes on.”

It’s a newlywed bliss that may explain why, having been in New York on and off for five years (since relocating from London), she finally feels rooted. “I never thought I’d entirely make the move [to the Us] but I love it.” Does she feel happy? “Yeah, I do,” she says, without equivocation. “I feel really good about a lot – everything, actually. Long may it continue.”