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Woody’s New Woman

The thing about a Woody Allen film, or at least his more recent offerings, is that if you can’t act, you’re going to end up with egg on your face. Or at the very least, make a runny, undercooked omelette out of a promising movie career. More and more of Allen’s scripted characters seem to be only slight variations on well-told stereotypes – the headstrong divorcée; the Bohemian single girl; the jilted English rose. Combine this with his love for binning the entire script on the first day of shooting – then ask his cast to improvise – and for less-experienced actors you’ve got a recipe for a critical mauling.

Lucky then, that Rebecca Hall, 26, is perhaps the brightest, most talented to come out of Britain since, well, Kate Winslet pushed DiCaprio off a piece of driftwood in the freezing Atlantic. Having been somewhat overshadowed by domineering male leads in the past (Rebecca played alongside James McAvoy in Starter for 10 and opposite Christian Bale in The Prestige), 2009 will see her move out from the wings to take centre stage, not least in Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, out this month.

“Woody’s mythology as something of an eccentric on set precedes him,” says Rebecca, daughter or theatre director Sir Peter Hall, and recently seen playing the part of Sir David Frost’s girlfriend Caroline Cushing in Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon. “You have to just ignore all the crazy stories, things like: don’t look him directly in the eye; don’t expect him to talk to you ever. I was told that the script, or at least my part of it, would arrive with a bodyguard and lawyer, both of whom would have to remain with it at all times. All nonsense, of course. It arrived by post in a brown envelope–complete – with a handwritten note saying simply, ‘Read this, I think you’ll make a great Vicky. Tell me what you think. Best wishes, Woody.'”

Allen’s hunch was spot on. Rebecca accepted the part and is outstanding in the lead role despite being flanked on all sides by a starry cast including Javier Barden, Scarlett Johansson and Penélope Cruz. Rebecca’s character, Vicky, is holidaying with her best friend, Cristina (Johansson) in Barcelona over the summer when they’re propositioned by a free-spirited and extremely tactile artist named Juan (Bardem). What follows is a story of passion, prudishness and loaded pistols, and for Allen it marks a vast improvement on recent turkeys such as Match Point and Scoop (for one, it’s funny) and for Rebecca it earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

“I was a little worried about being accepted into the ‘cool gang’, as Scarlett has worked with Woody so many times in the past,” says Rebecca, currently appearing on stage in The Winter’s Tale, directed by Sam Mendes in New York, and soon to be seen excelling in Red Riding, Channel 4’s adaptation of the David Peace crime novels. “Luckily I got on well with all of them. Watching Penélope and Javier–the modern king and queen of Spain–try to work outside without being mobbed was interesting. Someone leaked our filming schedule to one of the newspapers in Barcelona. Crowds would come in costume, cheer, make banners. As soon as ‘Action!’ was called, they’d fall deathly quiet. It was quite the experience.” Rebecca better get used to it–by the end of 2009, the banners will be bearing her name.

© GQ Magazine 2009