Rebecca Hall, Finding New Thrills In The Family Business

Aug 29, 2013
Originally published on August 29, 2013 5:22 pm

Rebecca Hall, a veteran of films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and The Town, is the star of the new surveillance-state thriller Closed Circuit, playing an English barrister charged with monitoring top-secret, closed-to-the-public evidence hearings involving a terrorist bombing.

One wrinkle — aside from the complete perfidy of nearly all institutions concerned, and the fact that this film's barristers and reporters are equally at risk of not reaching the end of the story alive — is that another barrister on the case, appointed to represent the defendant in his public trial, is her former lover. And they're barred by arcane British terrorism-trial procedure from communicating with each other — rules that might have been written by Shakespeare himself to set up more complicated possibilities.

"I think you'll find that these procedures have only come into play in light of recent events," Hall says slyly, when NPR's Robert Siegel jokingly poses the question. "Since they generally pertain to trials relating to national security, it's only a recent occurrence. Otherwise, I think we'd all have been up in arms a little bit earlier."

Hall joins All Things Considered to talk about researching her character, working with her father — a noted Shakespearean director — and learning from her mother, an equally celebrated opera singer.


Interview Highlights

On barristers as analytical, hyperverbal communicators

"Not wanting to make vast, sweeping generalizations, but I think on the whole they tend to be people who exist in their heads, and are very analytical. I didn't meet a single barrister or lawyer while I was researching the film that didn't speak in complete, full, very well-thought-out, precise sentences. And I thought that was fascinating, being generally a sort of bumbling, inarticulate mess myself.

"[It's] definitely interesting dramatically — when you're playing a character who has all of that facility in their professional life, and has no capacity to express their own emotions. So there's an irony there."

On her mother, the Michigan-born opera singer Maria Ewing

"She truly has always been and always will be an inspiration to me. Part of her skill as an artist is that not only did she — does she — have an extraordinary singing voice that sort of came from nowhere, with very little training, but she also was a very great actress. And I grew up watching her; I think she was performing one of her most well-known productions, Salome — which my father directed, actually — from when I was about 5 until I was about 14."

On seeing that famously controversial interpretation of Salome

"I don't think I was nearly sophisticated enough to realize it was unusual. I think you just sort of accept things when you're that age, don't you? I think I realized in hindsight that it was rather brave and brilliant of her — and as she argued at the time, far less vulgar — to wear nothing than to wear a little something."

On leaving Cambridge to work with her father, director Peter Hall

"Of course it was tough. That was sort of the point of doing it. It was one of those moments that I thought would define how I behaved for the rest of my life — if I could sort of buck a trajectory, and not be the sort of person who had this very linear journey of good grades at school, and then a degree from Cambridge to tell everyone that I was smart.

"There was some sort of rebellious instinct in me, to not have that, and to make a bold decision, so that I knew I could make bold decisions for the rest of my life. Not to have anything to fall back on, I think, was the logic."

On being dubbed an "indie girl" by the UK's Independent newspaper, and going mainstream

"It's conscious, and it's not conscious. There were opportunities for me to do more mainstream things earlier on, and I chose not to, 'cause they weren't things that I wanted to do. And then I suppose I got to the point of thinking ... I would like to have as diverse and varied a career as I'm allowed to have. You always have to bear in mind that it's not like I have my pick of every role out there; you are picking from what other people want you to do."

On working in a genre defined by fear and paranoia, and steering clear of over-the-top

"I think it's a sort of necessary hypothetical extreme, so that we can negotiate what the possibilities are — in their worst form — and have that discussion. You need [the willing suspension of disbelief]; that's part of any healthy art form that raises questions. And I think you have to go the extra mile to get that kind of reaction."

On whether there's risk, with recent national security leaks, in suggesting that Closed Circuit's fictions closely resemble fact

"I wouldn't entirely agree with you there. I think it's any responsible art form's duty to help us think about how we live. And if we were to not tackle these issues in narratives, in stories, we wouldn't necessarily see the dangers and the problems, and be able to think about them."

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And Robert Siegel. The actress Rebecca Hall plays an English trial lawyer, a barrister, in the new spy thriller, "Closed Circuit." Hall's character is the special advocate appointed to represent a terror-bombing suspect in a secret hearing. One wrinkle, in addition to the complete perfidy of nearly all institutions concerned and the fact that barristers and reporters are equally at risk of not reaching the end of this movie alive - one wrinkle is that the barrister appointed to represent the alleged terrorist in his public trial is her former lover.

They are barred by arcane British terror-trial procedure from communicating, which turns a conversation over lunch into a frosty exchange mediated by the defendant's third lawyer, his solicitor.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "CLOSED CIRCUIT")

REBECCA HALL: (As Claudia Simmons-Howe) Until the actually delivery of the closed material, I am permitted to communicate with Mr. Rose, whether or not I choose to do so is another matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: As I'm beginning to understand.

HALL: (As Claudia Simmons-Howe) So would you please inform this gentleman that I'm here to see Mr. (unintelligible).

SIEGEL: You may recall Rebecca Hall as Vicky in "Vicky Christina Barcelona." She was in "The Town" and "Lay the Favorite" and she joins us from New York. Welcome to the program.

HALL: Thank you. Good to be here.

SIEGEL: First, these rules of British security services, secret evidence and special advocates, did Shakespeare write them just for the dramatic possibilities?

HALL: Well, no. I think you'll find that these procedures have only come into play in light of recent events. And since they generally pertain to trials relating to national security, it's only a recent occurrence. Otherwise, I think we'd all have been up in arms a little bit earlier.

SIEGEL: When you prepared for this part, was there something about barristers that you figured out and that made your character Claudia Simmons-Howe more accessible to you?

HALL: Yes. I think it's fairly obvious, but I'm not wanting to make vast, sweeping generalizations, but I think, on the whole, they tend to be people that exist in their heads and are very analytical. I didn't meet a single barrister or lawyer while I was researching the film that didn't speak in complete and full, very well thought out, precise sentences.

And I thought that was fascinating, being generally a sort of bumbling, inarticulate mess myself.

SIEGEL: So but you found a very special kind of analytic intelligence common to the lawyers?

HALL: Yeah, I did. I did. Which is definitely interesting dramatically, when you're playing a character who has all of that facility in their professional life, and has no capacity to express their own emotions. So there's an irony there.

SIEGEL: Some biography is in order here. You are 31 years old, yes?

HALL: Yeah. Indeed, I am.

SIEGEL: And your father, Sir Peter Hall, is one of Britain's great stage directors and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company. And your mother, Maria Ewing, is a singer, an opera singer, and an American. I want you to talk a little bit about her and her influence on you.

HALL: She is American, indeed. She's from Michigan and I have family in Michigan still. Yeah, she truly has always been and will continue to be an inspiration to me. She's - part of her skill as an artist is that not only did she, does she have an extraordinary singing voice that sort of came from nowhere, with very little training, but she also was a very great actress.

And I grew up watching her. I think she was performing one of her most well-known productions, "Salome," that my father directed, actually, from when I was about 5 until I was about 14.

SIEGEL: Was this the production in which she disrobed, as Salome?

HALL: It is indeed.

SIEGEL: Did that strike you, at age 5, as anything unusual or is it just mom out there?

HALL: Well, I suppose it's - no, I don't think I was nearly sophisticated enough to realize it was unusual. I think you just sort of accept things when you're that age, actually. I think I realized in hindsight that it was rather brave and brilliant of her and as she argued at the time, far less vulgar to wear nothing than to wear a little something.

SIEGEL: That was her comment at the time.

HALL: Yeah.

SIEGEL: You've also acted under the direction of your father, Sir Peter Hall, and I gather that you left Cambridge with a year to go to work with him. Was leaving university early tough or a no-brainer? How would you describe that?

HALL: Of course it was tough. That was sort of the point of doing it. It was one of those moments that I thought would define how I behaved for the rest of my life, if I could sort of buck a trajectory, and not be the sort of person who had this very linear journey of good grades at school and then a degree from Cambridge to tell everyone that I was smart.

There was some sort of rebellious instinct in me to not have that and to make a bold decision, so that I knew I could make bold decisions for the rest of my life. Not to have anything to fall back on, I think, was the logic.

SIEGEL: You had to erase the plan B before it even became possible.

HALL: Exactly. If you're going to commit to something crazy, you've got to commit to it.

SIEGEL: Well, I guess it worked. I mean, you've been acting on stage and in movies ever since, yeah.

HALL: Yeah. So far, so good. And, you know, if Cambridge will accept me back to be an academic, if it all goes wrong, here's hoping.

SIEGEL: I read one newspaper article about you. It was actually in the Independent, which is meaningful. It referred to you as indie girl. Which, I guess, if your paper is called the Independent, you can't think that's bad. The point is all about your moving into mainstream Hollywood movies more.

A conscious decision on your part or a conscious decision on the part of people who do casting? How would you describe this phase of your acting life?

HALL: It's conscious, and it's not conscious. I think there were opportunities for me to do more mainstream things earlier on and I chose not to, 'cause they weren't things that I wanted to do. And then I suppose I got to a point of thinking, well, you know, I would like to have as diverse and varied a career as I'm allowed to have.

You always have to bear in mind that it's not like I have my pick of every role out there. It's sort of, you are picking from what other people want you to do, a lot of the time.

SIEGEL: I want to return to the subject matter of "Closed Circuit," which is a very entertaining thriller and which is a genre of political deep state thriller that, for me, is epitomized by "Three Days of the Condor," which I thought I was (unintelligible).

HALL: Absolutely, yes.

SIEGEL: The plots of these movies typically work the turf somewhere between reasonable fear of the surveillance state and entertaining paranoia. And, you know, I was thinking the newspaper reporters, the very dedicated newspaper reporters I've known who've died on the job, have died because they went to some war zone where they put themselves at risk.

They weren't killed by the FBI, you know, or the CIA. Is there some risk here of going over the top?

HALL: Yes, absolutely. I wouldn't call it a risk, though. I think it's a sort of necessary hypothetical extreme, so that we can negotiate what the possibilities are in their worst form, and have that discussion.

SIEGEL: This is the willing suspension of disbelief that will go a little bit beyond (unintelligible).

HALL: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. You need that. I mean, that's part of, you know, any healthy art form, sort of raises questions. And I think you have to go the extra mile to get that kind of reaction.

SIEGEL: On the other hand, when a movie like this comes out and the Snowden affair is in full bloom, there's a tendency to take advantage of whatever's in the news and say, yeah, this is a gloss on this real-life issue that we face.

HALL: I wouldn't entirely agree with you there. I think that it's any responsible art-form's duty to help us think about how we live. And if we were to not tackle these issues in narratives and stories, you know, we wouldn't necessarily see the dangers and the problems, and be able to think about them.

SIEGEL: Rebecca Hall, thank you very much for talking with us today.

HALL: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. Big fan of your show.

SIEGEL: Rebecca Hall was talking about her new film, "Closed Circuit" and other topics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.