Rebecca Hall Interview: Iron Man 3 Role Is ‘Interesting, Real, Refreshing’

‘In movies that are about strong guys, if there’s more than one woman, they’re usually fighting over him.’

Last week we had the pleasure of taking part in several round tables for Iron Man 3, and having brought you a chat with director Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce, it’s time to meet a new face to the Marvel franchise.

Esteemed British stage, film and TV actress Rebecca Hall follows her stellar work in The Prestige, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Frost/Nixon and The Town with the role of brilliant scientist Maya Hansen. A former flame of Tony Stark’s, their paths reunite when fearsome terrorist The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) wages war on the US, with Maya’s work proving pivotal.

Hall will next be seen in Transcendence, the directorial debut of Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer Wally Pfister, and while she can’t speak about that project (‘we’re two weeks away from shooting and this is a very special time for me’), she was happy to laugh and joke her way through the intimate room’s questions. I begin by bringing up the unique approach, by Hollywood standards, Black took to the female characters.

Shane just told us how he fought to get the scenes with you and Gwyneth in the film. Do you think you would’ve taken on the role if Maya had just been a typical damsel in distress?
No I wouldn’t, if all I had to do was run and scream. I definitely felt that there were interesting scenes, and I did really appreciate that there wasn’t a terribly predictable sort of cat fight between the two women characters. Because that’s a terrible, really boring, hackneyed situation. In movies that are about strong guys, if there’s more than one woman, they’re usually fighting over him, like ‘you cow’. It’s awful. And I thought the way they wrote this was really real, about two women meeting and having a parity and a humour and an understanding about their history and shared experiences together. I thought that was interesting, real and refreshing.

Were you a fan of Shane’s work? Had you seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang?
I loved Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Everything he has written, it was so clear to me that he has such a great understanding of pulp, and how that very American style of writing works. It lent itself so well to this movie. He’s very open to your input and ideas. He let us all have a free for all.

[The rest of the round table interview questions below.]

In terms of the script, how much was set from the start, and how much was changed while filming?
The fundamentals were set, in terms of the character I was about to play and the basic story arc. But from there it changed a lot, from the larger plot details to the minutiae of what were saying. It invariably became a quite comfortable improvisational process, even though the roots of it were on the page. There was a lot of banter that hopefully made it to the film.

What’s it like working with Robert Downey Jr, who makes up lines on the fly?
It’s not confrontational with Robert. There are some actors that do that, who come up with something on the fly, and it doesn’t help you out. It kind of throws you. But he’s a great improviser, not because he comes up with lines on the fly, but because he listens and responds, and the lines that he comes up with always lead to another line from you, if you’re on the ball and willing to join in and play. Which is great and exciting, and the cumulative effect is that it doesn’t leave you frightened, it leaves you thinking, ‘This is fun, I’ll come up with something, too!’ He’ll run with it too, and it’s a really great experience and I loved that… I would have looked a bit foolish had I tried to emulate him. He’s infectious, his way of riffing, and the way he plays Tony Stark with an infectious energy. I did think it important to try and match his brand of wit and smartness, because that was something that was specific in the character. She’s just as driven and concentrated on the work as he is.

How familiar were you with the Iron Man films?
I saw the first Iron Man in the cinema and loved it. I knew quite a lot of people who were in The Avengers, so I went and saw that - I was at college with Tom Hiddleston. I would be disengenous if I said I was a big comic book superhero fan. I wasn’t, but I was open to the world, and if one happened to be on TV I would watch it. That was the extent of the experience, but I immersed myself in it more once I knew I was going to be in it.

So what made this script stand out for you?
The thing that I noticed from seeing it in the cinema was that they’re not reducing this to being an action film. They’re also employing actors who are going to bring something unique, not action stars. They’re not employing action directors, they’re employing Jon Favreau, Shane Black. I thought that was a really interesting dynamic, and it sets a precedent by saying we’re not going to just concentrate on the aspect of blockbusters that make them blockbusters, we’re going to concentrate on all departments and make the best quality of film. I liked the wit. It’s fun for an actor, and I like to spar with people, so being able to spar with Robert Downey Jr was a huge draw, if not the biggest.

What about Guy Pearce, as he’s a very different actor?
Completely different approaches. Every actor is different, and brings out other qualities in actors, and that’s what makes that alchemy of people having chemistry. I’ve always been a huge admirer of his work, as he’s so meticulous and detailed, and he’s not frightened to do the things that the character requires even if it can make him look ugly. He’s prepared to show every facet of everything and be precise about it.

Did you have any action heroes on your wall as a teenager?
I had Woody Allen quotes stuck on my wall. I had pictures of Woody Allen and Robert Mitchum [laughs]. Those guys were my pin-ups! Guys like Robert De Niro, Gregory Peck - they were the hot men for me. So it was utterly surreal a matter of years later, being asked to play one of the great Woody Allen heroines, a New York neurotic. Is this really happening? It came out of nowhere, and it was bizarre, so I’m grateful to Woody Allen for doing that.

Iron Man 3 is in cinemas 25th April. Read our review HERE.