Interview with Closed Circuit’s Rebecca Hall

We sit down with Rebecca Hall, star of The Prestige and Iron Man 3, to discuss her new conspiracy thriller, Closed Circuit, as well as what role art should have in the public discourse.

Rebecca Hall is one of the many great British talents that have risen in Hollywood and Broadway in recent years. As the daughter of the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and an opera singer, she has always been driven to the arts, where she has excelled in recent films such as The Prestige, Vicky Christina Barcelona, The Town and Iron Man 3; On stage she has worked on everything from a Sam Mendes production of The Winter’s Tale to Twelfth Night, upon which she could collaborate with her father. And it is at these crossroads that she’s met talent with similar passions, such as dual film and stage director John Crowley, who cast has cast her in the conspiracy thriller Closed Circuit with Eric Bana. In that film, which opens August 28, Hall plays Claudia, a determined and idealistic Barrister in the British legal system who must advocate with her former lover and detested colleague, Martin (Bana). However, they find themselves pulled together when a case of national intrigue is threatened with a closed courtroom proceeding due to its terrorist implications. Hall was kind enough to sit down with us one morning last week to discuss the film, as well as being caught in front of the camera, CCTV and otherwise. What was going through your head as you were reading the script and were getting more into it? What did you think it was turning into? That’s a good question. I think nothing, because it was so gripping that I kept getting engaged with it. I think that’s a good indication of something working if you want to keep reading it. I mean my mind wasn’t wondering ‘what did she make for dinner?’ I was struck by a couple of things initially. Firstly, it reminded me of the sort of great conspiracy, paranoia movies that were made, brilliantly, in this country in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, and I didn’t feel like anyone had done that about London, and I felt like that was really exciting; I felt like it was the perfect time. The second thing that really struck me about it was that it felt like a very real cinema world, like this was something that was really going on. Then of course I did a bit of research about it and understood more about closed court procedures and that was a bit eye opening for me. One of the things that struck me about the film was the whole concept of a closed circuit. Of being watched everywhere. It seemed like when London first started having closed circuit cameras there was an outcry. It seems like it has died down. Was that part of what attracted you to the role? Absolutely. At the time it wasn’t called “Closed Circuit,” it was called “Closed,” because it referred to the court procedures more than it did the spying and all that sort of stuff, which of course was a big element of the film. So, there are two separate issues that you’re talking about there, and I do think it is important to draw a distinction, because what is going on in England in regards to secret trials and closed court procedures is specific to cases related to national security. But now they’re trying to extend them to civil discussions. That is sort of the topic of discussion in England. Of course, you have the issues going on here with all the stuff to do with Snowden and what The Guardian released about prison, so it does feel incredibly topical on several counts. I do think it’s a discussion that needs to be had, that needs to be raised and spoken about. I don’t think it’s enough to say that “Well, if I’ve got nothing to hide, then it’s alright to let the government look at everything.” I don’t! I think this film is interesting, as it looks at people who are very much entrenched in the civil services. It’s people who work for the government and with the government, and there’s no bad guy, really. And I think it illustrates very clearly what a complicated area it is to maintain a sense of liberty and free will and all the rights we expect as humans, and also to maintain the standard we want to live and how we want to live and feel safe. Can you talk about bonding with Eric on this film? How you get to know each other? How did we get to know each other? I think we got to know each other like anyone does on any film. You spend a long time hanging over a tea and chatting. [Laughs]. I think John Crowley was very clever in that he understood that this was a topic, which needed to be heavily researched. Like we couldn’t go into it not really knowing, and I certainly didn’t want to play a barrister without having an understanding of what a barrister did. So John arranged for us to have a legal advisor. Sort of three months before we started shooting, and we all met up. I think the first time I met Eric was when we met up and went to the Old Bailey and went and sat in on a trial, and then we met a couple of barristers and shadowed them for a while. I self-confess I became a sort of courtroom junkie during those three months. I kept going, I couldn’t stop, it was so fascinating. And I think we definitely all got to know each other during those months of research.
 How do you, someone who’s comfortable in front of the camera obviously, get into the mindset of someone who isn’t comfortable being watched? Ahh, good question. I don’t know, because I didn’t actually think about that…I suppose I just got on with it really…[I do shy away from cameras]. It is a misconception that every actor is an exhibitionist, and they’re not generally. It is an interesting idea. There’s always a hook with a character. There’s always something that sort of draws you in that you kind of go, “That’s interesting to explore; that’s an avenue I want to understand; that behavior.” With Claudia, it was that sort of, I found something interesting about that level of knowing what’s right and that sort of will of wanting to do the right thing no matter what. Being sort of selfless in that sense, yet ambitious and driven and fiercely intelligent. There’s something really fascinating about people who go into the law, as a sweeping generalization, but there is. I mean they’re really kind of a particular personality type: verbally dexterous and very specific, and yet hugely emotional without looking like they are. That’s interesting that tension, especially in this story where so much of it is to do with this love story that’s over before we start. That tension between being professional and only ever putting your feeling into the language of an argument [while] never presenting your feelings unless you can clearly say what they are. Do you feel that audiences like these movies because they see them as some sort of escapism entertainment? They resonate with a character that not only has the intent to do right, but actually follows through on the action. Because a lot of times in society, following through means your job’s at risk, so they turn to films and characters like this where they can actually fulfill that fantasy? Possibly, yes. Possibly. Society is probably always going through some element of crisis, but when there’s sort of complicated times, films that push those notions to the point of conspiracy and paranoia are sort of cathartic in a way. They kind of raise something…there are times when these films are very popular and there’s probably some correlation there. Speaking of catharsis, given the film has an exasperated sense of misjustice, do you think it ultimately expresses resignation to a close circuited world? No, I don’t. I think it shows the only likely outcome in that particular world the film presents. But [it’s] for a reason, for us to think “is that good enough” or “is that the only option that we have,” and I think that any art form worth it’s salt raises questions, it doesn’t answer them. And I think that is probably where the film ends up. What did you enjoy about working in the UK? I got to be home! Was your life very different being able to go home each day? Yes, it was. It never happens to me! I’m nearly always in location in America playing an American. I got to keep my own accent and be in London. It was Heaven. Can you talk a little bit more about accents and how it works? Even when you use your normal accent, do you sometimes get directors who still say, “Be more British?” Well yeah, for Claudia, I didn’t really let her speak like me. I‘ve got much more of a London accent. It’s sloppy. I noticed there’s no advocate out there that speaks in the sloppy way that I do. They’re all quite precise. I always do a little bit of work on it, even when it’s close to my own. In ways it’s harder when it’s close to my own. Is American a tough accent? It depends where it’s from. There are so many variants. I find it a really fun accent to do because of that. You can make it so specific to a character in America. I haven’t met any American that sounds the same. Everyone’s got accents that are idiosyncratic to their personality, really.
 There have been a number of films that have utilized the closed circuit camera as a formidable vehicle for storytelling. Did you see any of those others and did you think they had an impact? It’s probably nothing new that we’re all being watched. That’s been around for a long time. What these films raise or these notions they raise is the idea that we’re all very comfortable with it, as opposed to occasionally speaking up and saying, “maybe that’s not such a good idea” and maybe there’s a double standard anywhere. The discussion needs to be had. Personally, I value privacy. I think it’s a good thing, and I get increasingly bewildered at how it’s becoming a devalued commodity these days. People think that if you are private, you are therefore hiding something or you are in some way wrong and that you should be sharing all of your thoughts on Instagram and Twitter. Otherwise, you’re not a valued human being…I’m quite quiet like that and I don’t get it. Did you, Eric or the writer and director fill in the blanks before filming began about the romantic relationship that [Claudia and Martin] had beforehand? Because some people may interpret it that that affair caused the end of his marriage. How did that affect how you portrayed her, knowing that they have this history together? We thought a lot about the concept that these are people who communicate for a living and are terrible at communicating with each other. Essentially, they had an affair, and she assumed that he did it all the time. He was just a cad and a terrible person, but she fell for him, and it destroyed her, and so they stopped it, and she carried on with her life. And then, of course, he was incapable of saying to her that, “actually I don’t do this all the time and I fell in love with you too.” If they had just had an open discussion about that, they might have actually got on…but they don’t. They just sort of end up cross-firing and that’s the situation they’re in at the beginning of the film. They’re sort of thinking the other is a mess.

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