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Rebecca Hall – Road to The Night House


Rebecca Hall

Road to The Night House

By Jay S. Jacobs


It’s not easy to take the entirety of a movie on your shoulders, but that is what Rebecca Hall has done for the new supernatural thriller The Night House. Large chunks of the film consist entirely of Hall’s character of Beth – a teacher who is trying to deal with the recent suicide of her husband – rambling around all alone in her huge lake house and the neighboring woods as more and more disturbing things happen just out of eyeshot.


However, the British actress has never shied away from taking on a challenge. Born to a show-business family (her father was the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and her mother was an opera singer), Hall has been making intriguing movies for nearly 20 years now. She has starred in such diverse films as her breakout role in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon, Ben Affleck's The Town, Iron Man 3, Steven Spielberg’s The BFG and Godzilla vs. Kong. She has also just written and directed her first film, The Passing, which will be coming soon.


A couple of weeks before the release of The Night House, we were one of several sites who were invited to have a virtual chat with Rebecca Hall about the movie.


In preparing for this role, did you reference any horror films, or did you have any influences?


I don't know that I had any specific influences for the character, per se, but I'm certainly influenced and inspired by certain movies in the genre that I love. There's a film called The Changeling from the 70s. A man [who] is the central character is haunted. I rewatched that. I also revisited some general favorites, like the 30s version of Cat People, which has nothing to do with anything, but it was fun to watch. Also The Haunting, a 60s film by Robert Wise, which I think is great. Then there's The Shining and Rosemary's Baby and all those classics. The theme of the central character spiraling and losing their mind is quite a prevalent theme in the horror genre, and I suppose I revisited the ones that I liked in that arena.


Why did you want to take on this film? What attracted you to this role?


There were many reasons, many challenges and many factors about this one. I suppose I was intrigued and perhaps naively seduced about the idea of doing a film that was basically me. It turned out to be an awful lot to shoulder, but I enjoyed it enormously. (laughs) That challenge was intriguing when I read it. I also really liked the character. The turning point for me when I was reading the script was this scene, towards the beginning, before you really know what's going on with her. There's so much mystery around her. Then there's that scene in the classroom with the parent, which is essentially an exposition scene, but I thought it revealed so much about the character. It was so brittle, and weirdly funny. I really liked the toughness, this strangeness about her. I liked her from that scene onwards. From that scene onwards I was like, “Yeah, I want to do this.”

How was Owen’s character influenced by yours?


That's an interesting question. That's more of a question for David, I think ultimately, but I know that there are some layers and little hidden easter eggs around this idea that Owen, or the presence’s character, is in some ways influenced by Beth. I think to get that down, there was at one point during post-production where they had me record all of his lines. To the best of my knowledge, his voice is very, very subtly layered way down in the mix with mine. (laughs)


You have played many roles in this film world. You're an actress, director, producer. At this time in your life, which role challenges you the most, and pushes you to the place that you want to be as an artist?


Oh, I don't know. That's an impossible question to answer. I mean, if there was one that reliably did that then I'm sure I'd have unlocked the secret. (laughs) It varies from project to project, and where I am in my life and what I'm looking for. There are so many variables. I know that on the whole if I make bold decisions, I seem to be more fulfilled. So I try to stick to that.


Do you believe certain houses retain memories? Have you had an experience yourself with a haunted house, whether scary or pleasant?


No, I haven't. I've been asked this a lot. I feel terribly boring that I don't have any good anecdotes. (laughs) I have been in a lot of old houses in my time. I have certainly been in places where I have been told that there were ghosts, I haven't actually experienced anything myself. The closest I got I was shooting something in Massachusetts. I was staying in an incredibly old hotel. I'd been told that it was haunted from Civil War era things. I woke up one morning to a lot of old timey marching and horns, and immediately thought, this is it. This is the ghost. Then I looked at my window, and it was just a huge Civil War reenactment going on. But that's probably the closest I've ever got. (laughs again)


At one point in the film, Beth asked her colleagues, “Do you guys believe in ghosts?” Do you personally believe in them?


I don't know. I'm a bit of an empiricist, so until I have hard evidence in front of me, I tend not to believe, or believe one way or another. So, I don't know. That's my answer to that.


What's the spookiest place you've ever been to?


Hmm. I'm just trying to think. I've been to a lot of spooky places. It wasn't spooky, but [one that] was filled with a lot of history, is the ancient Greek theatre in Epidaurus. I was doing a play there. I went there a bunch. My father directed plays there when I was a kid, so I used to go there a lot. It seats 1500 people. It's been around, obviously, since forever. I was doing a production of Winter's Tale there. Simon Russell Beale during it makes a speech where he references the Oracle down the road. We're all on stage doing the scene. He started talking about the Oracle, which, as we were standing, it was literally historically down the road. It felt like the whole temperature of the area changed. It had been completely still and suddenly there was a huge rush of wind. I remember that we were all very spooked, but in an excited way, in a wonderful way. That's probably the most enervating environment I've been in. (laughs)

Can you tell us what it was like working with director David Bruckner?


I really had a great time with him. It's very rare that you work with a director who is so consistent about the genre that they want to work in. He's very specific. This is his thing. He does horror. He understands it. He knows how to manipulate and plot and lay all the foundations to create the jump scares and do all the things that you need. He's also incredibly smart and emotionally intuitive. So, the blend of those two things is really exciting. It shows in his work. I'd seen The Ritual, which was the film that he did previous to this one. I like horror movies on the whole and I was absolutely flabbergasted by how scary that film was. Flabbergasted. I think he's a real talent. I loved working with him.


When you're attacked in the bathroom scene, what was it like shooting that scene?


The honest answer is that it was kind of funny. (laughs) We were doing a lot of things on the fly and getting shots. It was as a quick shoot and all the tough things about independent filmmaking. When it came to doing that scene, we talked about what the idea was, but it wasn't like there was someone choreographing it. As we got into it further, there were stunts and all these very practical, detailed work. The initial idea of me having this interaction-slash-romantic encounter with an invisible presence was essentially just me improvising it, which was fairly embarrassing. (laughs again) I mean, I wasn't embarrassed, because I realized pretty quickly that I was going to look silly. I just accepted that and knew that everyone would laugh at me and just got on with it. After a while, it became strangely liberating. It felt like doing an intuitive dance, or something, which was nothing like anything I've ever done before as an actor. It's nice to use your physicality in that respect.


Most of the film is just you in the scene and an invisible being. What was it like acting by yourself? Did you find it challenging as an actor?


I knew it was going to be challenging going into it. I thought, well, I've never done this before, give this a go. I don't think I even guessed appropriately how challenging it would be. There's a strange thing you don't entirely realize as an actor. You derive an awful lot of energy and stamina and even generating creative ideas from the people that you're working with. It's a bit like if you're at a party, and someone comes in who's got a lot of charisma, and suddenly the party gets really great. (laughs) You're bouncing off their energy. This was a bit like being at a party with no guests, but you still have to make the party good, which is just exhausting.


You had some great scenes with Sara Goldberg and Vondie Curtis-Hall. What was it like working with these great talents and adjusting your mindset for these scenes compared to the scenes only featuring you on screen?


It's such a relief. I was so excited every time I got to do things with them. I think Sara Goldberg and Vondie Curtis-Hall, they're so, so good. I have so much respect for them. I thought that the relationship between my character and Sarah's character was really refreshing. Honestly, it's rare in a genre movie or horror movie that you see a pretty good depiction of female friendship. Also, just the fact that there is this underlying theme of people trying to help Beth. I thought that was interesting. Sarah, I love her work. It was just really fun when we got to do those scenes. There was a lot of meat to get into.


What were your thoughts when you first read the script?


This is scary. Also, this is fun. There were some aspects of the script that I thought were very intelligent and sensitive in regard to a depiction of a woman dealing with grief. Trying to rationalize and come to terms with a catastrophic event that's happened four days before the movie starts. Within that sensitivity and credible depiction of something very real and very serious, I also felt the opportunity for a truly cinematic, fun experience. Something that people could go to together and scream. Giggle about the fact that they're screaming. Go on a on a bit of a roller coaster ride, which I think is as valid as all the serious stuff. I love the combination of the two.


What draws you to these horror projects or these ghost stories?


It's a funny thing. I didn't embark on my career thinking I'm going to do lots of genre. As it turns out, there's often more extreme parts in genre, in horror. I'm a sucker for signing up for something that's going to really use me. It's going to be tough. It's going to put me through it. Don't ask me why. I've got no idea. But I am. Often there's just more to do in these films as an actor, that feels scary in regards of what your capabilities are. You don't know if you're going to pull it off. I like going into something with that feeling. So I end up picking them, I think because of that. And on another note, I think that there is huge opportunity for genre to tackle non-genre subjects, like grief, like death. They're these large existential questions of life that can sometimes be things that we find difficult to talk about as people. [They] sometimes can be more fruitfully addressed if they are dealt with indirectly. There's the veil of genre over them [which] means that you're dealing with it not head on. That can sometimes be more rewarding than a drama that deals with them straight on.


The scene where Stacey Martin as Madeleine confesses to you what went on between her and Owen, it's a very intense segment. How did you go about filming that scene?


It was very well written. Most of the heavy lifting is done when a scene is well written like that. I think we were both aware that there was a mirroring that needed to go on – an enigmatic mystery around it. There are many interpretations of this movie, and I suppose our job was slightly trying to hold all of them at the same time. I suppose we were conscious of making it real, but also making it slightly off kilter. Whether that was to do with our body shapes, or how we were sat opposite each other and mirroring each other in that sense. Also I remember David doing… the way he shot, it was really fascinating, because of the conventional way that you would shoot a scene with a few people sitting opposite each other. There's a line which you're not meant to cross. The cameras have crossed the line, which meant it blurred the perspective for both of us. The shots that have shifted, and almost was the same angle as my shot on her side and her side on my side, if you see what I mean. The whole thing was to make it uncanny and slightly unsettling. I was aware of that when we were shooting it. I thought it was such a brilliant idea.

The house that you guys were in was pretty spectacular. Can you kind of describe what was like filming there? And where was it filmed?


The house was a real house. It was quite surprising for everyone, because initially there was a lot of chatter – we're probably going to have to build it. How would we find something like this? It's on a lake and has all these things. They did that right on the front of the water with a large picture window. We shot the majority of it in that house. Then, from there, the production, the design team, did an extraordinary job of creating a normal looking interior, and then recreating it on a soundstage. I suppose as an actor, I'd spent so much time by the point we've got into the soundstage inside the regular house, similar to the audience experience, I was very thrown seeing something that was familiar and yet different. When we went onto the soundstage, I knew it was going to work production design wise because they had subtly done the differences.


Your character runs the gamut of emotions in this movie. How did you get in the right headspace to enact the depth of emotion you had, particularly when expressing deep grief and paralyzing terror?


It's a very tricky question. That's one of those questions. It's a bit like you don't really want to know how the sausage gets made. I suppose, acting is odd. If the material is well written, and if you believe it, when you're reading it, then I know that I'll believe it when I'm acting it. It honestly just becomes a question of believing what's happening to me is happening to me and letting my emotions happen. In a weird way, I tried not to prepare all that much for this one. I wanted to be quite instinctive, and surprise myself in a strange way. It ended up producing the best results if I just I thought about Beth, thought about where she is at the beginning of any given scene, and then just let myself react and see what happened. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it didn't. That's the joy of moviemaking.