'The Awakening' Star Rebecca Hall On Dominic West's Bare Bottom, Woody Allen And 'Having It Easy'
"I have an overactive imagination, and would have been thrilled to see a ghost. Instead, all I got was a boom operator with a cup of tea."
Hall's character is sent to dispel the notion of a haunting, before inevitably surrendering to the notion of spooks herself, but despite the gloomy surroundings - meant to be a remote boarding school for boys - as Hall puts it, "it's very difficult to act frightened. It's like food, you're either doing it or you're not."
Not even with the sight of West's bare bottom, spied through one of those wonderful holes in the wall common to all Victorian houses in film? "I never saw it," Hall says indignantly. "He didn't stand there for my bit."
Hall's lead role in this ghostly tale definitely comes off the back of a purple patch of recognition (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Frost/Nixon, The Prestige), although the actress is quick to dispel any notion of a "roll":
"People have been calling it my wave of success for the last seven years. It's strange because the very first thing I did out of college was incredibly challenging - Rosalind in As You Like It, one of the greatest heroines ever - and exactly the sort of thing I'd want to do now, so it hasn't been escalating a pyramid. The stuff around you changes, but that's it."
Hall is comes from pedigree entertainment stock, the daughter of theatre director Sir Peter Hall (founder of The Royal Shakespeare Comapny, director of the National Theatre) and opera singer Maria Ewing. While acknowledging this has made her path easier "for all the obvious reasons", Hall is also astute enough to realise where it's caused her problems carving her own creative way:
"There's a bigger margin of error. At the early stages of my career, people were more likely to go in looking for a fault, and people don't necessarily cheer you on, because they think you've had it easy, which is fair enough.
"But I don't have it any other way, so I'm still going to give it a shot."
Was it easy embarking on the same territory mastered by her father? "My father asked me to be in a play straight out of university, and I realised there was only one way to find out if I was going to do it for the rest of my life. If I failed, at least I'd know and I'd never work again, and if I succeeded I could walk past all that in one easy step and be accepted in my own right, which is, touch wood, what happened."
Hall is used to working with her father - "fantastic, very comforting to work with someone who has so much faith in me" - but was extra-excited to be under the direction of Woody Allen for her breakthrough role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, alongside Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson:
"He was very different from my father, but also brilliant. I loved his instinctive ability to make me feel secure. He's utterly unpatronising, and never tells you what to do. His method is very much, 'You're the actor, do your job.'"
With increasing success is inevitably coming more public attention, something Hall studiously attempts to avoid. "That's the only way to keep your sanity," she explains. "If you have any kind of public image, the one thing you can protect is your self-image, and if you start evaluating it by how the world looks at you, you're in trouble."
So what's the antidote, when you're either on a film set or being feted on red carpets? Hall takes time to ponder.
"Just focusing on other people," is how she articulates her evident gentleness and good manners. "It's a funny thing - if you start getting to a level of craziness and you're talking about yourself constantly, you can walk away and your whole world view is what other people might be thinking about you. One sure-fire way to get over that is to have a conversation with a cab driver, or a stranger, and ask them some questions and just focus on someone else."
The Awakening is in cinemas from Friday 11 November. Watch the trailer here: