Written and directed by Joel Edgerton, The Gift is a brilliantly designed thriller that really sneaks up on you, in the most unsettling, heart-stopping, thought-provoking way. After Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have a chance encounter with Gordo (Edgerton), an acquaintance from Simon’s high school who he doesn’t initially recognize, a series of uninvited encounters and mysterious gifts uncover a past between the two men that shows why bygones might never truly just be bygones.
At the film’s press day, which was held up at the house that much of the film was shot in, actress Rebecca Hall spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about why she wanted to get involved with The Gift, that the creepiness factor definitely came across in the script, why this is a domestic drama and not a film about bullying, bringing out the subtext and subtleties, and acting with the director. She also talked about having had one of the most rewarding experiences of her life playing Christine Chubbuck in the real-life story Christine, and fulfilling a dream by working with Steven Spielberg on The BFG.
Collider: How did you come to this?
REBECCA HALL: I read the script and thought it was really good, and I said yes. I had met Joel [Edgerton] a couple of times, around and about socially, so I knew that he was smart and interested in directing and writing. So, my interest was piqued before I read the script and I wanted to be a part of his being a director.
Did you know just how creepy this was going to turn out?
HALL: Yeah, it read that way. A good writer communicates all that stuff in the script, and has to. It definitely came across, but it wasn’t the thing that attracted me to it. It’s not like I particularly have an interest in creepiness for creepy’s sake. It was the fact that it made me think about things, and it was disturbing psychology. In a significant way, it felt like it was about something, instead of just being about thrills, or making you feel uncomfortable without any purpose.
Did you ever find yourself thinking about specific incidents from your past, or just about how something like this could affect people, in general?
HALL: No, ‘cause I never really looked at the script and thought, “This is a film about bullying.” And when I watch the film now, I still don’t think it is. It’s not setting out to say anything, in particular, about bullying or how you deal with it. There are plenty of other things that deal with that, as a subject matter. This is more about the moral ramifications of taking responsibility for things, and behaving in an honest way towards other people. It’s quite a simple moral outlook, in that respect.
Did you also really like the fact that she didn’t just take her husband’s word that nothing had happened between him and Gordon, and she investigated that herself?
HALL: Yeah. The way I look at it is that this is actually a domestic drama. It’s about a marriage that’s not all that it seems. It’s not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, and the people in it are not communicating nor are they very honest with each other, about who they are. My character isn’t fully developed. She hasn’t come into her own, with her strength, her confidence, or anything. It’s this external force, who comes in and busts that open, that makes her go on that journey and realize her own strength.
How was it to work with Jason Bateman and develop the dynamic between your characters, especially since it shifts throughout the film?
HALL: We had really good writing, so we were at an advantage. There was also an ease on set. Joel created a very collaborate, easy environment. We all felt like were able to throw in ideas. It was very much the best idea wins, which is great. We were also three people in a room, essentially. This film doesn’t involve unit changes or external pieces. We had a lot of time to sit and mull over how to get across subtext and subtleties, and find more layers rather than simplifying. Often when you make films, these days, I seem to find that there’s a lot of, “How can we streamline this idea to make it as simple as possible, so that everyone knows exactly what we’re saying, and then tie up all the answers with a neat little bow?” And there wasn’t any of that on this. It was the opposite. It was like, “How can we make this more complicated? How can we talk about not just this, but this and this and this?” He was true to that. The fact that the film ends on an ambiguous note is a rarity.
What was it like to also act with your director? Did he seem pretty in control of that?
HALL: I’m quite used to that now, as an idea. I’ve done it before. Where I’ve always been a bit skeptical that it’s possible to do both, at the same time, having seen it work now twice, I’m converted. It’s not weird for me, at all. If you choose to do both on a set, than you’re admitting that you understand that everyone is in it for the same goal and it’s a collaborative experience. You can’t really jump into being an actor, and than direct yourself. At some point, you have to be willing to accept other people’s opinions. I think that’s helpful. If you try to micro-manage and control all of it, than you’re probably heading for disaster. But Joel is incredibly level-headed, even-keeled and open. He’s not precious about anything, and that’s amazing.
Do you think that, if Simon had been genuinely sincere in his apology, at any point in time, that would have been enough for Gordo, or would he always have carried out his plan?
HALL: I do. If you’re looking for it, it probably takes a separate viewing, but you can watch this film and it has specific cues. There is a moral universe that the film creates that is very clear cut. The basic moral of the whole film is that good things will happen to good people, and bad things will happen to bad people. It is pretty clear, I think. There are plenty of clues, as to what is actually going on.
You’ve been all over the map lately, with the type of roles you’re doing and in the various genres that you’re working in. Is that intentional?
HALL: I think about it, in that I daydream about things I want to happen, but none of it is more complicated, most of the time, than just really hoping that the good parts and the well-written parts are the ones that turn up on my doorstep. As much as I’d like to say, “Oh, yes, I’m going to cherry pick,” you can’t, really. And it’s difficult, at the moment. The kind of films I want to make are struggling to get made. And if they are getting made, they’re getting made on shoestring budgets with not enough time. That’s scary for me because I want to do what I want to do. I don’t want to constantly be making sacrifices. It feels like it’s really difficult for the films I dream about making to turn up. But I’ve made a couple of them this year, so I feel quite likely. I finished a film recently that Antonio Campos directed (called Christine), which is based on the life of someone called Christine Chubbuck. That felt like a film that could never get made in today’s climate, and somehow we managed to make it. And there were no compromises, throughout the whole shoot, in an amazing way. That was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I’m hoping for more of those.
And you also worked with Steven Spielberg on The BFG.
HALL: Yeah, and that was amazing, too. That was just a lifetime movie fan’s dream. Everyone wants to get to be able to do that.
Who do you play in that film?
HALL: Most of the film takes place in Giant Land. Everyone is familiar with the book, and there is an aspect of it that happens at a palace. I play the lady-in-waiting to the Queen of England.
The Gift opens in theaters on August 7th.