The Town - Rebecca Hall
Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) © 2010 Warner Bros

Daughter of the renowned stage director Sir Peter Hall, Rebecca Hall has carved out a successful career for herself as a theatre and film actress. She received critical acclaim for her role in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and appeared in Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon and Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.

In her new movie The Town, which is set in Charlestown, Massachusetts,she plays Claire Keesey, a bank manager who is caught up in a frightening robbery, briefly being taken hostage. When the thieves discover she lives in their neighborhood, the head of the gang, Doug MacRay, played by Ben Affleck, who also wrote and directed the movie, seeks her out to protect her from other members of his team and ends up befriending her. Not realizing he was one of the robbers who just a few days before terrorized her, Claire and Doug fall in love.

Can you talk about Doug and Claire’s strange relationship in this? After all, she was kidnapped by his gang, even though she’s not aware of who he is.

The Town - Rebecca Hall and Ben Affleck
Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) and Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck)© 2010 Warner Bros, Photo by Claire Folger

It’s that thing that happens when relationships are fostered in extreme circumstances: the bonds are closer.

The fact that Claire meets Doug when she is crying and having a bit of a meltdown leads to an immediate spark between them – not necessarily because of any natural chemistry they have, but because she needs someone in that moment and then there he is, this stranger, smiling at her and making her laugh. In other circumstances maybe she wouldn’t have gone out with him, but she’s open and vulnerable and he appears slightly like a knight in shining armor.

I thought it was fascinating that this sort of, for lack of a better word, ‘yuppie’ kind of woman – what the local Townies call a ‘Toonie’ – is making her home there and going about her life even after what happens to her. I thought there had to be something strong and sassy about her, that she refuses to be victimized. It made her interesting to play.

How hard was it to get the Charlestown accent?

I listened to tapes of people from Marblehead and what I discovered was that many speak with more of a general east coast dialect. So, apart from doing an American accent, I tried to pick up on those distinct little things that set it apart, which is something I enjoy doing.

What was it like working with Ben Affleck as a director and actor?

It was interesting, because he definitely separated the two distinctly, and I think he had to, because it’s a difficult thing to do both at the same time in many ways. A director has to think about the bigger picture and how the whole film and the whole narrative come together, and an actor generally obsesses about the detail of their character and finds the truth of that.

To do both at the same time can be a bit of a conflict of interests almost, perversely. I think what he did miraculously was to balance the two and he was collaborative and open and allowed for a fun environment.

This is the difference between Ben the actor and Ben the director. In the bank robbery scene, Claire is completely intimidated by Doug, but when Ben tried to give me notes from behind the mask, I could barely keep a straight face.

There have been a lot of bank heist movies over the years, how did you allow them to inspire and influence your character?

I wasn’t quite a big fan of that noir period in filmmaking. I’ve always loved James Cagney films and that genre of movie. When I first read this actually I thought there was something reminiscent of a classic noir in it, and I was attracted to the role.

Not because I thought, ‘Oh, that harkens back to those great characters like Gloria Graham and Barbara Stanwyck played,’ because she has nothing to do with that. But there was this modern incarnation of the strong female who is also a victim in a sense. It was that complicated dynamic that interested me.

This is a proper thriller in the sense that it is very gripping and has all the action you want. And it also has a romantic angle that contains a few surprises. It’s just really good storytelling.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.