‘Iron Man 3′: Rebecca Hall talks Maya Hansen, ‘playing a nerd’

April 30, 2013 | 5:30 p.m.

Rebecca Hall arrives for the U.K. premiere of "Iron Man 3" on April 18. (Leon Neal / AFP / Getty Images)

Rebecca Hall plays Dr. Maya Hansen in "Iron Man 3." (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel Entertainment)

Rebecca Hall arrives for the U.K. premiere of "Iron Man 3" on April 18. (Joel Ryan / Associated Press)

Ben Kingsley, left, Robert Downey Jr. and Rebecca Hall arrive for the U.K. premiere of "Iron Man 3" on April 18. (Leon Neal / AFP / Getty Images)

Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall star in the miniseries "Parade's End." (Nick Briggs / HBO)

Rebecca Hall says there was "loads" of improvisation in "Iron Man 3." (Matt Sayles / Associated Press)

Rebecca Hall stars as Claire Keesey in the 2010 crime thriller "The Town." (Warner Bros.)

Rebecca Hall and Ben Affleck in the 2010 crime thriller "The Town." (Claire Folger / Warner Bros.)

Jon Hamm and Rebecca Hall in the 2010 crime thriller "The Town." (Claire Folger / Warner Bros.)

Rebecca Hall, left, and Scarlett Johansson star in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." The film earned Hall a Golden Globe nomination. (Victor Bello / The Weinstein Co.)

James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall in the 2006 film "Starter for 10." (Giles Keyte / Picturehouse)

Rebecca Hall as the runaway Rosalind in her father Peter Hall's 2004 staging of "As You Like It." (Nobby Clark / Ahmanson Theatre)

Ben Kingsley, left, Robert Downey Jr. and Rebecca Hall arrive for the U.K. premiere of "Iron Man 3" on April 18. (Facundo Arrizabalaga / European Pressphoto Agency)

“Iron Man 3″ brings several Marvel characters to the big screen for the first time, among them Dr. Maya Hansen, a brilliant biologist whose scientific research has yielded Extremis. We won’t spoil the details of Extremis here, but suffice it to say that it’s no small innovation.

Playing Dr. Hansen in “Iron Man 3″ — due out May 3 — is Rebecca Hall, an English actress whose work onstage and in independent films won her acclaim before her performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” earned her a Golden Globe nod and her role in Ben Affleck’s “The Town” made her a more common name this side of the Atlantic.

Hall joins a star-studded cast for “Iron Man 3,” not least of which is leading man Robert Downey Jr. as genius billionaire Tony Stark, in addition to Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau and Guy Pearce. Hero Complex recently sat down with Hall to talk about her role.

HC: Maya Hansen is a great character in the comics. Did you find inspiration for your character there, or solely from the script?

RH: I went and had a look at the Extremis comic books and found out who she was, because I just felt like I’d be at a tremendous disadvantage if I didn’t. I’d be very ignorant, and I wouldn’t want to be in that position. And also, you do a disservice to people if you don’t respect where it’s coming from. But the moment I looked at them properly, that was kind of it. I just thought she had very little to do with the script that I’ve got to work on, there’s no point really beyond just sort of the respectful action of looking at it.

HC: You’ve had quite a prolific career. Was there a particular role that prepared you for this one?

RH: The one that I found was close even though it’s sort of worlds apart was the role that I played in a film called “Starter for 10,” with James McAvoy. It was a sort of British comedy about college students. It’s the first film I did, just before “The Prestige,” and I played this very politically active student who was quite sassy and dry and ironic and sharp-tongued, and it felt like the same world, even though it was British.

James McAvoy, left, and Rebecca Hall in the 2006 film "Starter For 10." (Giles Keyte / Picturehouse)

James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall in the 2006 film “Starter for 10.” (Giles Keyte / Picturehouse)

HC: There’s a lot of comedy and wit in the “Iron Man” films. The franchise isn’t afraid to make fun of itself.

RH: Exactly. It’s very self-aware, and there’s a lot of irony. It plays with what it means beyond the narrative of the film, which is clever, I think, and fun for the audience as well. For Tony Stark to have become as famous as Robert Downey Jr. has become famous for playing him is very clever, sort of meta irony going on.

HC: Was there a lot of improvisation, or was that wit already in the script?

RH: There was loads of improvisation, and we all spouted reams and reams of nonsense. It’s quite surprising what made the film and what didn’t. I have no idea, so it was fun.

Rebecca Hall in January 2013. (Matt Sayles / Associated Press)

Rebecca Hall. (Matt Sayles / Associated Press)

HC: I love that Maya isn’t the third point in some weird love triangle with Tony Stark and Pepper Potts.

RH: Yes, I know. I agree. I don’t think I would have done it if it had been that, to be honest with you. It was part of the reason why I liked it so much.

HC: So where does Maya’s allegiance lie?

RH: With innovation, with the advancement of technology for the greater good. I think she’s got integrity. Just to get there is a complicated process.

HC: In one scene, Maya is sitting with Pepper Potts, and you have the most beautiful monologue about science and stargazing. It’s very moving, and it’s the kind of speech we don’t often hear in a superhero movie.

RH: It’s rare, right? It needs to be cheered. It’s a really good thing that that made the cut, actually. You know, ’cause there’s a world where it easily could have been, “Nah, no one’s going to be interested in that.” So more respect to them for keeping it in.

HC: What was it like working with Gwyneth Paltrow?

RH: Really great. It was so nice to just have meaty stuff that felt like two women talking, that was real. She’s a very talented and present, generous actress, and it was nice and easy to work with her.

HC: And Guy Pearce?

RH: He’s great. You know, he’s been in some of my favorite films — “Memento,” “The Proposition.” I mean, he’s an extraordinary actor and really interesting and smart and the kind of person you want to hang around with. In fact, everyone on this set was the kind of person you want to hang around with. And that makes a big difference. It’s not like you’re walking into an environment where there are a lot of actors who you think you’ve got nothing in common with because they spend their whole time on a motorbike or something, doing stunts. These are actors, and it’s still your world.

HC: This sort of blockbuster superhero flick seems like it’s quite a departure from your previous work.

HC: It is. It is a departure. There’s no two ways about it. It’s not like I’ve been churning away at some imaginary chess game, and I’ve now made my final move to do the kind of film that I want to do. This is not ever the kind of film that I wanted to do. The films that I’ve aspired and am interested in doing are the ones that I have done, and will carry on doing. But I think it’s important to have balance and understanding of what’s out there. I’m a big advocate of popular culture, and as far as popular culture goes, these films are the most popular around. Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that to see how it works?

QUIZ: How well do you know Tony Stark?

HC: Was the green screen work challenging?

RH: Sure, it’s definitely outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t have to do a whole lot of it. I really wanted someone to tell me to go and, I don’t know, go to the gym eight times a week and learn some sort of obscure sort of martial arts. But no, I was playing a nerd, so I just had to carry on being me.

HC: So what’s next for you?

RH: Funnily enough, I’m about to go and start another science-fiction film. Not anywhere in this territory at all. I mean, it couldn’t be further away from this kind of film, but it’s a proper movie with Johnny Depp. It’s called “Transcendence.” It’s really great. I love the script. And Wally Pfister’s directing it, who’s Chris Nolan’s [director of photography], and Chris Nolan’s producing it. It’s beautiful and very unusual and exciting, but that’s all I’m going to say about it for now.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark


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3 Responses to ‘Iron Man 3′: Rebecca Hall talks Maya Hansen, ‘playing a nerd’

  1. Jamie says:

    A great interview with Rebecca. It is interesting that she mentions looking back to Starter for 10 for inspiration to play Maya. That was a brilliant little film and that was the role that made me a fan of Rebecca, so Maya could be seen as an extension of that character perhaps.

  2. Howard says:

    She was stunning in the TV series "Parade's End."

  3. Skip J says:

    Interesting that she played a character named "Maya," and replaced Jessica Chastain who was named "Maya" in Zero Dark Thirty.

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