Talk of The Town: Rebecca Hall and Jon Hamm
Rebecca Hall and Jon Hamm, stars of the gritty new Ben Affleck–directed The Town, discuss the film—as well as love, money and one sensational sex tape.
She’s a precocious 28-year-old English gamine, pale and long-limbed, the daughter of legendary theater director Sir Peter Hall. She spent a few years performing Shakespeare on the London stage, but before long, in 2008, landed a big break with Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. (She played the uptight one to Scarlett Johansson’s hedonist.) He’s a burly, corn-fed Midwesterner, ruggedly handsome in a Cary Grant sort of way, who arrived in Hollywood at age 24 and labored in the trenches for a decade before earning fame and wealth as a small-screen leading man on Mad Men. Now 39 and in his fourth season as Don Draper, he’s scoring roles in everything from the upcoming Allen Ginsberg indie biopic Howl and next year’s megabudget action flick Sucker Punch to NBC’s 30 Rock. The paths of Rebecca Hall and Jon Hamm converge in the September film The Town, a morally complex cops-and-robbers drama set in director Ben Affleck’s hometown of Boston. Hall plays a bank manager who is traumatized by seeing a colleague brutally beaten by a masked thief. When she meets a handsome man, played by Affleck, who offers her comfort, protection and romance, she has no way of knowing that he was the violent offender’s accomplice. Hamm is less charmed: He plays the man in blue, hot on Affleck’s trail. The two actors recently sat down with W at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles.
W: Did you both have to audition for The Town?
Jon Hamm: I was on a list of people that the studio was considering. They go down the list, basically.
Rebecca Hall: I don’t think I was on a list. I auditioned. My agent flew me to New York because I couldn’t afford to pay the airfare, and then if I got it, I’d pay her back. I met Ben in some hotel room and we chatted for about two hours. I didn’t hear anything for about three months, and then I got the call.
Hamm: Do you know who else they asked to do it?
Hall: No. Do you?
Hall: Spill the beans. Jessica Simpson?
Hamm: I was going to say Lindsay Lohan, but that’s not really funny anymore. It’s sort of sad.
W: Rebecca, your audition for Vicky Cristina Barcelona consisted of Woody Allen making sure you could do an American accent. The Town is set in Boston—is your accent Bostonian?
Hall: No. It’s general American, because I’m meant to be a yuppie from Marblehead who’s moved into a rough area. Her accent has little bits of Boston and little bits of “I’m tough.” I was determined to make her quite streetwise and savvy and strong. I was nervous about portraying the woman who gets subjected to violence and then becomes the love interest, victimized and fragile, of a protective man.
Hamm: A damsel in distress.
Hamm: I play law enforcement, basically. I play the cop to Ben’s robber, but it’s not just black versus white. Ben is playing the lovable rogue. My character still thinks he’s a piece of s— because he’s a horrible criminal. That was fun—to be the counterpoint to Ben’s charming rogue.
Hall: The film is old-fashioned—proper Hollywood. There are thrills and there’s violence and there’s action and there’s a significant romance.
Hamm: It’s an adult movie. Those are in short supply. I hope that there’s still an audience for that kind of film, where you can go see adults behaving like adults.
W: And it deals with adult themes.
Hall: It’s an age-old tragedy setup. Can you do bad and get away with it, or does it always come back to bite you in the ass?
Hamm: No one is 100 percent good and no one is 100 percent bad. What’s interesting is that many bank robbers don’t think they’re doing anything bad, because the money is insured. They don’t consider themselves criminals.
W: What was Ben like off-set?
Hall: He’s kind of what you expect: He’s incredibly smart; he’s good fun. It’s got to be odd being that famous, especially in Boston, where he can’t walk a block without having to put his hood up. He is Mr. Boston.
Hamm: I mean, the guy is a patron saint of that city. [When you’re] walking around with him, everybody of every walk of life is like, “Hey, Ben!”
Hall: And to be in every frame of a movie as an actor and a director—
Hamm: That’s a huge accomplishment.
Hall: And a bit schizophrenic as well because you are having to wear two different hats and be quite clear about which one you’re wearing at any given time. It’s very rare that actors can direct themselves.
Hamm: Without just turning into a raving lunatic or an a–hole.
W: Rebecca, your father, Peter Hall, is a director. Is there a particular moment from his work that stays with you?
Hall: I remember being far too small to see The Gift of the Gorgon, with Judi Dench. She puts razor blades in a bar of soap and that haunted me for a long time. And I’ve worked with him a few times—the last thing was As You Like It, when I was 20—and I’m going to do it again. He’s 80 in September. Sixty years of being a professional theater director! As part of his birthday celebrations, the Royal National Theatre has said he could do whatever he wanted for however long he wanted to do it. He said, “I want to do Twelfth Night with my daughter.”
W: And your mother is an opera singer. Is she a diva?
Hall: She’s incredibly glamorous. She wouldn’t walk into the kitchen in the morning without red lipstick.
W: When did you both realize you wanted to perform?
Hall: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an actor. It has just always been an inevitability on some level.
Hamm: I played Winnie-the-Pooh in first grade. I was an early adopter of standing up in front of people and looking like an idiot. In high school I was a middle linebacker and I played Judas in Godspell.
W: After you joined the William Morris Agency, you didn’t work for three years.
Hamm: I went up for everything. I’d get down to the end on big movies and then I’d flame out, which is devastating. It just sucks, especially when it’s fraught with, “Oh, then I can pay my bills.” I would get so in my head that I would f— up the auditions.
W: How long were you willing to stick it out?
Hamm: I had given myself five years to be self-sufficient as an actor. I was already self-sufficient as a waiter. But I knew a lot of 40-year-old waiters and I didn’t want to be one of those. I had taught school and I knew that I could always go back to teaching. I gave myself to my 30th birthday, and my 30th birthday actually happened on the set of We Were Soldiers, which was my first big Hollywood movie—a Mel Gibson vehicle. I was making enough money to quit my waiting job.
W: Is there value to trudging the long road as opposed to getting a fast track?
Hamm: I guess the benefits of my trajectory were learning humility, learning to be patient and learning how the system works in some way. But I think the benefits of Rebecca’s path are that you get to spend some great years doing some pretty cool s—. Your 20s are fun. If you can manage to also do good work, which Rebecca clearly has, then you’re very lucky. [Looking at her] Is that dumb?
Hall: It’s a wee bit reductive, but I’ll go with it. The irony is that I’ve never really been an ingenue. Even though I’ve been working since I was eight, I stopped for a long time and started working again when I was 20. I’ve always played parts that are 28, 29, 30 years old.
Hamm: You’ve got the tall-girl parts. In this movie, Rebecca got to wear high heels because although she’s abnormally tall, so are Ben and I.
Hall: That was the best thing about this film. I’ve never gotten to wear high heels before because I’ve always been taller than every actor that I’ve worked with.
W: Rebecca, would you label Jon a man’s man or a ladies’ man?
Hall: I don’t know. He’s proper manly, like Gregory Peck, old-school. He hangs around with the boys and does sports. But can he talk to women about emotions and shoes?
Hamm: Absolutely. Can and do. I was raised by a single mother. I think the definition of a man’s man has shifted in recent times to this sort of fratty bro, different from the older version, which was aloof and distant—Gary Cooper or Cary Grant or James Bond. Now it’s a little vulgar, kind of lowbrow, adolescent. I’m not that guy. Part of being an adult is treating women like women.
Hall: The grand pendulum has swung backwards a little bit. Women are allowing themselves to be objectified as “empowerment.” I suppose to some degree you have to go through that phase of, like, “Look, I can make myself a sexualized object.” Still, I just hope that it’s okay for women to read and be bright and talk about interesting things and be sexy.
Hamm: To be able to read and talk about complicated things is sexy. It’s not just having a pair of bolt-on tits.
W: Jon, the old rule is if a man wants to flatter, he tells a beautiful woman she’s smart and a smart woman she’s beautiful. What does one say to Rebecca?
Hamm: That she’s very funny.
W: Rebecca, in stories earlier this year about the breakup of Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet—
Hall: Oh, you’re going to do that, are you?
W: —your name was mentioned in a way that implicated you in the breakup of their marriage. Is there any accuracy to that perception?
Hamm: The reality is that I broke them up.
Hall: Jon Hamm was sleeping with Sam Mendes.
W: Wow. Does a sex tape exist?
Hamm: Does it? He directed it. It’s beautiful.
The Brave Ones
Greta Gerwig photographed by Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin for W magazine, September 2010.