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Rebecca Hall On The Irony Of Christine Chubbuck's Suicide

Photo: The Orchard Films.
Nearly half a century after her death by suicide on air, there are not one but two biopics about an otherwise little-known news anchor named Christine Chubbuck out this year.

The first is a Hitchcockian film within a film: Kate Plays Christine treads the meta waters of what it means to be an actress embodying a character. The second is a more familiar sort of cinema, starring the brilliantly mercurial Rebecca Hall in the title role.

is less focused on its subject's death by gunshot on live TV, and more concerned with what made her tick in life; it is also an investigation into the cultural scaffolding that surrounded and ultimately collapsed on her. Already getting Oscar buzz and out in cinemas October 14, this biopic is a compassionately executed and thoughtfully probing look at a woman who struggled to find her place in the world. Refinery29 spoke to Rebecca Hall about taking on Christine.
There's a great little moment in the movie when Christine's boss says to her: "You know what your problem is, Chubbuck? You're a feminist."
"It was such a dirty word. In some circles it still is. I'm always shocked when people — when women — say, 'Oh, I wouldn't call myself a feminist but...' Because if you vote, you're a feminist. If you do pretty much anything in our society now, post-suffragette, you're a feminist. So own it. We have to own it."

Was there added pressure with this role because of the responsibility to play someone real, known for something rather dark?
"It's a complicated thing because there's not a lot of stuff about her. What she did was infamous. But we don't know an awful lot about the person. [Screenwriter] Craig Shilowich did go to Sarasota, Florida and research [her through] co-workers, friends, people who knew her. But then he also had to release himself from that and create a response to something that is primarily unknown, because the real things we'd like to know went to the grave with her.

"Someone that's severely depressed — what they reveal to people is very complicated. So, yes and no, in answer to your question: What I acted was Craig Shilowich's creation, that he wrote, and what he wrote was a combination of what he knew about a person who was real and who did this thing, and also what he knew about depression from his own personal experience. When he came across the story of Christine Chubbuck on the internet — a five-line reductive sentence saying "most shocking" whatever it was — he had this profound reaction to it. It wasn't shock and horror. It was: Imagine if I had been that person. Imagine if I had been going through what I was going through, but a woman in the '70s, in a hostile work environment.

"The film opens up the story to a more universal context, because it asks all of us to confront how arbitrary it is: gender, brain chemistry, social time and place. The things that could turn what is having a bad day or what is feeling depressed for a couple of days — all the calamities that life throws to us — to tragedy."
Chubbuck's legacy has been flattened over the years, so that all that we know about her is her suicide, instead of the life that came before it.
"There are things in it that feel very poignant and relevant right now: like what we expect of a woman; how much we expect; what we expect of a woman who's suffering; how we expect them to react and cope; what we expect of a woman in terms of likability and playing the game of being feminine.
"This is America in 1974: You've got the backdrop of Vietnam, you've got the first time that war is actually in peoples' living rooms. You've got this sense of hysteria that something is changing — and journalism is moving from golden age, from Watergate stuff to If it bleeds, it leads. You can trace a direct line to clickbait now, how the media operates now, grabbing headlines with sensationalistic what-have-you's, and blah blah blah's. That is something considered in the film: She was someone who wanted to be famous for doing the right thing, ironically, and then fell apart."

One of the things I really appreciated about the movie is that — even if you've done a cursory Google search and know the ending — I was still surprised when she shoots herself. And the suicide isn't the standout thing we're left with, either.
"That's the best thing you could possibly say, because that is the point. I always think that there's something moving about the fact that she was someone who wanted to be famous for being good at her job, and she got famous for blood and guts. This film is an attempt to make her headlines about the debate that she will provoke from people considering her life."