TORONTO — Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner, who play Doug and Jem, a pair of Charlestown gangsters in Affleck’s stunning adaptation of local author Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves
, make for an intense, photogenic screen couple. That is, until Rebecca Hall comes between them.
Hall’s Claire is a bank manager who briefly gets taken hostage by Doug and his masked crew when they knock over her Harvard Square bank. She later meets Doug without his mask and doesn’t recognize him, and they hit it off. With her nuanced performance and her “Marblehead” accent, and maybe because in heels she’s about 6’2 to Renner’s 5’10, Claire steals Doug’s heart, setting up a romance that epitomizes the film’s underlying drama of class conflict. As such, it fits in well with Affleck’s other films set in Boston, Good Will Hunting (1997), Gone Baby Gone (2007), and the upcoming The Company Men, all of which combine rich local color with acute sociological insight.
Promoting the film at the Toronto International Film Festival with Affleck and the rest of the cast, the London-born Hall notes that she picked up on Boston’s complex class stratification right away. “I love the Townie aspect. And Beacon Hill, which is almost like American aristocracy.”
Hall also had to master the subtleties of the Marblehead accent, one with which I doubt even Marblehead natives are familiar. “I listened to a couple of people from Marblehead talking, and it was just an East Coast accent. I wanted to make the voice and the accent specific to Claire. It’s important that she’s an outsider. That she’s a yuppie, in a sense. In the discussions I had with Ben, it was clear that she was someone who’d come from out of town and moved to Boston and got a job because she was well educated and of a certain class. But also that she thinks of herself as a tough city girl that can live by herself and can walk through the projects.”
Unlike Blake Lively, who plays Krista, Doug’s drug-addicted ex-girlfriend, Hall didn’t socialize with tough Townie girls. And unlike Affleck, she didn’t get to shoot the bull with cops and robbers. So did she end up hanging out with bank managers in Harvard Square to flesh out her character?
“I never spoke to a bank manager. I don’t think that the fact that she is a bank manager was a defining aspect of her character. I did hang out in the Wavelian — is it the Wavely? [probably Charlestown’s Warren Tavern] — and other pubs.”
Could Claire have been fulfilling some outlaw fantasy by hooking up with Doug? She seems too smart not to realize he’s the same guy who robbed the bank.
“That’s one of the things that attracted me to the role, the capability that humans have to be in denial. It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are. If you go through trauma and you’re made vulnerable, there’s this paradigm shift in your personality that happens to Claire. But I don’t think for a moment that she suspects he’s the guy that’s responsible for robbing the bank. On some level, she knows he’s dangerous, but she chooses to deny it. It’s like a mild Stockholm syndrome.”