'Iron Man 3' interview: Rebecca Hall talks Maya Hansen and working with Robert Downey Jr.

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"Iron Man 3" has the distinction of being the first Marvel movie following "The Avengers." It also marks the beginning of Marvel's "Phase 2,", which will lead into the second "Avengers" film.

The new "Iron Man" deals with the personal aftermath for Tony Stark ( Robert Downey Jr.), as he comes to terms with his battles against aliens in "The Avengers." Stark is also forced to save the day again, this time against an army of super-soldiers. Then there's Dr. Maya Hansen, the woman who created the "virus" that makes the soldiers, Extremis. She is introduced to the story via a flashback to New Years' Eve 1999, before Stark ever suited up in his now-famous armor.

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Hansen is played by English actress Rebecca Hall, known for her roles in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "The Town," among other films. Zap2it sat down with Hall to talk about her character, working with Downey, and why Tony Stark is just so easy to relate to.

How did you come to be involved in the movie?

Rebecca Hall: In a really straight-forward way, actually. There was no sort of cloak and dagger secrecy or anything. Initially, it was a sort of vague rumor that they were interested, but I wasn't available. Then it was 'Well they're still interested,' 'They're not interested,' and then it was a phone call saying 'They want you to do it.' And it's an official offer, and I said I had to read the script.

Can you describe your role?

I play a character called Maya Hansen, who is a genius scientist who's come up with an invention which is going to radically alter mankind's advancement. Moreover, she's come up with it while she's a student at MIT, which is intensely disturbing.

That makes me feel like I was a very poor college student.

Tell me about it! There's a problem with it, though, a glitch, and she needs to find more resources and money to iron out the issues. She's very, very driven by her work and she's got a strong mono-focus, not dissimilar to Mr. Stark. She's very witty and sardonic, and she's not got much of a filter.


How does Maya get to the point with her creation, Extremis, that she goes to Aldrich Killian for help, even if he doesn't have the best of intentions?

Well it's the age-old dilemma of the greatest good for the greatest number. Where do you make the sacrifices? She knows first and foremost she has to go to the place of innovation and that she can see something and she can't ignore it. She's got to chase it. But she's unable to do it wholeheartedly without resources, which is where Killian comes in, who recognizes her talent and ability and essentially buys her product and research. However, in the act of selling it, she's essentially working with him and Extremis is in his hands.

Even with working for Killian, she doesn't take it to the point of testing Extremis on herself, why is that?

You know, a good dealer never tests a product. [laughs]

Killian is played by Guy Pearce, how was he to work with?

He's incredible. It was a really interesting set, you know? There wasn't anybody on it who was alienating. These are all actor's actors who do the kinds of movies that I do. Even Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, they're not action heroes, they're actors. And Guy no less so, he's in some of my favorite films. He's incredibly smart and you want to hang out with him, like you do everyone on the set.

You've done quite a few critically-acclaimed movies, but with much smaller budgets. Did you notice a big difference between those and something like "Iron Man 3?"

No, you know, and it's sort of ironic. For an actor it basically boils down to one moment where it's you and a camera, and you're relying on someone to call action, and you have to deliver the goods. That's the same whether you have two people on a set or 200. You have to forget "I'm in 'Iron Man'" and whatever that means. It's this moment, actually, where I'm suddenly gobsmacked and don't really know if I'm coming or going and what's happening to my life. You can't really anticipate it, it's a peculiar thing. You understand that you've taken on board something that is arguably the most popular genre of films in the world and until you see hundreds of people camped outside, invested and caring about it so much you don't really understand it. That's very different, and very moving in a way.

As someone who distinctly remembers New Year's Ever 1999...

You do?

Absolutely.

What were you doing?

I was at a friend's party, waiting for Y2K to knock the power out. Then the lights went out and everyone freaked. It was just that one house, though.

 Nice!

How much fun was that flashback scene?

t was categorically the most fun out of everything that I shot. It was silly, it was so silly. And we had full license to be silly. It was the one moment in the film where the stakes aren't high and we're not talking about life and death. There's just this straight-forward having a good time and flirting acting, and smart stuff as well. Tony Stark and Maya Hansen, it's sort of a meeting of the minds. She wants to talk about scientific research, she's hardly doing a seductress number on him. So it was fun, being the braniacs and a little flirty, and [Jon] Favreau being hilarious, it was a good time. Much better than my millennium experience.

And how was working opposite Robert?

Exhausting! [laughs] And very difficult to get a word in edge-wise. No, he's a force and an inspiration. His trajectory as an actor, as a human being, is just sort of unparalleled. He's just sort of a genuine movie star, in the sense that everything about him, his personality, his charisma ... It's him and it's so synonymous with Tony Stark, frankly, that it's amazing to watch.

Since they're so similar, why is it that a billionaire technology industrialist like Tony Stark is so easy to root for and relate to as a character?

I think it's to do with regeneration, actually. I've got a theory about it. I think it's about the myth of pride comes before the fall or a big hero who seemingly has everything, but has nothing at the same time, and rebuilds himself. There's something relateable about that, because we all mess up and we hope that when we mess up we can claw out way back up again, brighter and better. It's that myth that's the through line of the Tony Stark story, and in many ways Downey Jr.'s too. It's very appealing

One of the more interesting and pleasantly surprising things in this movie was the relationship between Maya, a woman from Tony's past, and his girlfriend Pepper (Paltrow). They're not catty with each other at all, but seem to get along.

And hats off to the Marvel folk and hats off to Shane Black for not cutting it, because it would be so easy for everyone to think "Well, nobody is interested in that in a film like this," but the truth is everyone has commented on that and I think it's great and meaningful. Frankly, it's rare that people write female characters that are sophisticated, real and three-dimensional, together, and can have a friendship. It's relatable and refreshing, as opposed to just reducing it to a cat fight, as if we're not bigger than that. It drives me crazy, so I was so happy for how it turned out.

"Iron Man 3" is in theaters Friday, May 3.
Photo/Video credit: Marvel