The story of Christine Chubbuck's life is known simply by its tragic end. She was the 29-year-old local TV news reporter who, on one day in 1974, fatally shot herself on live television.
Now the critically-acclaimed film “Christine” hopes to widen the lens on that tragedy to show how Chubbuck’s life — and death — carries cautionary messages about sensational news, mental illness and the pressures women face in the workforce. British actress Rebecca Hall plays Christine Chubbuck, and she recently sat down with The Frame's John Horn to discuss the movie.
This is not a film that glorifies, sensationalizes or glamorizes the tragedy of suicide or the tragedy of mental illness, but it does ask us to confront and talk about it and empathize with something that, frankly, we're all more comfortable with looking away from.
Hall reflects on the pressures Chubbuck was under to follow the newsroom mantra, "if it bleeds, it leads," and how the isolation she felt as a "misfit" kept her from connecting with those around her.
To hear the full interview click the play button in the top left of this page or get the podcast on iTunes. Interview highlights below.
On why this film "is not exploitation"
I got this script and I got a cover letter from my agency that came with it with a five-line synopsis of the film as they always do, and they're always quite badly written. As you can imagine what the synopsis of this one would be, and it was incredibly reductive and upsetting, frankly. My first instinct on reading a reductive synopsis like that is to think, why? What is this? Is this exploitation? Is it because somebody's decided this is a cool story? What is the reason to make this film? As soon as I thought that, I then also realized that actually it's responsible to make this film, because if you don't make the film, then that five-line reductive synopsis is essentially how she lives forever on the internet.
On empathizing with her character
I read this script and realized that it's driven by really a fundamental empathy for a woman trying desperately hard to live in the face of professional and personal disappointment, debilitating mental illness and a serious sense of isolation. I think there are a lot of films that deal with misfits and people who operate outside of the mainstream, and it's cool or it glorifies them in some subtle way. I was struck by the responsibility of this script because – and though the film as it stands, I'm incredibly proud of the end result.
I think it fulfilled the mandate as it were, because it really gets to grips with how awful it is and how painful it is to be a misfit. ... And to feel like you're not going to make it because of how everyone's looking at you and being acceptable in the way that society wants you to be acceptable. And I think that speaks for the mental illness aspect of it, but it also speaks on a more general level about what we expect of women in positions of power and authority, like the likability factor. You have to be likable in order to be an authoritative woman — and that's relevant right now.
On how she researched Christine Chubbuck
I had 15 minutes of footage of her interviewing someone on her morning show, which is really all that's out there. She's talking to a gentleman about a zoning board petition in Sarasota. It's quite dry, and frankly, he takes up most of the air. But I could intuit a lot from watching it. It was a jumping off point. But a lot of it was watching her and sort of, for want of a better word, listening to my feelings in response to watching her. I'm looking at her and I'm thinking, Oh she strikes me as someone who's desperately uncomfortable in their own skin. What happens to my body when I imagine that I am desperately uncomfortable in my own skin? Strange things start to happen to my jaw, and my back hunches over, and it all became quite natural, but definitely inspired by her and what I could glean from her.
On discovering Chubbuck's voice
Funnily enough, the voice for me is always the starting point for any character. I don't know why. It's probably something to do with being raised by an opera singer. I hear music in people's voices often. I don't really believe — I'm sure there are regional accents, but I think there's such thing as person-to-person accents and everyone sounds idiosyncratic because of their set of experiences and their set of emotion. I think how your voices sounds is entirely emotional. So the voice was key to me. It wasn't so much listening to it and trying to do an impersonation as trying to pinpoint why she sounded like she sounded and then understand that.
"Christine" is open in New York. It opens in Los Angeles on Oct. 21. To get more content like this, get The Frame podcast on iTunes.