Rebecca Hall's turn as Christine Chubbuck the news reporter who committed suicide

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    Actress Rebecca Hall portrays Chubbock so compellingly in the film Christine that my eyes were glued to the screen

    One fact is incontrovertible: Christine Chubbuck, a reporter and presenter for a local television station in Sarasota, Florida, noted her channel’s policy of bringing viewers ‘blood and guts in living color’, before producing a revolver from her handbag and announcing: ‘You’re going to see another first.’

    At which point, live on air, she shot herself in the head.

    Actress Rebecca Hall portrays Chubbuck so compellingly in the film Christine that my eyes were glued to the screen.

    Though the incident happened more than four decades ago, Hall argued that the manner in which Chubbuck took her life feeds into the present-day notion of ‘unless you do something on camera, it’s not real’.

    ‘Unless you show yourself in some way, unless you photograph yourself or Facebook yourself, it hasn’t happened,’ she said.

    Social media wasn’t a part of Chubbuck’s scene back in 1974, yet Hall feels the newswoman had the same need to be seen — ‘I need you to see my pain.’

    ‘But,’ the actress mused, ‘she coupled that with the ultimate irony of “I don’t exist”.’

    Hall doesn’t have any firm answers about what, exactly, drove Chubbuck to turn her death into headline news — ‘What was going on with her went to the grave with her,’ she said. 

    But the movie does offer some provocative clues about the journalist’s state of mind over the two-week period leading up to her on‑air suicide.

    She had mental health issues. A colleague, played by Michael C. Hall, certainly behaved inappropriately, by constantly (and slyly) hitting on her. And she comes across as irritating at times.

    But I agree with Rebecca’s point that ‘you don’t have to like her’ to find her fascinating.

    There is a great scene of her singing along to the radio while driving in her yellow Beetle. Chubbuck liked The Carpenters, and had a thing about Ryan O’Neal, one of the big box office hunks of the day.

    Ms Chubbuck killed herself while reading the news for a local Sarasota, Florida TV station in July 1974, aged 29

    I’ve seen the film twice, because I think it’s Hall’s best performance on the big screen.

    We were chatting in London, where the actress has been playing another American while, ironically, everyone else is playing British. This time, though, it’s a comedy. She’s Dr Grace Hart in Holmes And Watson, which stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in the title roles.

    ‘I’ve never done any broad, straight-up comedy, though I have done stuff with comedic elements,’ Hall told me.

    She lives in Brooklyn now, but being here gives her the chance to visit her dad, the great director Peter Hall, who has been in poor health.

    Christine will be released in the UK on January 27.  

    Amber Riley (centre) with her co-stars Liisi La Fontaine, Ibinabo Jack

    Dreamgirls: just the ticket 

    It’s about to get easier to buy tickets for the hit musical Dreamgirls. From noon today, the booking period will be extended, with seats available up to October 21, 2017.

    It had been nigh-on impossible to get a ticket to the show, which tells the story of an all-girl group rather like The Shirelles or The Supremes. It had its gala opening on Wednesday night, carrying an advance of £5 million. I sat between Lenny Henry and my grown-up son and had the best time.

    I saw the original production —directed by Michael Bennett — 35 years ago on Broadway, and I know the show well. It’s structured like a rhythm and blues and soul opera, with Tom Eyen’s lyrics moving the plot forward.

    But I was struck by director Casey Nicholaw’s solid gold production at the Savoy.

    Amber Riley, making an astounding London debut as Effie White, sure knows how to deliver a song — able to turn up the volume in the classic R&B way, or deliver a number in the most mellow manner.

    Her co-stars Liisi La Fontaine, Ibinabo Jack, Joe Aaron Reid, Adam J. Bernard and Tyrone Huntley are sublime, too.

    There’s talk of taking this London Dreamgirls to Broadway, which would be an extraordinary compliment to lead producers Sonia Friedman, Bob Bartner and Colin Callender.

    Why Denzel hankers after a simple life 

    Denzel Washington said he doesn’t like confusing life with making a living.

    ‘When you’re a young actor you go: “Oh, acting is my life!” It’s part of your life, but not all of your life. Life is the undisputed champion,’

    Washington leaned forward, as we conversed at the Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall, and told me a story about his late father-in-law.

    ‘We were having a house built and I said: “Dad, you going up to the house?” And he said: “You’re making a home. It’s not a house. You promise me you’re making it a home.”

    ‘Basically he was saying: “You take care of my daughter!” And I promised.’

    We had been talking about his film version of August Wilson’s play Fences, in which he plays Troy Maxson, a former baseball player who had a shot at glory but didn’t make it; and now he’s a dustman.

    Troy lives in a suburb of Pittsburgh with Rose, his wife of 18 years, and their teenage son Cory. Troy and Rose seem content but their life together is shattered by an act of betrayal. ‘When Troy comes into what used to be his home after what he’s done, it’s a house — not a home. There’s no love,’ Washington said.

    Denzel Washington said he doesn’t like confusing life with making a living

    One of the most electrifying scenes on the cinema screen at the moment is the one in which Viola Davis, as Rose, explains to Troy how their life is going to be from now on.

    Their performances are incendiary, and they seem to have grown in power and stature since I saw them in the play on Broadway several years back.

    On screen, Washington’s face was like a map of all the hardships of Troy’s life, and his body seemed contorted.

    Washington shrugs away the praise and deflects it towards his co-star, who does, indeed, give a masterclass as Rose.

    The Oscar-winner was in London on a flying visit (a few hours after our interview he was heading home to Los Angeles).

    He told me he loved the home he and wife Paulette had built.

    ‘The older I’ve gotten, the more I fight for a simple life,’ he said. ‘I used to say “normal” life, but it’s simplicity: do your job, raise your kids, drive your car.

    ‘I’m not a professional celebrity; I don’t need my picture taken at clubs. I’m an ordinary guy.’

    When he’s not on a film set or a stage, he likes to work from home, starting his day with a coffee he brews with the beans Paulette buys for him.

    ‘It’s the only thing I cook,’ he admitted.

    Really? ‘I’m not going to tell you that lie,’ he said. ‘No, I don’t help with the cooking.

    ‘Paulette cooks — her chicken curry is my favourite. And once a year she does a special prime rib stuffed with garlic and all sorts of things.’

    If he’s in the dog house with his wife, he goes to his den to watch sport. (They don’t have a dog, so no actual dog house.) He laughs when I tell him that when I’m in the dog house, the dog and I go for a walk.

    ‘Oh, we have to get a dog!’ he laughed.

    Washington’s life is the opposite of Troy Maxson’s, and I can’t get over how he transformed himself for Fences, in which he looks like a man beaten down by time and disappointment.

    Clearly, what he and Davis do in the film is striking a chord because in the space of a couple of days, they received nominations from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.

    Fences will open here on February 17.   

    The Broadway musical Finding Neverland, by James Graham and Gary Barlow, had been expected to open at London’s Piccadilly Theatre in the late spring/early summer. 

    However, producer Harvey Weinstein wants to delay the opening till late autumn. 

    Weinstein’s mother Miriam passed away recently, and the producer has told close friends he couldn’t ‘tap dance through putting a show on’ so soon after her death.

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