CATEGORIES Movies
The brilliant scientist Maya Hansen was first introduced in 2005, in the pages of Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov. In that landmark story, Hansen co-created the titular biotechnology that could change humanity forever, granting its users accelerated healing, enhanced speed and intelligence, and impossible strength.

Hansen's ambitions track fairly closely with the plot of "Iron Man 3," which stars Rebecca Hall as the troubled scientist. We had a chance to speak with Hall about her character's motivations in the new Marvel Studios film, which the actress praises highly for its adult depiction of strong and smart women who're defined by their abilities rather than their romantic relationships with its male hero.

WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead

Moviefone: A lot of "Iron Man 3" is taken from the "Extremis" story by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov. Did you read that or any other comics in preparation for the role of Maya Hanson? Rebecca Hall: I did. I thought it would be really arrogant of me not to have a look at where she came from and what the root of it all was. Not to mention the fact that I would be at a disadvantage considering billions of people know all about her, and I would just sort of be winging it. So I did [read them] and enjoyed them. But frankly, they have little relevance to the script [for "Iron Man 3"]. So I had to be respectful and pay lip service to doing my background work, but then let it go.

How would you define your character's role in this story? Frankly, she's the driving force of the entire narrative, if I'm going to be honest with you [laughs]. She's not in a great deal of it, but she happens to have invented some technology that's going to radically alter the destiny of mankind and is going to entirely drive the narrative and shape the future and present -- and past, for that matter -- of Tony Stark.

Maya seems quite altruistic at the start. I don't think she stops being altruistic. She stumbles upon a scientific discovery and she's not going to walk away from it. She's on the side of innovation and the advancement of humanity. She's not getting involved in the ethical dilemma of what it might be should it get into the wrong hands. She's acting practically. She has to carry on her work. She has to find a way of funding it so she can iron-out the glitches and it can be the best possible outcome, so she sells it. Then she's effectively working for someone else, and that's not really her fault that he might have questionable morals.

She comes up with this incredible scientific discovery, but we learn later that Tony had contributed something to it. How much did he really contribute? Nothing at all. He comes up with maybe an idea that might sort out the glitch, and she thinks that he might have it and so is determined to recruit him, basically, because she wants to get it right because it really goes t*ts-up, to use an English expression. Not that it isn't going t*ts-up already. That's the long and the short of it. Whether or not he has actually solved it, who knows?

It seemed like he was getting credit for something he may not have. No, he's not. I think that's something that's perhaps a little unclear in the film, but no. From where I was standing, she's come up with [Extremis]. Otherwise, what is she doing in the film?

It seems to me she's saying to Tony, "What is this thing you wrote down? Can you explain it, just in case?" Yes, just in case it might be [the answer]. The one thing that both of them can take away from the time they met in Bern is the fact that they had a meeting of minds, whatever else was going on there as well. Odds are that he might be the one person in the whole world who worked out what she can't.

It seemed like Tony really got to her, though. He said, "My girlfriend has a soul," the implication being Maya doesn't. Well, the implication being that she's sold her soul. But she thinks she's selling it for the greater good. She thinks she's in control of it. It's a very complicated thing.

You and Pepper have a track of the film together that was original because it wasn't a jealous "We've both been with the same man" kind of thing. It was all business. To be honest with you, it's one of the main reasons why I took the job. When I initially heard about it, I thought, "Okay they're bringing another woman in, it's going to be two females in this, it's going to probably end up in this horribly reductive, stereotypical cat fight." When I saw that it wasn't and that it was actually daring to write something that was grown-up and sophisticated, where women are actually bigger than being defined by the people that they've slept with, I thought it was kind of great! I applauded it and I applaud Marvel for keeping it in because it would be very easy for them to have gone, "Well, no one's interested in that sort of stuff in a film like this." But the truth is, actually, that they are because I have yet to do an interview with someone who hasn't said exactly that.

Have you heard of the Bechdel Test before? No, what's that?

It's by a cartoonist called Alison Bechdel. The test for a movie is, is there more than one woman in the film? Do they talk to each other about something other than a man? And most movies will fail it. I'm sure! That's brilliant! I've never heard of that. That is brilliant.

They're talking to each other about technology. The guy they slept with is almost incidental to the whole thing. Exactly. They're smart women. That's what people want to see now, that's the stuff that women are complaining about when they say, "Nobody writes good female characters." Sure, you can get big characters in movies that are women, but nobody's writing them particularly interestingly or making it real. It's that sort of stuff. ["Iron Man 3" is] taking a different take, not the obvious one. That's great.

What's your favorite bit of the film? I kind of like the flashback sequence in the beginning, which is one of my bits, but I did enjoy it. It was funny. All the bits with [Jon] Favreau.

Was he meant to look like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction? He was maybe a little bit modeled, yeah.

That was unexpected, the film opening with that old techno-pop song. I know! I loved all that. It was such a great throwback And I really enjoyed the fact that we could see a bit of the old Tony Stark again. That stuff is fun, when he's a playboy and behaving badly. We thought that we weren't allowed to see any more of that so it was quite exciting to dip back into that stuff again.