Five Favorite Films with Hitchcock Director Sacha Gervasi
Plus, the filmmaker on working with Anthony Hopkins to bring the iconic Master of Suspense to the screen.
Luke Goodsell: When you set out to do a movie like this, about one of the most famous -- if not the most famous -- directors of all time, what's the most daunting aspect?
Sacha Gervasi: Well, I mean when you take on Hitchcock, at all -- I mean, we were mostly telling the story of a relationship, but still, Hitchcock is the man -- you know it's gonna provoke some sort of controversy, because there were so many people talking about the book [Stephen Rebello's Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho] and wanting it to be the film about the making of this movie [Psycho]. But that's been done. That's been done in the book, and Stephen Rebello himself was like, "I want a movie which is an entertainment for the audience." So we made the conscious decision. I think we knew, though, that what we wanted to do -- the intention of the film -- was to pay tribute to not just this fiercely loyal and amazing wife [Alma Reville, played by Helen Mirren], but also this brilliant artist in her own right, who stood by his side throughout 54 years of marriage and this incredible career. I think for us, you know, it was really important to shine a light on that relationship and that incredible artist. And really show a little peek behind the curtain, of how hard it must be to live with a genius like Alfred Hitchcock and to deal with his crap -- and playing a huge role. So for us I think it was a lovely thing to do -- to take nothing away from Hitchcock, but also to acknowledge the unseen contributions that often are made to some of the great artists that we know.
LG: As he's characterized here, Hitchcock often comes across as a big kid -- he's playing pranks, there's the scene where he puts the corpse in Vera Miles' dressing room...
SG: Right, yeah.
LG: I'm curious as to how you and Anthony Hopkins approached Hitchcock, to try and flesh him out -- because he was a very impenetrable persona.
SG: Well, yeah, because he was so impenetrable he became so fascinating. I think what we really needed to do was to kind of explore what might have been in his psychology as he shot these movies, you know. So for us it was really a dramatic exploration, because there's clearly a big fantasy element in the movie -- as there should be in making a movie about Hitch; he was so enigmatic and fascinating that we couldn't really do a documentary about that.
LG: It's inescapable in the performance that we see Anthony Hopkins and his own rich history as an actor -- it's like a synthesis of their personae.
SG: Absolutely, and we wanted that intentionally to happen. We knew it was "Anthony Hopkins playing Alfred Hitchcock." We [originally] had a prosthetic that completely covered him up, but there was no point when you have one of the greatest actors in the world and he's got a big rubber mask on his face.
LG: There's also, of course, the connection with the killer Ed Gein inspiring both Psycho's Norman Bates and, later, Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Did you and Anthony talk about that at all?
SG: Right, absolutely. I definitely think we discussed it on some level. I don't remember it exactly but we definitely mentioned it.
LG: In your research for the film, was there something that surprised you about Hitchcock that you hadn't known before?
SG: Yeah, the grocery bills.
SG: The amount he spent was extraordinary. When we went to the Academy and researched his life, we saw all his incredible grocery bills. We found out he was having the food flown in from France and England, and the wines -- they had a vineyard in Northern California. I mean, they lived incredibly well -- even though their house, at a certain level, was quite modest, the way they lived was quite lavish and extraordinary. You have to admire Hitchcock. He grew up the son of a green grocer, so very humble beginnings, and he reached a point in his life where he was famous and powerful and could do what he wanted, and he loved the finer things in life. So if you're Alfred Hitchcock and you want to have your food flown in from Maxine's of Paris, then goddammit you go ahead and do it. [Laughs] The wonderful indulgence of success.
LG: You mentioned working with Danny Huston before. Did he relate any grand tales of his dad? Did the family have any relationship with Hitchcock?
SG: I think they did. I mean, what Danny said to me the other day was growing up with John Huston, he was always aware of the difference between the man and the mythology -- and I think that's what we tried to do in this film, to say there is a difference between the two. Mythology is largely the projection of other people, of what they want someone to be and what they hope they are; and I think for us it was important to tell the story of a man -- a contradictory, flawed, difficult human being. It's not good or bad, you know. He was both. And I think that was the exciting part, to show the complexity of the man. To me that only deepens and enriches your interest in the work, because you're watching these movies -- these brilliant movies -- over and over again going, "Who is this guy? What drove him?" And I think we explored that without ever being able to answer it, and that's a good thing. It needs to be as mysterious as ever.
LG: Do you have a favorite Hitchcock film?
SG: Yeah, Rear Window -- because it's unintentionally his most personal.
LG: That explains the many Rear Window references in your film.
SG: Yeah, there are about 10 references to other Hitchcock films in there.
LG: Were you conscious of maybe putting too many in, or did you just want as many as you could?
SG: We just put stuff in for fun, you know. Again, it's a fun movie for an audience and we made that decision -- and we're really proud of it. That was really what we wanted, because remember -- Hitchcock made movies for the audience, so we tried to be as fun as possible.
Hitchcock opens in a limited release engagement this week ahead of its nationwide expansion.