The fourth quarter of 2012 is ending on a very high note with the recent release of several quality films that favor a mature palate. In addition to Ben Affleck’s ARGO, Ava Duvernay’s MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, Tom Hanks’ and Halle Berry’s CLOUD ATLAS and Denzel Washington’s FLIGHT, add to this list Anthony’s Hopkins’ HITCHCOCK, the latter directed by Sacha Gervasi.
Rated PG-13, the 98-minute FOX Searchlight release is a reflection of the master of mystery heretofore undisclosed –Hitchcock in love—adult fare, healthy doses of crème de la crème characterizations with caviar and champagne chasers.
HITCHCOCK the movie –starring Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs)–is an entertaining and pleasurable elixir.
In the world of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, chaos, danger and sinister evil hide in the shadows of his characters’ ordinary lives; but, what about Hitchcock’s own everyday life? The consummately skilled director carefully cultivated a public persona – constructed out of his portly silhouette and macabre wit – that managed to keep his inner psyche tightly under wraps. But for decades the question has lingered: might there be a way to get inside Hitchcock not as an icon but as a person?
For director Gervasi, the answer lay in a woman. Not one of the notorious “Hitchcock Blondes” whose cool, aloof beauty and power graced and haunted his films, but a woman who has been largely unknown to the world: his talented wife, Alma (Helen Mirren, Best Actress Oscar for The Queen), who from behind the scenes deeply influenced Hitchcock’s work, penetrated his defenses and became his silent modest co-creator.
“I always felt the core of HITCHCOCK had to be the love story between Alfred and Alma,” Gervasi comments. “They had this dynamic, complex, contradictory, beautiful, painful relationship that was not just a marriage but a real creative collaboration. Without Alma at his side, Hitchcock would not have been as brilliant, or would not have pulled off PSYCHO.”
HITCHCOCK is based on Stephen Rebello’s 1990 book, Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho, which followed every twist and turn in the classic film’s roller-coaster creation: Hitchcock’s interest in real-life murderer, Ed Gein, the adaptation of Robert Bloch’s incendiary novel, the casting of Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, the infamous shower scene that gave birth to the graphic modern thriller, and the ensuing battle between the strong-willed Hitchcock and Hollywood censors. The film was greatly enhanced because of Alma’s significant contributions.
Made earlier this year with only a 30-day shooting schedule, Gervasi had the time of his life directing Hopkins and Mirren along with Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine), James D’Arcy (Cloud Atlas), Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers) and Jessica Biel (Valentine’s Day).
Our conversation follows–
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: I call you a brave man because, as a young director, you have the daunting task of telling the unknown story of Hitchcock on film. What say you?
Sacha Gervasi: Well that’s the whole point. For me, I feel like Hitchcock has been at times deified, at times vilified, and when you look at his movies, particularly films like Vertigo. In my opinion, that film is one of his most personal films because of the tenderness of his heart and you feel that sort of yearning and pain. It’s very revealing, that film, in some sense about Hitchcock. And, for me, there was always the sense watching him that he presented the iconic ‘Hitchcock Presents’ that was only one side of him. You hear of him that he was so horrific, mean and crazy…there was also another part of the picture and that’s what we wanted to do; show the complexity, the contradictions, the layers of the man who was clearly neither good nor bad, but frankly both. We wanted to also reveal his heart and a little bit of the tenderness and humanity. I think people have not seen it and what better actor than Anthony Hopkins who is just so brilliant at these types of iconic figures– infusing them with complexity and humanity.
Talk2SV: You had to feel like a gift of massive proportion was bestowed on you with this cast. From my viewpoint, Helen Mirren is one of the most selfless actors in this business; she surrenders completely to her characters. I love what she does in this film. As a new director, one imagines that working with Mirren is daunting
Gervasi: It is daunting, yes. But she makes it so easy. Helen is aware of her sort of power as an actress. She is very controlled with it but she genuinely is selfless, she’s genuinely about how can I be part of the crew and make this film work. There was one occasion I remember –and this will give you a clue as to how brilliant Helen is– where Tony (Hopkins) has been in the Hitchcock makeup for hours and he is having a really tough time getting through a very tense schedule. It’s tough to play Hitchcock and keep this up for 15 hour days but on this particular day, I really needed another take. Tony was tired and Helen knew I needed another take but I didn’t want to ask him because he’d really given it everything. She said, ‘oh darling, that was me, I screwed it up; Tony, do you mind? I need another one.’ Just that kind of sweetness all the way through because she knew the director needed that and she also wanted to support Tony. She made it about her ‘as a gift to the film’ and in that one example, that happened to be the take that’s in the film. It’s very rare that you encounter people like that but she really was the real deal. Of course, as a performer, most people know her brilliance but for those who have the good fortune at any encounter with her, you’ll know that she’s extraordinary; she’s an unbelievable person. I literally could not have done the film without her or without Tony and because I have their confidence.
Talk2SV: FOX Searchlight has been on a winning streak, haven’t they?
Gervasi: Yeah, I mean, when you think about their slate of films: Slum Dog Millionaire to Little Miss Sunshine, The Wrestler, Marigold Hotel, The Defendants, on and on. They are just absolutely brilliant at marketing and letting filmmakers do what they do. They don’t interfere, they’re just remarkable and they are supportive. And, because of that, you’re going to get hopefully unique voices and very distinctive individual films; then they just market the hell out of them.
Talk2SV: As a filmmaker, would you call yourself an outlier?
Gervasi: Probably. I look at it from a fairly quirky eccentric viewpoint because to me that’s most interesting. Often or sometimes you are misjudged or misunderstood but when you scratch the layers, beneath the surface, we are human and the same is true I think of Hitchcock.
More on Sacha Gervasi
In 2009, GERVASI wrote and directed the acclaimed documentary ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL, which The New Yorker critic Anthony Lane referred to as “the most stirring release of the year,” while The London Times called it “the greatest movie ever made about rock ‘n’ roll.” The story traces the influential career of the band Anvil, once hailed the demigods of the Canadian heavy metal scene, and their last-ditch quest for elusive fame and fortune. For ANVIL, THE STORY OF ANVIL, Gervasi won Best Documentary at the 2010 Independent Spirit Awards and was nominated by the DGA for Outstanding Directorial Achievement. The film also won the 2010 Emmy Award for “Outstanding Arts and Culture Program” as well as being shortlisted by many critics groups around the country as one of the best documentaries of the year.
As a teenager in London in 1981, Gervasi had befriended Anvil when they played at the famed Marquee Club, and eventually became a roadie for the band on three tours. After being taught how to play the drums by Anvil’s Robb Reiner, Gervasi played with several London bands, and later became one of the founding members of the rock group Bush.
After working for British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, Gervasi moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to attend the graduate screenwriting program at UCLA’s film school supported himself by working as a journalist, writing for newspapers and magazines.
Gervasi got his start in film after penning THE BIG TEASE, which he co-wrote with Craig Ferguson, and later went on to write THE TERMINAL, which was directed by Steven Spielberg starring Tom Hanks. He also wrote and executive produced the film HENRY’S CRIME, starring Keanu Reeves, James Caan and Vera Farmiga.
Gervasi is currently attached to write and direct a biopic about actor Hervé Villechaize, based on Gervasi’s own interviews with the diminutive Frenchman, conducted only days before the actor committed suicide in 1993.