There is perhaps no more revered filmmaker than Alfred Hitchcock, so turning his life into a film would be a daunting task for anyone. By focusing on the making of “Psycho” and his relationship with wife Alma Reville, director Sacha Gervasi and his crew were able to encapsulate all that makes "Hitchcock" of such enduring interest to us.
The result is a loving tribute to the renowned Master of Suspense. “I think what makes him so fascinating is how brilliant the films are,” says Gervasi. “You can watch these films over and over again and they still have this tremendous originality and richness to them.”
“He’s inexplicable,” says Stephen Rebello, whose book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho’” served as the source material for the film. “It’s dicey to interpret an artists inner life purely on the basis of his or her work. Yet one can see patterns, predilections, obsessions. He has such a unique way of looking at the world; his universe is so immaculate and complete. Yet he didn’t reveal a great deal about his personal life.”
"Hitchcock" focuses on the helmer's struggles to make what would ultimately turn out to be one of the most successful films of his career. “I did not know that Hitchcock had bet his own money on the project,” admits Gervasi. “I assumed – wrongly, as it turns out – that Alfred Hitchcock could do anything. In fact, there was massive resistance in making this film. I thought it was tremendously courageous for an artist at this point in his life to risk everything he had on this crazy, drive-in horror movie.”
“The other thing I wasn’t really fully cognizant of was the fact that Alma Reville was such a huge creative partner to Hitchcock in his life. He was an absolute genius and she was his collaborator. That was the story I didn’t know, and the story I wanted to see.”
Gervasi had no one else in mind to portray the Master of Suspense and his wife than Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. His instinct paid off, as Mirren has become a Best Actress contender after scoring nominations from SAG and the Golden Globes. Likewise, Hopkins has been praised for his uncanny channeling of Hitchcock.
“I just couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the character of Hitchcock,” reveals Gervasi. “Hitchcock had a tremendous sense of humor: he was deeply ironic and deadpan, and I just knew that Anthony Hopkins understood that. I also knew he understood the darkness. He seemed to me to be someone who would understand the range of tones we were trying to do.”
Of Mirren, Gervasi says, “When you’re talking about Hopkins for Hitchcock, what actress of the right age is going to get in the ring and swing as hard as he can? It really came down to Helen Mirren.”
Gervasi spent a great amount of time rehearsing with the screen legends, something neither wanted to do at first. “They said, ‘We don’t rehearse,’ and I said, “But I need to rehearse! I’m a first time director.’ So they agreed, and in the first day they found the relationship.”
Gervasi’s previous film as a director was the rock documentary “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” (2008). When asked about the differences between narrative and documentary filmmaking, he doesn’t see much of one. “You’re still looking for the same thing, you’re still looking for the human truth of a performance or of a moment or a character. Hopefully your directorial eye is looking for the same thing, but obviously the form is different. You’re having to use a whole bunch of different skills, and in my case, I got incredibly lucky to have some of the best crew people around to support the film and my vision.”
The film was shot over just 35 days, a very compressed shooting time. “You’re forced to make decisions on the spot, which is both good and bad,” admits Gervasi. “When you over-think it, you might do something too deliberate. We just tried to shoot from the gut and be as spontaneous as possible. Sometimes the pressure of time forces you into a state where you’re more creatively free.”
A lot of that creativity came in the visual design of the film. Gervasi and his cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth – an Oscar nominee for “The Social Network” (2010) and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011) – drew upon several Hitchcock films as visual inspiration. “If you look at the film, there are actually eight specific Hitchcock references in there,” teases Gervasi. “No one’s been able to get all of them. For us, it was sort of a loving homage. We thought, ‘Hitch would’ve wanted the film about him to be as mischievous and fun as he was.’”
And it is.