Lurking behind Alfred Hitchcock, cinema’s “master of suspense” — the extraordinary film icon known for orchestrating some of the most intense experiences of menace and intrigue audiences have ever seen, was a hidden side: his creatively explosive romance with his steadfast wife and filmmaking collaborator, Alma Reville.
Now, for the first time, Sacha Gervasi’s ‘Hitchcock’ lays bare their captivating and complex love story. It does so through the sly, shadowy lens of their most daring filmmaking adventure: the making of the spine-tingling 1960 thriller, ‘Psycho’, which would become the director’s most controversial and legendary film. When the tumultuous, against-the-odds production was over, nothing about movies would ever be the same – but few realized that it took two to pull it off.
Gervasi and a cast that includes Academy Award winners Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren starring as Alfred and Alma, as well as Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette and Jessica Biel, spin a story rife with surprises, comic ironies and dark twists in the Hitchockian tradition. But at the heart of the film lies not only the obsessions and fears of two people but the distinctively tenacious love that drove Hitchcock’s art behind the curtain.
Hitchcock In Love
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 Sacha 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, 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.
I was really interested in how these two very strong-minded people lived with each other and created together and that brought a whole new perspective to the story of how ‘Psycho’ was made. Without Alma at his side, Hitchcock would not have been as brilliant, or would not have pulled off ‘Psycho’.”
To play perhaps the most instantly recognizable filmmaker of all time, the team behind ‘Hitchcock’ thought there was no one better for the job than Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins.
“I’ve always been fascinated by Hitchcock,” said Hopkins. “My first professional job was in the theatre in 1960 in Manchester and I remember going to the movies and ‘Psycho’ was playing in Manchester. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life. It was maybe the greatest movie I’ve seen up to that point in my life. ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Psycho’ are my two favorite movies.”
Hopkins says his preparation for the role goes way back to 1960 during the time that he first saw ‘Psycho’ and became a Hitchcock fan for life. He continued following his films, and even met Hitchcock briefly, but it was reading the ‘Hitchcock’ script that brought him deeper into the man. “The script gave me a lot of the information that I needed,” he notes, “and then I watched several documentaries and films on Hitchcock and began putting together all the pieces.”
Those pieces added up to a man who Hopkins says is an utter paradox. “He can be dark, troubled, cold, ruthless and obsessive and also big-hearted, warm and ingenious,” notes Hopkins. “That was all part of his nature.”
The full spectrum of that nature was perhaps best understood by Alma, who saw him when he wasn’t sculpting a fluid, taut experience on movie sets but was deep down in the messier parts of life. “She was his steadfast ally through his life, and a very good writer and filmmaker herself,” Hopkins observes. “He must have been a very tough guy to live with, but when you see them in photographs they look happy. I think he may have concealed his inner vulnerability from everyone except Alma.”
As for working with Helen Mirren as Alma, Hopkins comments: “She is a formidable performer, yet so easy to work with.
Easy in all kinds of dimensions. She is skilled and savvy, knows what she wants, knows how to do it, and then makes it like a good game of tennis. Her portrayal of Alma is brisk and clear and warm. It really took me by surprise.”
Alma Reville was a rising young film editor and cinema lover who married Hitchcock in 1926 and spent the next 54 years as his wife, confidante and silent collaborator.
Unless it was critical, she never came to her husband’s sets but played a key role throughout his career as a script editor, editorial consultant and perhaps the most keenly trusted opinion on each of his films.
In one of the best known stories of the pair’s partnership, it was Alma who spotted Janet Leigh blink after she was presumably lying dead on the bathroom floor in a close-to-final cut of ‘Psycho’, sparking a quick re-edit just before the movie went out to preview.
CAST: ANTHONY HOPKINS, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, DANNY HUSTON, TONI COLLETTE, JESSICA BIEL, MICHAEL STUHLBARG, JAMES D’ARCY, MICHAEL WINCOTT, RICHARD PORTNOW, KURTWOOD SMITH
DIRECOR: SACHA GERVASI