Hitchcock (2012): Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock

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.

Hopkins is perhaps best known for his own unforgettably dark turn as a manipulative psychopath, Hannibal Lecter, who helped in the capture of a sophisticated, modern-day relation to Norman Bates, Buffalo Bill, in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. But his prolific roster of roles — from THE ELEPHANT MAN and REMAINS OF THE DAY to NIXON and SHADOWLANDS — reveals a broad versatility to embody the most complex personalities.

“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 went to see the movie on a Sunday night in October 1960 and 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.”

Gervasi notes that he wasn’t looking at all for some kind of uncanny physical resemblance to Hitchcock, but rather, for someone who could bring forth something more subtle and vital: the humanity running beneath his well-known genius, quirks and cutting humor. “We didn’t want someone to just impersonate Hitchcock, that was important from the beginning,” Gervasi explains. “It was really about revealing the spirit of the man and Anthony Hopkins is a master of doing that with iconic characters, from Richard Nixon to Pablo Picasso to CS Lewis. When you see him as Hitchcock, it takes a moment to adjust to it, but his power as an actor is so deep that, within a few sentences, you become completely embedded in Tony Hopkins’ version of Hitchcock. There are very few actors in the world capable of doing that. He was really the only actor who I felt could pull it off. In fact, I told the producers that if we couldn’t get him we shouldn’t bother making the movie at all.”

Hopkins agrees that his performance exists on a razor-thin line, one that had to balance the idea of illuminating Hitchcock without doubling him. “I wouldn’t say ‘I become Hitchcock’. I don’t do that, because I’d go mad,” Hopkins muses. “You can’t become anyone, but you just try to find a way to balance it so as to not make a caricature. I felt Sacha had unlocked the story that no one else had previously done.”

Hopkins says his preparation for the role goes way back to 1960 when he himself first saw PSYCHO as a young actor in England 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.”
He continues: “People often wonder: how intimate were they? Well, they probably weren’t, but what they had was pure love and companionship. I think they must have had a lot of fun together, they must have had a lot of laughs, because he could be a real clown.”

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.”

Gervasi also presented Hitchcock to Hopkins in a surprising light–as a film industry Goliath turned into a modern day David, determined to make a movie few believed could be a commercial success, let alone get past the Motion Picture Production Code Administration, the powerful censors who could quash any film that violated their strict rules governing sex and violence. “The resistance to PSYCHO made Hitchcock even more determined to succeed and in that way, this is also a kind of underdog story,” says Gervasi. “Anthony and I talked a lot in preparation about that theme. You have this contradiction of the king at the top of his game who is now the underdog, and Anthony had a lot of fun with that.”