Hitchcock (2012): Biopic–Helen Mirren as Alma Reville

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.

While film historians and Hitchcock buffs have long been aware of Alma’s major influence, she has never been widely known. With HITCHCOCK, Sacha Gervasi wanted to change all that so casting was absolutely critical. He was gratified to be able to cast one of the most compelling and award-winning actresses of our times – Helen Mirren, who won the Academy Award playing another obscured character: Queen Elizabeth in her private moments following the death of Princess Diana.

“Her fluidity with this character is just extraordinary,” says Gervasi. “She’s incredibly sharp but also very open. The Mirren touch is just magic and it can’t be properly explained or understood by a mere mortal like myself.”

While the producers had been after Mirren to play Alma for some time, it was not until she read the latest draft that she signed on. “What Sacha did was to strike a tonal balance between the seriousness of the drama and the light kind of wit and comedy that is associated with Hitch. He brilliantly merged these two elements together,” says Mirren.
She says, she felt he had created a very original and unexpected kind of romance around a man few would think of as romantic and a woman about whom most people know little. “It is a love story,” she states. “And I think that Alma and Hitch were, in their own funny, unglamorous way, a great kind of Romeo and Juliet partnership. They were amazing partners in life and I think they could teach us all something about how to make a successful marriage.”

One thing that defined that marriage for Mirren was their undying sense of humor. “Alma is always laughing – I think she found Alfred very funny. It’s one of the things that kept them together, their shared sense of irony and the darkness of their humor, which is also very British,” she notes.

She was also drawn to Alma’s innate strength and self-belief. “Film buffs are well aware of the contributions Alma made to the creation of some of Hitch’s masterworks — but I wanted to present on screen someone that the general public would believe had the ability to truly work side-by-side with this incredible filmmaker,” says Mirren.

In portraying Alma, Mirren had little to go by; there is no surviving film footage depicting her mannerisms. But Mirren intuited her own way into the character’s skin. “I don’t know what she walked like, I don’t know how she used her hands. There was an awful lot of research that I couldn’t do,” she admits. “But I knew there were all these people trying to get to the great and glorious Alfred Hitchcock. And I knew what that feels like because that happened to me with my husband (director Taylor Hackford) when I first came here. I had a freedom with Alma to not attempt any kind of interpretation and really just let her be who she is in the story.”

Gervasi was exhilarated by their immediate chemical reaction, which produced an instant depth to the relationship around which the entire film hinged. “When the two of them were together, the energy was just unbelievable,” he describes. “They were so sweet with each other, yet so intelligent in their approaches. I was just glad to give them something so real and delicious to play.”

Mirren and Hopkins had never worked together, despite coming from similar backgrounds and knowing many of the same people. “We both knew it was our destiny to someday work together but when this project came about, we were both of the mind, ‘why did it take so long?’” muses Mirren.