Hitchcock (2012): Interview with Director Gervasi

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 HITCHCOCK 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.”

The origins of HITCHCOCK go back to 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 with Hollywood censors and its lasting legacy.

Not surprisingly, it all came together not only through Alfred’s will, but because of Alma’s significant contributions. Soon after its publication, producers Alan Barnette and Tom Thayer, who had long wanted to make a movie about Hitchcock, optioned Rebello’s book. “What struck us about the book is that you see behind Hitchcock’s brilliance to a man who was a complex, vulnerable individual as well as the relationship between Hitch and Alma,” says Barnette. “Individually they were a bit improbable. But together, they were unbeatable.”

Barnette and Thayer brought in screenwriter John J. McLaughlin to tackle the massive task of adapting this work of intense research into a taut drama and he produced a script that, for a time, gained notoriety as one of the great-unmade screenplays in Hollywood.

Undeterred, Barnette and Thayer ultimately took the project to Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollock’s Montecito Picture Company, where it regained momentum. Reitman was lured in by the unexpected scope of the story. “The secret of HITCHCOCK is that it looks at the human side of him, the family side of him, all at a critical moment in his career and life, when he’s right in the middle of making PSYCHO,” says the prolific filmmaker and producer. “We believed in the story and we believed it would be really fun for audiences to see. But we also knew we had to be very smart in producing this film, that we had to have just the right cast, director and crew to tell the story in just the right way.”

Reitman’s partner Joe Medjuck notes that they were committed to enlarging the story beyond a tale of Hollywood: “At the Montecito Picture Company, we have a thing about not wanting to make movies about making movies because just it’s too ‘inside baseball,’” he explains. “But this story was something much more. It is also a great love story, a story that can make you laugh, scare the hell out of you and move you at different moments.”

Reitman and Medjuck were thrilled that Anthony Hopkins was already attached. “We knew that Anthony, even though he is actually very thin and in shape, could pull this off, and bring real weight to the performance,” says Reitman. “He has just the right ear for the way Hitchcock used humor and comedy as a weapon. And later, when we saw him reading with Helen, they interacted with all the real tension and small intimacies of a married couple of 60 years. There was an emotional resonance that gave us great confidence in the movie.”

As Montecito amped things up again, that’s when Gervasi entered the picture. On paper, he might have seemed an unusual choice to take on the inner sanctum of the “Master of Suspense.” A journalist who made his screenwriting debut with Steven Spielberg’s THE TERMINAL, he is best known for directing the acclaimed documentary ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL, the funny, raucous, bittersweet account of an aging metal band’s refusal to give up their rock n’ roll dreams.

Gervasi’s take was that the drama in Alfred and Alma’s marriage – the real-life union between an imperious director known for his dark obsessions and a ferociously intelligent woman who was a pioneer at a time when women had almost no visible power in Hollywood – would be as suspenseful, entertaining and raw as many of Hitchcock’s best films.

Producer Tom Pollock admits there were a lot of other directors interested in the job who had far more experience, but Gervasi’s take was hard to resist. “Sacha had a real vision of the film as a distinctive kind of love story and he also understood that the story had to have a lot of humor,” says Pollock. 8

Adds producer Tom Thayer: “Sacha found a contemporary relevance in the Hitchcock story that resonates for an audience. He made it the story of a marriage, framing their relationship against the gauntlet Hitch encountered developing PSYCHO: an artist trying to reinvent himself in an industry that wanted more of the same. It was Sacha mining the complexities of Hitch and Alma’s relationship through this lens that brought so much to the surface.”

Executive producer Ali Bell also saw something in ANVIL! she hoped Gervasi would bring to HITCHCOCK. “At its core, ANVIL! is a love story about two friends who refuse to give up on their dreams. We loved the comedy and compassion that Sacha brought to that and knew he would bring the same qualities to this story,” says Bell.