Alfred Hitchcock has made a triumphant return to Hollywood. And as would suit his macabre sense of humor, his comeback comes some 30 years after his death.
“I don't think Hitchcock ever left Hollywood,” says Helen Mirren, who in the new film “Hitchcock” plays the famed directors’s wife and greatest filmmaking collaborator Alma. “[This film] brought Alma into Hollywood, and that's great.
In the new film, which chronicles Hitchcock's efforts to bring "Psycho" to the screen in 1960, Mirren appears opposite Anthony Hopkins as one of Hollywood’s least glamorous but most intriguing couples. The already iconic director was coming off a series of cinematic triumphs but was worried that audiences would begin to find him passé and turn toward a new wave of filmmakers hoping to out-Hitchcock Hitch himself.
In response, he bucked his studio’s wishes and put up his own money to finance “Psycho,” a risky venture that would provide him fresh opportunities to break boundaries and push moviegoers’ buttons.
At the premiere of the film in Beverly Hills, Mirren says until the project came her way she had no idea how integral Alma was to Alfred Hitchcock’s creative process. “It was a surprise to me along with so many others,” she reveals. “This was one of the great filmmakers of the history of film, and to find that this woman had such a profound and deeply important role in the making of those movies was a great discovery for me.”
Mirren says she quickly became very fond of Alma, who like her husband had a quirky and winning charm that impressed those around her. “I liked her sense of humor and her energy and her modesty, in the sense that she was like me. Not like me, but she was the kind of person who just loved the work and didn't particularly want the glory.”
Other attendees at the premiere also revealed that there was still much to discover about the well-known, but mysterious filmmaker and the effect he had on generations to follow.
Jessica Biel, who plays “Psycho” star Vera Miles, says she “definitely dug into” the prickly relationship between the director and the actress. A situation which arose after Hitchcock offered Miles the lead in his eventual masterpiece “Vertigo” (which she eventually turned down) and reportedly rebuffed his subtle but awkward romantic advances.
But, says Biel, “I think that it was so balanced with kind of a mutual respect that these two people had for each other. I think Mr. Hitchcock really did feel personally affronted by her choice to not do 'Vertigo' and to have a family and say no to the life of a movie star, which is what he really saw for her but not what she saw for herself. I don't think he was pleased with that, and he definitely gave her a couple of jabs along the way. But she and Hitch had this relationship where she would just give it right back.”
Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, the daughter of Janet Leigh who dies in “Psycho’s” famed shower scene, says she was impressed that Scarlett Johansson reached out to Curtis and her sister Kelly after she was cast as Leigh for “Hitchcock.”
“She tried to reach us because before she began she just wanted us to know, as Janet's daughters, that she was treating this with a lot of respect and a lot of dignity and a lot of gravitas,” says Curtis. “She recognized that there are living adult children, and my children, Annie and Tom, who survive her, and that to kind of portray somebody who is dead but has children is a serious venture. And she wanted us to know the similarities between her and our mother.”
Curtis says that while some of Hitchcock’s leading ladies, like Miles and Tippi Hedren, suffered due to his personal fixations on them, Leigh did not complain about any mistreatment at the hands of the Master. “She loved him,” says Curtis. “She respected him. And I think obviously it was a very big thing for her and for him to do this thing, to do this part where she's killed off so early on. It was very unusual in the movies. And, look, it was, no matter what, when you boil down somebody's career, she is best known for 'Psycho'. So, for us, I have a lot of respect for the fact that that was her really most famous role.”