Joining Anthony Hopkins in Fox Searchlight’s critically acclaimed drama “Hitchcock” are three leading actresses who portray real-life muses to the legendary master of suspense. They are Helen Mirren as Hitchcock’s devoted wife, Alma Reville; Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles.
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.
While film historians and Hitchcock buffs have long been aware of Alma’s major influence, she has never been widely known. With “Hitchcock,” director Sacha Gervasi wanted to change all that so he cast one of the most compelling and award-winning actresses of our times – Helen Mirren (“The Queen”).
“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.”
Mirren 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.”
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.”
Alfred Hitchcock’s enduring classic “Psycho” called for a consummately seductive blonde to take one of the most harrowing plunges the director ever asked of an actress. Taking the role was Janet Leigh, played in the film by Scarlett Johansson. Leigh had spent the 1950s as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after sirens, and was just coming off working with another masterful and authoritative director, Orson Welles, on “Touch of Evil.” But playing Marion Crane in “Psycho” would become her signature role, garnering an Oscar® nomination and etching out an enduring place for her in popular culture as the quintessential pursued woman.
In researching the role, Johansson says she became aware that Janet Leigh had a unique relationship with the director, one that broke his mold. “She was different in that she was married to Tony Curtis and she had three children, so she didn’t quite fit that category of beautiful but unreachable `Hitchcock Blondes.’ She truly was unavailable because she was a wife and a mother and was also a kind of funny, sexy, confidant broad who was able to have something more like a friendship with Hitchcock,” she observes. “In the film, their professional relationship is an opportunity to see Hitchcock’s more playful side, the side that was mischievous and childlike.”
In preparing for the production, Johansson spent time with Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, who gave her deeper insight. “Jamie was so lovely and so supportive and you could tell a very proud daughter,” she recalls. “She sent me beautiful family photographs and spoke so highly of her mother, as everyone does in the industry. From everything I heard and read about her, she was a very grounded, humble woman and a wonderful mom, first and foremost, which I think really informed me.”
Another famous Hitchcock blonde also starred in “Psycho” – Vera Miles, who was under a 7-year contract with the filmmaker, and had starred in “The Wrong Man” and appeared regularly in his “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” TV series. Hitchcock was said to be enthralled with her – to the point that she had been cast to play the lead in “Vertigo” in 1957, but the director was unhappily forced to replace her with Kim Novak when Miles became pregnant before production. Two years later, Hitchcock cast her as Lila Crane, Janet Leigh’s searching sister, in “Psycho.”
Biel was thrilled to join the production. “Two things excited me: being in a cast which consists of pretty much everyone that I’ve hoped to work with and the fact that this takes place in such an interesting and curious moment of this film icon’s life.”
Then she became fascinated by Vera’s relationship with Hitchcock. “I think their relationship was a little bit tricky,” she observes. “But they had massive respect for each other. She was a spitfire and a very independent woman. She worked tirelessly and she liked that he was the same way as a director. At the same time, I think Hitch was a little hurt when she chose to have a family so that rift is between them as `Psycho’ begins production.”
Biel saw Vera as someone who was well aware of Hitchcock’s propensity to be controlling and hard on his cast – and who knew what she was doing. “He always created very, very complicated women in his movies,” she notes. “His women were for the most part not perfect women; they were dysfunctional, had psychological issues, some would go crazy. From my point of view as an actress, these are the roles you want to play and he continually created these roles in his career.”
“Hitchcock” will be shown starting Feb. 6 exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas nationwide. Moviegoers can catch the film at Glorietta 4, Greenbelt 3, Trinoma, Alabang Town Center, Market! Market!, Ayala Center Cebu, Marquee (Central Luzon), Abreeza (Davao), Harbor Point (Subic) and Centrio (Cagayan de Oro).