HBO may be making fewer movies, but it appears that “The Girl” will be as provocative as any it has ever mounted. It presents a distinctly unsavory vision of revered helmer Alfred Hitchcock (whose “Vertigo” tops Sight & Sound’s new poll) through the prism of his unwelcome advances on leading lady Tippi Hedren during the making of the classic 1963 suspenser “The Birds.”
Hedren, beautifully turned out and still an elegant blond at 82, described Hitch as “evil and deviant, almost to the point of dangerous” during HBO’s presentation Wednesday afternoon at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills.
The film, directed by Brit helmer Julian Jarrold, premieres on HBO in October. In clips that were shown at TCA, Hitch very nearly rapes Hedren in the back seat of a moving car on the way to the set, and is generally every bit as creepy as any character he ever concocted. His ongoing harassment of and obsession with the former model – to the point of driving her nearly mad – is very much the focus of the screenplay, based on Donald Spoto’s book “Spellbound by Beauty.”
Hedren, played in the movie by Sienna Miller, turns to Hitch’s wife Alma (Imelda Staunton) for help, but it’s unclear whether she gets any. Toby Jones, the diminutive British actor who starred as Truman Capote in “Infamous,” plays Hitchcock, and went through four hours of makeup each day to do it.
“It wasn’t a constant barrage of harassment – there were times of delight and joy – otherwise I’d have been long gone,” said Hedren, who went on to star in the 1964 psychological thriller “Marnie” for Hitch before distancing herself from him.
The famously controlling Hitch then refused to let her out of her contract, effectively stalling her career. Hedren said she kept silent about his behavior for decades. “The studios were the power then and there was nothing I could do legally. If this had happened today I’d be a very rich woman.”
“I can’t discern what was in his mind,” she said. “But I can look in the mirror and feel strong, and be proud. He ruined my career, but he didn’t ruin my life.”
(A presumably less withering view of the master filmmaker will come to theaters late this year, in the Fox Searchlight theatrical release “Hitchcock,” which stars Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, and focuses on the stakes that surrounded the making of the controversial and self-financed “Psycho.”)
Living history followed film history in HBO’s presentation, when mother-daughter duo Ethel and Rory Kennedy took the stage to discuss upcoming bio doc “Ethel,” which also premieres in October on the premium cabler.
Rory, an accomplished documentary filmmaker, said HBO’s Sheila Nevins approached her to make the film about her mother. “I didn’t want to ask my mother and siblings to go through some of the difficult moments that have been part of our history, but Sheila was very persistent.”
Rory, 43, is the youngest of 11 children of Ethel and the late Bobby Kennedy; she was born after her father was killed. “As a family, we don’t dwell on the past, at least not publically,” she said. “To be able to ask these questions, and document the experiences my mother’s had, made me feel like I was doing something important.”
With some difficulty, Ethel described the source of her strength to the assembled press: “Faith had a lot to do with being able to get through everything,” said the lifelong Catholic. “When we lost Bobby, I would wake up in the morning and think, ‘He’s okay, he’s in heaven and he’s with Jack.’ That made it easier to get through the day.”
Also during the HBO sesh, “The Newsroom” creator Aaron Sorkin faced the assembled TCA press for the first time since the show was given a rather bruising reception by many critics. “Any time people are talking this much about a television show, it’s good for television and the people who work in it,” said Sorkin. “I try to write the things I like, and keep my fingers crossed that enough other people will like it that I can keep doing it.”
The show, which deals with real-world news events being covered by a fictional cable news operation, has been renewed for a second season. Sorkin spent most of the sesh defending his portrayal of the news operation’s female characters, which was aggressively criticized by some members of the assembled press. ‘I one hundred percent disagree – I think they are every bit the equals of the men,” said Sorkin, while pointing out that he writes all his characters as flawed. He also said there was no truth to a published report that he had fired his writing staff in preparation for season two, though some staff changes were made. “A very untrue story appeared on the internet and was repeated,” he said. “The writing staff was not fired.”
He also took pains to make it clear that a writer he had retained was not his current or former girlfriend. “That is incorrect, and I would hate for the implication that she got where she was for any reason other than merit.”
In the executive session portion of HBO’s presentation, co-president Richard Pleplar and programming president Michael Lombardo said the network had not ruled out the possibility of more seasons of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” even though star and creator Larry David plans to focus next on doing an HBO movie, as announced today (he’ll play a character other than himself in it).
The eventual future of “Curb,” said the execs, “will be whatever Larry wants it to be.”
They also confirmed that both David Milch (“Luck”) and Spike Lee are at work on new pilots for the premium channel.
Earlier in the day, HBO announced that Lena Dunham’s Emmy-nominated “Girls” will return to HBO in Jnauray 2013, along with “Enlightened.”
Check out this recent interview with Tippi Hedren in the Financial Times, in which the actress discusses her messy and ultimately very harmful relationship with Hitchcock, but claims that she has no regrets.