Before Anthony Hopkins unveils his interpretation of the iconic filmmaker in the upcoming Fox Searchlight film "Hitchcock," Toby Jones will offer up his in "The Girl," which premieres on HBO Saturday, October 20, at 9 pm. Directed by Julian Jarrold ("Becoming Jane," "Brideshead Revisited") and written by Gwyneth Hughes ("Miss Austen Regrets"), "The Girl" draws from actress Tippi Hedren's accounts of working with Alfred Hitchcock on "The Birds" and "Marnie."
It's a portrait of the artist as predatory and controlling, both on set and off -- Jones plays Hitch as obsessive, self-loathing and increasingly fixated on his latest blonde (Sienna Miller as Hedren), one he plucked from the relative obscurity of the modeling world in order to have more power to shape her career. It's a dark take on the famed director, though one that's not without sympathy. Jones finds in his take on Hitchcock loneliness and tragedy -- he's a man who's able to control every element of his films but not the world outside.
Indiewire spoke with Jones about the Hitchcock role, the challenges of playing real people and what it feels like to end up once again in one of two rival biopics about the same man (see: Truman Capote in "Infamous" and "Capote").
Hitchcock is such a familiar screen presence, and "The Girl" makes it clear he's someone who's very aware of his own physicality. What can you tell me about the prosthetics involved in the role and recreating the look of the man?
We could never get it much shorter than four hours, in terms of putting on the jowl that hung down under my chin, and then putting the skin makeup on. Then it was a fat suit and then a little dental piece that I would put in after all of that, then I’d go and do a vocal warm-up. That process, all in all, took about four hours, which sounds appalling -- and it was appalling to begin with -- but you can make anything a habit. I grew to quite like it in a way, as a sort of transitional period.
A more interesting way to discuss it would be where the transition came from… You’re constantly looking at footage and listening to a voice and trying to work out [the character] from the rhythms, speech and the certain dialect. Hitchcock’s got a very interesting voice; it’s a very controlled, measured rhythm that’s quite slow and, in that sense, also felt quite controlling in its pace. He retained something from his childhood, that London sound, as well as adopting some of the L.A. sounds... All of this helps you create the character. He’s a pretty rich character, and I think that he did have a very strong sense of his own image: this suit that he tended to wear like a uniform, his hair never ruffled. That’s useful to play with.
When playing a real person like Hitchcock, I’d imagine there’s some awareness of wanting to avoid doing an impersonation instead of playing a role.
I’ve got to tell you, I’ve played real characters before and people always bring up this word "impersonation," and I’m never entirely sure what it means. You’re playing a character in a drama who happens to be based on someone who existed. It’s never going to be that person, but it’s based on someone well-known, and you want to create enough of that person for it not to be a distraction. They know you’re not Alfred Hitchcock, but you need to be enough Alfred Hitchcock for them not to be bothered by it. That’s a reassuring thing.
The other huge reassuring thing when you’re playing a real person is that no one knows what people are like -- no one really knows what Alfred Hitchcock is like. Any scene in this film is not a matter of public record, it’s all from Gwyneth [Hughes]’s imagination and based on a lot of research. It’s reassuring when you’re playing a real person: There is no authorized version.
The title of the film, "The Girl" -- which is also what Hitchcock calls Tippi Hedren several times throughout the film -- suggests a certain replaceability. And that’s often how Hitchcock’s blondes are looked at -- as variations on a theme or this idea that gripped him. What do you think set his relationship with Hedren apart? The film suggests that it was not like his relationships with others actresses.
I suspect -- based on reading about Hitchcock -- that prior to Tippi Hedren, he was used to, in his leading ladies, working with trained experienced actresses who could handle themselves in this very male environment of a film set. They understood film culture, the banter. Grace Kelly apparently had a fairly rich sense of humor herself, and she could meet Hitchcock head on. Now Hedren, from what I understand, was much less experienced in that world of making dramatic movies.
She was a model and she obviously had dealt with unwanted male attention, but she hadn’t really dealt with the kind of personality that Hitchcock was before. I think that’s what makes this unique. And what was extraordinary for Hitchcock was that he met in her the sort of resistance of a civilian. She was a very independent woman who wasn’t prepared to tolerate the kind of abuse that perhaps other actresses would’ve understood was their job to tolerate. This is all speculation, really -- this is all a question for Tippi.
Watching the film, it did seem to me in some ways to be about the dark side of the director as an auteur -- that everyone else is there as a tool to help you make your vision. And the way Hitchcock treats Hedren is an extreme version of that idea, an attempt to mold his perfect leading lady.
I think that one of the things that attracts me to the world of film, even now -- in a very different, post-feminist world of making film -- is that film is an obsessive medium. It’s a very expensive medium, and it tends to attract people who don’t mind working around the clock to achieve very high standards, and they know their future employment in the world depends on that. It tends to attract people who don’t mind working anti-social hours, working with other obsessive people in inconvenient places and in an inconvenient time zone.