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Behind every good man
In director Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, in cinemas January 10, Helen Mirren is Alma Reville – Alfred Hitchcock’s wife and, it turns out, crucial collaborator on his classic works, including the seminal shocker Psycho. As the film shows, Alma was an important part of Hitchock’s working life, telling him the truth no matter how successful he became. Hitchcock tracks the behind-the-scenes dramas during the making of that groundbreaking film and sheds some light on Alma’s pivotal role in her famous husband’s working life.
“She was someone who was absolutely proactive in the creation of the work, I think. Not to take the ultimate ownership away from Hitchcock, but Hitchcock himself said, and many other people said, ‘There are four hands on making a Hitchcock movie and two of them were Alma’s’,” Mirren explained.
Alma and Alfred’s daughter, Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell, penned a book about her mother (Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man) which became Mirren’s number one source material in bringing this fascinating behind-the-scenes character to life.
“Alma herself was very content. I think she saw it as a partnership, as a true partnership, and she knew her role in that partnership. In knowing and being confident in the truth of that, she didn’t particularly feel the need to publicise it,” she said.
“She knew part of the attraction of the brand, if you like, of Hitchcock’s films, was this Hitchcock character himself. That only accrued to the value of the movies anyway, if you know what I mean. She was a part of the brand, a part of the firm.”
Hitchcock marks the first time 67-year-old Mirren and 74-year-old acting heavyweight Anthony Hopkins, who plays the titular role, have worked together. It might be hard to believe, but Mirren admitted she fronted up to work feeling more than a little intimidated by her co-star.
“I’m always a bit intimidated working with big stars, but they’re ordinary human beings and you get used to it if you’re working with someone and finally you relax. But the first few days I’m always terribly intimidated,” she said.
It’s now been more than five decades since Psycho first hit cinemas, its release surrounded by a blaze of controversy about everything from its frank depiction of sex and violence to the surprising decision to kill off the film’s leading lady (Janet Leigh, played in Hitchock by the smouldering Scarlett Johansson) in the first act. Audiences worldwide were shocked by the film.
“Well, Hitchcock was shocking. He was out-there. I agree there is still something shocking and really disturbing about Hitch’s work and the slightly heightened quality of everything, the slight fake-ness of everything,” Mirren said.
“It’s always slightly heightened, it heightens that feeling of disturbance about it.”