Tippi Hedren & Sienna Miller on ’The Girl’
"He ruined my career, but he didn't ruin my life," so says actress Tippi Hedren about her experience working with famed director Alfred Hitchcock on his films "The Birds" and "Marnie" in the 1960s. Hedren, who has not made a habit of bringing up the tortured time in her career, is breaking her silence because of the HBO movie, The Girl. In the film, which premieres this weekend on the cable network, the focus is on how Hitchcock (played by Toby Jones) shapes Hedren (Sienna Miller) into the epitome of a movie star but, in the process, becomes obsessed with her and ends up sabotaging her career.
Hedren, Miller, Jones along with "The Girl" director Julian Jarrold talked about the film this summer at the TCA Press Tour.
"I think it was something that I had never experienced before," Hedren said when asked what she now made of Hitchcock's obsession with her. "I don't know what to call it. People have said, 'Was he in love with you?' No, he wasn't. When you love someone, you treat them well."
Getting into Hitchcock’s head
With huge amounts of emotional and, at times, physical abuse, Hedren still seemed to be unable to completely define exactly what their relationship was like.
"I think we’re dealing with a mind here that is incomprehensible, and I certainly am not capable of discerning what was going through his mind or why. I certainly gave no indication that I would ever be interested in any kind of a relationship with him."
So how does an actor get into the head of someone who was so difficult to completely figure out? For Toby Jones, known for playing Truman Capote in the 2006 film,"Infamous," the first thing he had to do was figure out how to become the physical embodiment of Hitchcock.
"When I was offered the part, I was quite surprised because I felt that he was a much bigger guy than I am, but it transpired that his height...he actually wasn’t much taller than I was. He obviously cast a big shadow not just in reality, but in my mind’s eye, he was a huge presence. So there’s some technical aspects to that. He was somewhat bigger than me around the waist, and he had a huge chin. We decided to go for prosthetics every day so that I had a huge, massive double chin because, obviously, he was very famous for his silhouette, and this also required something in my bottom lip (indicating) to make that protrude so the silhouette would be his signature as it was for him."
A great drama coach
For Miller, the fact that Hedren was involved with the making of the film was more than a little daunting, but the actress was able to actually lean on Hedren. "Obviously, the pressure of playing somebody who exists, it’s always a huge responsibility to try and do them justice, and I was very fortunate that I had Tippi at the end of the phone and on email for any questions that I had. And I just hope we did it justice and did her justice because she’s a very amazing character to take on, and she was very gracious in her kind imparting of information to me."
One of the apocryphal stories from the filming of "The Birds" is when Hitchcock, at the height of his obsession with Hedren, decided that the actress needed to have live birds thrown at her to get the needed reaction when her character is attacked. However, the experience of her time with Hitch was not all negative, she revealed. "There were times when it was absolutely delightful and wonderful, the times that we spent while he was my drama coach," she said during the press panel. "He was not only my director, he was my drama coach. I hadn’t had any acting experience except in commercials. You know, you get a good technical background for that sort of thing...but to break down a script, to delve into how you become another character, the relationship of different characters in the film was something that I didn’t know how to do, and of course, it was perfect to have someone as brilliant a genius as Alfred Hitchcock being my drama coach."
Hedren, who still works on occasion and recently guested on the sitcom "Raising Hope," added that though there was only so much time in "The Girl" to examine their relationship, she said, "It wasn’t a constant barrage of harassment to me. There were times of delight and joy, all kinds of different things. So that is the fault of any film. It can’t possibly have everything in it. But as I said before, if it had been constantly the way we have had to do it in this film, I would have been long gone."
Hedren was not the only Hitchcock blonde with other famous blondes were Grace Kelly ("Rear Window"), Vera Miles ("Psycho") and Kim Novak ("Vertigo"). Had Hedren ever talked to the other women about their experiences while working with Hitch? "I know Kim Novak," Hedren said, "and she never said a word about anything being wrong. I didn’t bring it up."
Hedren explained that as far as she knew, "Vera Miles had a terrible time with Hitchcock, and she wanted to get out of the contract. He didn’t let her. She did ’Psycho,’ and I believe, if you look at ’Psycho,’ there isn’t one close up of Vera, not one. And she, after that, would never even speak about him to anyone."
Back to therapy
But, as Hedren found out from Peggy Robertson, Hitchcock’s assistant for many years and Hedren’s friend until her death, there was something different about Hitch’s feelings for Hedren. "At one point she said to me that he would have these kind of feelings for his leading ladies, and she said, "But he never got over you." I don’t know if that’s a compliment or whatever it’s supposed to be, I don’t know," said Hedren, quickly adding, "but I really don’t care either."
After seeing an early screening of "The Girl" with a group of friends, Hedren admitted to a disconcerting bit of déjà vu. "I have to say that when I first heard Toby’s voice as Alfred Hitchcock, my body just froze." And, once the film ended Hedren said "nobody moved. Nobody said anything until my daughter, Melanie Griffith, jumped up and said, ’Now I have to go back into therapy.’"
For Hedren, though, if there’s one thing that the experience of reliving the past has done it opened her up to talk about it. "Because I had not talked about this issue with Alfred Hitchcock to anyone. Because all those years ago, it was still the studio kind of situation. Studios were the power. And I was at the end of that, and there was absolutely nothing I could do legally whatsoever. There were no laws about this kind of a situation." At the time, Hedren tried to get out of her contract with Hitchcock but he wouldn’t let her, saying he would ruin her career, which she says he did.
Thankfully times have changed and Hedren added, "If this had happened today, I would be a very rich women."
The Girl premieres on Saturday, October 20, 2012 on HBO. For more available broadcasts, visit the HBO website.
Watch this trailer about "The Girl":