HBO Films

The Girl

Interview with Gwyneth Hughes

HBO

How did you come to work on the film? What interested you about the story in particular?

Gwyneth Hughes

When the producer called all I can remember is hearing the words ‘Hitchcock’ and ‘Tippi Hedren’ and just going, “YES! YES! YES! I want to do it! I want to do it now!” [laughs] and so we got to work immediately. It’s a big story, very high stakes, very romantic, very glamorous, very old Hollywood. Hitchcock has been a great influence on my writing and this was a chance to work on a story about a great English genius whose films I’ve always loved.

HBO

I understand you interviewed Tippi and a few others who knew Hitchcock during that period.

Gwyneth Hughes

It was great. They were all very generous with their time. I went to see Tippi in California and I asked the questions I wanted the answers to. I wanted to know in as much detail as possible what exactly people said to each other and what exactly happened on what day. Obviously that’s quite difficult to reconstruct.

On the same trip I was able to compare some of Tippi’s stories against other people who were there – principally Diane Baker (Tippi’s co-star in ‘Marnie’) who had fascinating memories of the time. I also met with Rita Riggs who was the wardrobe supervisor on ‘The Birds’ and ‘Marnie’ as well as Jim Brown, the first assistant director on both movies. They told different stories but they all supported the general substance of Tippi’s. Putting all four interviews together gave me a very good picture of what it had been like.

HBO

Was it at all difficult to discuss this with those who knew him?

Gwyneth Hughes

Hitchcock’s crew was very loyal to him – they loved him and felt very privileged and honored to work with him, so dealing with the fallout of this painful story was unpleasant for everyone. It was a testimony to their generosity that they talked to me about it. Both Jim and Rita had noticed that something was going on at the time, but it was a different era and everyone was expected to put up with it. All of our views have changed on what women should be expected to put up with from their bosses. But this isn’t a film about sexual harassment; it’s a film about unrequited love.

HBO

Was there anyone you wish you could have talked to in your research that you couldn’t?

Gwyneth Hughes

The great French film director Francois Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock at length for several days during post-production on ‘The Birds.’ After that experience he had said he believed that Hitchcock never got over the failure of his personal and professional relationship with Tippi and that’s why the films he made after ‘The Birds’ and ‘Marnie’ were the last great pictures. Hearing this made me feel that I was on strong footing depicting the very damaging effects of his failed relationship with Tippi on his life.

HBO

What goals and challenges did you face, then, in writing the screenplay?

Gwyneth Hughes

I really wanted to make sure that I could be as thorough as possible and reconstruct the story faithfully, truly, and fairly. All true stories are difficult because real life isn’t at all dramatic. Even really exciting lives like these don’t conform to dramatic principles. Life is very circular – you keep making the same mistakes. But in a movie everybody has to learn and move forward. The thing I think that often goes wrong with biopics is that people try to do the entire life. But in this case, Tippi met Hitch, starred in ‘The Birds,’ starred in ‘Marnie,’ and was phased out all in a couple of years. All of these enormous events occurred in a short period of time and that was helpful in shaping the film.

"When he started behaving inappropriately, it was a terrible betrayal of their relationship – she thought it was something different from what it was."
HBO

Why do you think Tippi became the object of his obsession?

Gwyneth Hughes

She was extraordinarily beautiful – a perfect Hitchcock blonde. It was like life imitating art. Because she was such a complete beginner at acting, she said to him, “I’ll be putty in your hands, do what you like with me. You can turn me into a movie star.” So he did. He took her at her word, and life and art got mixed up in this terribly painful, ugly, and upsetting way.

HBO

What was different about Hitchcock’s unwanted attention as opposed to what she dealt with as a model?

Gwyneth Hughes

Well, as a fashion model, people only took her photograph, so if men came on to her and she didn’t want it, it would go away that day. But when you’re working on a film and it goes on for months it’s much more difficult. She wasn’t a young thing when she was discovered and she got a fantastic chance to work with a wonderful genius. He taught her to act, and she thought it was marvelous. She owed him everything. When he started behaving inappropriately, it was a terrible betrayal of their relationship – she thought it was something different from what it was.

HBO

In spite of his behavior, you manage to not portray him as a villain.

Gwyneth Hughes

We didn’t want to depict him as villainous. I still feel great love for him and great sorrow that he had such a terrible time. I think it’s just awful to be in the grip of an obsession like that, for both parties. I feel as sorry for him as I do for her, really. I love both characters and I really hope that people will see that it’s offered in love for him and in admiration of his work.