How did you come to work on the film? What interested you about the story in particular?
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.
I understand you interviewed Tippi and a few others who knew Hitchcock during that period.
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.
Was it at all difficult to discuss this with those who knew him?
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.
Was there anyone you wish you could have talked to in your research that you couldn’t?
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.
What goals and challenges did you face, then, in writing the screenplay?
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.