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Interview with Tippi Hedren

Tippi with bird

HBO

What was your reaction when you found out 'The Girl' was being made about you and Alfred Hitchcock?

Tippi Hedren

To be still alive and have a film made about you is an awesome and incredibly frightening experience. Whos going to play me? Are they going to really make it as it was? But I had the wonderful experience of meeting with the writer Gwyneth Hughes who came to Shambala [the sanctuary preserve for exotic animals that Hedren founded].We talked for hours and she would often call me to discuss things. I felt very secure about the script.

HBO

You also met with Sienna Miller. What did you want to convey to her?

Tippi Hedren

I took her into my home and we talked about my childhood, and my parents who had a tremendous effect on my life. I was baptized Lutheran, confirmed and married in the Lutheran church. I went to church until I was probably 25. You get a good sense of morals and whats right. I wanted to discuss those kinds of things with Sienna. And I wanted to be sure to tell her in the scenes with Hitchcock, to always be strong. Always.

HBO

What do you think drew Hitchcock to you initially and why did things turn?

Tippi Hedren

We are known as the Hitchcock Blondes and I think he had a penchant for falling in love a little bit with each of his actors. The difference with Hitchcock and me was that it wasnt love. Because when you love someone, you treat them well. This became an obsession. After a number of demands that I could not acquiesce to, I had to get out of the contract. He said: "You cant do that, you have your daughter to support, your parents are getting older." And I just said, Nobody who loves me would want me to be in a situation in which Im not happy. He said: Ill ruin your career. And he did.

HBO

How?

Tippi Hedren

After 'The Birds' and 'Marnie' I was, as the Hollywood expression goes, hot. And I was under contract. He kept paying my $600 dollars a week for almost two years -- can you believe that? A lot of directors and producers wanted to use me in their films. All he had to say was: "She isnt available." He told Francois Truffaut I wasnt available. That broke my heart. He giveth and he taketh away.

HBO

What did you get from working with Hitchcock?

Tippi Hedren

There were some wonderful times. He was not only my director, he was my drama coach. I was a fashion model, I did countless commercials. So I had a good technical background. I was not afraid of lights, the camera, everything about a movie set. But I did have to learn: How do you break down a script? How do you become a character? How do you figure out the relationships of one character to the other and how that affects everything in the movie? He was incredibly helpful with that side of the career. And it was fun socially: The dinners at Chasens, the parties, the people who would greet him.

"How do you become a character? How do you figure out the relationships of one character to the other and how that affects everything in the movie? He was incredibly helpful with that."

HBO

Do you remember shooting that scene at the end of 'The Birds' that is depicted in the film?

Tippi Hedren

One of the first questions I asked when I read the script was: Mr. Hitchcock, why would I go up those stairs all by myself in that house? And he said Because I tell you to. OK, thats fine. And he said wed use mechanical birds and I didnt think another thing about it. Then the Monday morning we were to start that scene, the assistant director, the late Jim Brown, came in and said, The mechanical birds dont work. We have to use real ones. And out the door he sailed. I picked my jaw up from the floor because I had seen how harmful these birds can be.

I went out to the set and there was a cage around the door that I open. And I walk in, and there were four huge cartons of ravens and gulls, with a few pigeons thrown in. Bird handlers with gauntlets up to their shoulders started hurling them at me  for five days. Cary Grant came to the set on Wednesday and said, I think youre the bravest woman Ive ever met. And I said, well Im not sure thats the correct adjective for it. [laughs] By Friday afternoon, I was on the floor. They pulled strings through my dress and tied the ravens loosely, so they could move to my body. At about three oclock that afternoon, one that was hanging on my shoulder jumped and that claw came so close to my eye. I said: OK, Im done. I just sat in the middle of the set, sobbing. I was under doctors care for a week, I was so exhausted.

HBO

How did your family react?

Tippi Hedren

Melanie [Griffith, Hedrens daughter] was really little then. And I tried to shield my parents from it. In fact, at the screening of The Girl, after the movie was over, nobody moved. Nobody talked. They were stunned. Until Melanie jumped up and said; Well now I have to go back into therapy! And that, of course, started everyone talking again.

HBO

How was it for you to watch The Girl?

Tippi Hedren

It was probably one of the most involved, emotionally tense 90 minutes that I have ever lived.

The Girl

HBO Films