HBO Films

The Girl

Interview with Toby Jones

HBO

What drew you to the role of Alfred Hitchcock? Were you already a fan?

Toby Jones

I definitely was. It’s hard to imagine anyone interested in film not being a fan of Alfred Hitchcock because he’s such a key influence on the entire history of cinema – it’s hard to escape his shadow. However, I didn’t really know much about his personality – I knew about his techniques and his movies – so that was all a revelation.

HBO

What was it like to portray such a famous figure?

Toby Jones

I studied Hitchcock a little bit at University and knew the famous story about the Birds – that he’d tortured Tippi for a day using real birds. I had no idea that it was a five-day onslaught and that it was the tip of an iceberg that carried on through to another film. It’s one of those jobs where you go, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to play Alfred Hitchcock. I have to play him even though I know what this is going to involve.’ [laughs] Not just technically in terms of prosthetics and makeup and costume but more psychologically -- to go to those places and try and imagine them. I was keen to hopefully not create someone who was a monster. We worked hard to suggest the pathos of the character. In a weird way I think it’s a kind of beauty and the beast story. A kind of implausible love affair. Tippi talks about the affection she had for him and she was concerned that we didn’t just demonize him.

HBO

How did you prepare for the role?

Toby Jones

With a real person you have a lot to draw from, so I read a lot of biographies that Gwyneth [Hughes, screenwriter] recommended. The key thing for me was watching and listening to him. I always find that the voice is very useful in seeing how a character is framing their thoughts and suggesting themselves.

HBO

And, there was his signature walk.

Toby Jones

Definitely. He had a very elegant walk. A lot like his voice – a beautiful voice – it’s got London in there, LA, what he’s eating, what he’s drinking, what he’s smoking. These are all things you’re working on technically, but they’re also helping you to shape what you’re reading and watching.

HBO

Is it harder to play a real person?

Toby Jones

I don’t know if it’s harder but when you’re playing a real person you want to honor their memory – even if they’re a criminal or someone that the public loathed. That can be challenging.

HBO

Were there aspects of Hitchcock’s personality that you could relate to?

Toby Jones

I think most biopics follow the same basic equation where we all have an idea of what someone’s like and then something is revealed to us, some side of them we didn’t know. What happens is that the mask – the public face that we thought we all knew – slips. I think to a certain extent we all have masks and they slip because we come into conflict with the world or another individual and the way we’ve been portraying ourselves doesn’t work anymore.

"Tippi was beyond [Hitchcock's] control ... there was something about her that he couldn’t reach. I think that’s what makes it so interesting."
HBO

Speaking of masks, you had to wear a lot of makeup and prosthetics to play Hitchcock. Were you really in the makeup chair for five hours every day?

Toby Jones

Not five hours, [but] we could never get it to less than four hours. They’re geniuses, the prosthetic guys. It’s an extraordinary thing to feel confident in close-ups with so much makeup on.

HBO

Did the process help you get into character?

Toby Jones

It did. There’s tedium, but once you’ve reconciled with the tedium, a sort of peace descends. What I’ll always associate with this part is having a very long meditation beforehand.

HBO

You’ve talked about Hitchcock’s need for control – do you think his inability to control Tippi played a role in his obsession?

Toby Jones

In broad terms, I think that’s the argument of the drama. For various reasons Tippi was beyond his control, beyond his influence, there was something about her that he couldn’t reach. This particular drama suggests that this is what undid him and I think that’s what makes it so interesting. He’s coming out of Psycho at the peak of his success. I think there’s a moment where he begins to think, ‘If we can’t get Grace Kelly let’s get anyone because I’ll be able to get from them what I need because I’m that good a director.’ You can see why he might feel that, but in a way it becomes his undoing because there’s something about her inexperience, her naiveté, coupled with this independent spirit. She’s not used to being bullied.

HBO

In preparing for this role, did you learn anything new that didn’t make it into the film or that helped you understand him better?

Toby Jones

There’s lots of stuff about his early life that just wouldn’t be in the film. The relationship with his wife is absolutely fascinating. The film says that it was effectively a celibate relationship after the birth of their daughter and yet he worshiped his wife and wanted her approval for everything. He’s a remarkable director because when you read the biographies [you think], ‘Wow, this guy relived all of his hang-ups in his movies.' It was very autobiographical filmmaking for popular cinema.