What drew you to the role of Alfred Hitchcock? Were you already a fan?
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.
What was it like to portray such a famous figure?
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.
How did you prepare for the role?
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.
And, there was his signature walk.
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.
Is it harder to play a real person?
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.
Were there aspects of Hitchcock’s personality that you could relate to?
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.