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Interview with Toby Jones

Alfred Hitchcock

HBO

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

Toby Jones

I definitely was. Its hard to imagine anyone interested in film not being a fan of Alfred Hitchcock because hes such a key influence on the entire history of cinema  its hard to escape his shadow. However, I didnt 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 hed 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. Its one of those jobs where you go, Oh no, Ive 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 its 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 didnt 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  its got London in there, LA, what hes eating, what hes drinking, what hes smoking. These are all things youre working on technically, but theyre also helping you to shape what youre reading and watching.

HBO

Is it harder to play a real person?

Toby Jones

I dont know if its harder but when youre playing a real person you want to honor their memory  even if theyre a criminal or someone that the public loathed. That can be challenging.

HBO

Were there aspects of Hitchcocks 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 someones like and then something is revealed to us, some side of them we didnt 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 weve been portraying ourselves doesnt work anymore.

"Tippi was beyond [Hitchcock's] control ... there was something about her that he couldnt reach. I think thats 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. Theyre geniuses, the prosthetic guys. Its 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. Theres tedium, but once youve reconciled with the tedium, a sort of peace descends. What Ill always associate with this part is having a very long meditation beforehand.

HBO

Youve talked about Hitchcocks need for control  do you think his inability to control Tippi played a role in his obsession?

Toby Jones

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

HBO

In preparing for this role, did you learn anything new that didnt make it into the film or that helped you understand him better?

Toby Jones

Theres lots of stuff about his early life that just wouldnt 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. Hes 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.

The Girl

HBO Films