Sacha Gervasi, like everyone in the cinematic world, is heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock. Now, since he directed Hitchcock, Gervasi tells us in our exclusive interview, he is as mystified by the man as ever. “He’s so enigmatic and yet, he’s still mysterious,” Gervasi said.
“We still don’t really know about Alfred Hitchcock. We have a sense, but there are so many different sides to him that you get a sense that he’s a study in contrasts. I think the audience is well aware of his obsessions and there was certainly something dark and mysterious lurking there. That mystery is still there. People exist in the popular imagination because they’re iconic. His work is iconic and you still can’t work him out.”
As seen in the Hitchcock trailer, the story follows the director’s making of his classic and most popular film, Psycho. Hitch, as people called him, had just come off his greatest success with the thriller North by Northwest. Making Psycho his next film was a highly controversial decision and he banked his future on it by mortgaging his house to finance the film when no one else would.
We state in our Hitchcock review that the film is really a love story at its heart about a husband and wife who have found, after decades together, they simply cannot live without the other. It is discovered in the film that Alma was, in fact, his greatest muse.
“We made a bold choice. We wanted to show a relationship story while making Psycho. That’s the untold story. He’s a genius and all the things we know to be true about Hitchcock had all been covered in documentaries and books,” Gervasi said.
“What we don’t know is that his greatest collaborator was his wife Alma. To me, it was about telling a story I didn’t know myself and making a movie that I would pay to see. That relationship was really key because with every great artist, there’s often someone lurking in the shadows who helps them out. She was a brilliant artist in her own right. Hitch wouldn’t have been Hitch without her.”
One cannot talk about Hitchcock without highlighting the performances of its leads, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. “It was astounding to be directing those two,” Gervasi admitted.
The first time feature director allowed himself one second of awe, before diving into the work.
“I did have a moment in rehearsal where I went, ‘Oh, my God. It’s Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren looking to me.’ It was fantastic. It was surreal. I’ve grown up watching them on stage and screen and then to see them work with me… was fantastic.”
Even though this is a film about two longtime loves collaborating on a movie about a serial killer who was trying to literally become his mother, it was impossible to ignore the genius of the man who wielded a camera like no other.
“When I took this on, I was focused on the relationships. But, clearly since one of the people in the relationship was Alfred Hitchcock, there was going to be so many things that you would pick up. Anyone involved in the movie in any capacity has been influenced inadvertently or directly by him,” Gervasi said.
The filmmaker even sprinkled Hitchcock-specific shots throughout the film that chronicled the making of Psycho.
“I felt we wanted to publicly pay tribute to him in our own specific way. We put eight Hitchcock references in the movie that were things that Hitchcock fans will know. The obvious one was the opening shot when you come down in the rain over the umbrellas. There were loving tributes to him throughout.”
If it seems that Gervasi had the time of his life on the set of Hitchcock, that would be a safe assumption. "It was a joyous experience. You’re getting paid to make stuff up,” he said and laughed.
The key was having an immensely talented cast and crew around him that made the job easier. “All my first choices I got in every role, and similarly with the crew. It was the best of the best. When you have people of that caliber around you, you are able to rely on their experience -- it frees you up. We were able to focus on creating this era for people when you’re taking the audience back in time and it’s really entertaining -- and entertaining for us too.”
As anyone who appreciates Hitchcock’s work is most likely someone who appreciates the history of Hollywood in general, building sets that were painstaking replicas of a Golden Age of cinema was a moment to marvel for the cast and crew.
“With meticulous detail, we reconstructed the sets. We constructed what it was like at Paramount at that time and we were lucky to be able to shoot on the actual locations,” Gervasi said. “It was a rare glimpse into the world that is so familiar to us through books, magazines and old movies. We were able to recreate it. It was a thrill to step on the set and do that. It was a rare treat.”