Almost 32 years after his death, Alfred Hitchcock is still shocking audiences — but the petrified patrons are not in any movie theater. Instead, the invited guests (actually paid actors) were inside a Pasadena mansion during the second week of filming for “Hitchcock,” a fictionalized look at the English filmmaker during the preparation, filming and release of 1960’s “Psycho.”
Hitchcock — or a very approximate facsimile — was on a recent day throwing a bomb into an otherwise genteel tea party, handing out a batch of gruesome crime scene photographs to announce his intentions to tell a grisly tale of murder and mutilation.
The Fox Searchlight production, which could be ready by year's end, stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his wife and creative collaborator, Alma Reville. The cast includes Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins. It is the first narrative feature directed by screenwriter and documentary filmmaker Sacha Gervasi (“Anvil! The Story of Anvil”).
Hopkins’ transformation, accomplished with the help of prosthetic makeup by Howard Berger and Peter Montagna and a fat suit from costume designer Julie Weiss that turns the slim Hopkins into a 300-pound giant, is not intended to hide the Oscar-winning actor completely.
“We don’t want Anthony Hopkins to disappear under the makeup,” Gervasi, who co-wrote Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal," said during a break in filming. “And we don’t want him to sound exactly like Hitchcock, either. That wasn’t the point.”
Instead, the goal was to give moviegoers a little bit of both the real and the illusion — a slice of Hitchcock here, a taste of Hopkins there, all the while probing the director’s complicated state of mind. During a break in filming, Hopkins said that he met Hitchcock late in the director's life at the restaurant Ma Maison. "He had no idea who I was," said Hopkins, whose acting career was just taking off at the time.
The "Hitchcock" plot follows the troubled financing of “Psycho," the director’s battles with Hollywood censors and Hitchcock’s desire to prove to his doubters, his wife and himself that he still had an edge. The screenplay, whose writers include Hitchcock biographer Stephen Rebello, includes references to Edward Gein, the Wisconsin serial killer and grave robber who was partial inspiration for Buffalo Bill, the villain at the center of Hopkins’ “The Silence of the Lambs.”
In the scene at the Pasadena estate, Hitchcock disbursed photographs detailing some of Gein’s more abhorrent acts, hoping to start the “Psycho” drumbeat. It appeared to be working.
At one point, a gossip columnist in attendance asked of Hitchcock, “Am I the only one who finds this offensive?” Without missing a beat, Hitchcock replied, “I was hoping everyone would.”
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Photo: Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in "Hitchcock," now filming. Courtesy Fox Searchlight.