It seems rather coincidental that earlier this week Dread Central had the opportunity to speak with Hitchcock director Sacha Gervasi while we’re in the midst of celebrating Indie Horror Month right now.
After all, Gervasi’s latest project explores the Master of Suspense’s personal and professional life while making Psycho- one of the most influential and successful independent horror movies of all time – and the UK-born filmmaker himself found much success on the festival circuit with his often moving and hilarious documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil, which he produced independently back in 2008.
During our chat with Gervasi, we heard more about his involvement with Hitchcock and the parallels he found between himself and the legendary director’s career paths. Gervasi also discussed the controversy of tackling such a well-known figure like Alfred Hitchcock, his upcoming project about “Fantasy Island” star Hervé Villechaize (Tattoo) with Peter Dinklage, and much more.
Dread Central: Congrats on a great film- I really had a lot of fun with Hitchcock. How did you get attached to the project?
Sacha Gervasi: Oh, thank you; we really had a blast making the movie. And the project just sort of came to me; the script had been on black list but I didn’t really know the story behind Psycho so it was a bit shocking to me. I just found it fascinating that one of the greatest directors of his or any time that was coming off the massive success of a film like North by Northwest wasn’t able to get someone to make Psycho with him so he was forced to take such a huge risk, risking all his money and his reputation just so he could feel passionate about making movies and telling stories like he used to when he made them on his own terms. He was also searching for relevancy and I found that fascinating as well.
What I also enjoyed about this story is that going in, you knew about his obvious brilliance and his huge ego or the neurotic side of him and the complex relationships he shared with actresses; but what most of us didn’t know was Alma’s story and that was the thing that really surprised me the most because I knew of her existence but I had no idea really that she was his greatest collaborator throughout most of his career.
Dread Central: Between your work on Anvil and here on Hitchcock, it seems that you have a knack for exploring unconventional real-life characters- do you ever find any parallels between yourself and your subjects at all?
Sacha Gervasi: It’s interesting that you mention this because most independent filmmakers start off their careers by having to finance their own projects, like I did with Anvil, and here was a highly successful and well-regarded director who pay for a brilliant movie like Psycho three decades into his career. And so I think because with Anvil I had paid for it myself, it gave me a small window of understanding into the types of challenges Alfred was facing professionally at that time. He had such spirit and passion for this movie and I understood where that came from.
Another reason why I wanted to make Hitchcock was to tell a story that no one really knew about one of the great personalities in the golden age of Hollywood but make it also about this fascinating, creative collaboration and relationship that existed between him and his wife. I think it’s connected to Anvil too because that was about a similar kind of creative collaboration so I would say there definitely were some similarities.
But ultimately the idea of working with Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren on this wonderful story was so compelling to me- we really had an amazing cast across the board but those two were magical together.
Dread Central: I thought the way you framed the story of Hitchcock was really playful, almost like we’re watching an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”- can you discuss the decision to go in that approach rather than make a straight-up biopic?
Sacha Gervasi: You know, that was me wanting this movie to embrace the ironic and mischievous side of Hitchcock; I never wanted to make an earnest biopic at all. The whole point was to have some fun and also tell the story of the relationship between him and Alma. This was never going to be an academic exercise by any means, and I think some people weren’t sure how to react because we didn’t make the movie they were expecting.
Dread Central: In this movie, you’re not only profiling one of the most revered directors of all time but also chronicling one of the greatest movies ever made- for a lot of directors that would have been a daunting challenge. Did you feel any sort of pressure at all while working on Hitchcock?
Sacha Gervasi: I didn’t really feel any pressure- overwhelmed at times, sure, but no, I didn’t really feel like I had to live up to any kind of expectations. Plus I was also confident in the story so I knew going in that Hitchcock was going to be different, which meant that people would either love it or hate it. Sure it’s a controversial idea to tell this story in this manner but because of who Alfred was – being an intriguing and rich, compelling character – I knew I could have some fun with my approach. I almost had to make Hitchcock the way that I did because I think doing a straight biopic wouldn’t have really played up the irony and mischief that was so much a part of his legacy as a filmmaker so I wanted to honor that.
Dread Central: I thought it was interesting that throughout Hitchcock we see Alfred really depending on different women in his life for very different needs, but ultimately it’s Alma who really satisfies all those needs and does it very patiently. Can you talk about how you approached their relationship in the movie then?
Sacha Gervasi: I think the point of Hitchcock is that for directors and other creative types out there, there is always someone somewhere who is always listening to their crap, and there’s no doubt that Alma really helped Alfred be an even better filmmaker than he was. If you’re someone like Alfred Hitchcock, there aren’t that many people around in the industry that you can trust.
Alma was someone who always told him the truth and also had a tremendous sense for what the audience wanted. Alma was also brilliant on script and was a terrific writer and editor too so I thought it was fascinating for us to tell that story and juxtapose it against Alfred making this film because it was the ultimate test for their relationship. That’s why the focus of this story was less making Psycho and more about the relationship because the making of Psycho you can get in books and documentaries, but what you couldn’t find anywhere else is an exploration of Alfred and Alma’s life together.
Dread Central: What’s coming up next for you then?
Sacha Gervasi: A few things actually. Right now I’m working on a project with Peter Dinklage called My Dinner with Hervé, which is actually based on an actual interview I did with Hervé Villechaize, who played Tattoo on “Fantasy Island” in 1993, and a week later he committed suicide. I had the last interview with him, and so the movie is based on that experience so that’s kind of a surreal next project for me.
Dread Central: It seems that as a storyteller you tend to gravitate towards exploring all these really fascinating real-life personalities between Anvil and Hitchcock or even The Terminal- is that something you’ve been conscious of all along?
Sacha Gervasi: Oh for sure. Pretty much everything I’ve done has had that real element of human drama to it. I’m fascinated by exotic real characters that also have a human side to them; those are the stories I love to watch and love to tell.
Make sure to check out Hitchcock now that it’s available everywhere on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
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