Based on Stephen Rebello’s book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” and adapted by Screenwriter John J. McLaughlin, Hitchcock stars Sir Anthony Hopkins as the acclaimed filmmaker and Dame Helen Mirren as his wife Alma. The solid supporting cast includes Scarlett Johansson (as Janet Leigh), Jessica Biel (as Vera Miles), Ralph Macchio and Toni Collette. Gervasi admits to being surprised when he got the call to direct the film. “It was a bit shocking,” he says. “I didn’t think they would actually let me do it, but they did.” Gervasi’s excitement soon evolved into worry as the project entered the development phase of production. “It wasn’t really a go project,” he recalls. “It was a sort of a ‘let’s see what we can do,’ and it was my job to make the movie go, because even though [the Montecito Picture Company] was producing it, we didn’t have a studio yet. It was all about finding a domestic distributor. And in this climate, as I’m sure a lot of you know, its so impossible to get anything made, let alone getting a studio to back it, let alone from the director of Anvil.” Fortunately, Hopkins and Mirren were both committed to Gervasi’s project, and that grabbed the interest of Fox Searchlight. “The great thing [about] working with Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren is that everyone wanted to be involved,” says Gervasi. “From Scarlett Johansson to the production side of it, everyone was excited. So we got basically the best people all around.”
As the production got underway with its esteemed cast, everything flowed nicely. “I insisted on rehearsals for me, rather than for them,” notes Gervasi. “We worked on the material together a bit. Once they understood what I was trying to do, which was really to make it a love story. It wasn’t so much about the making of Psycho that was the backdrop. It was about Hitch’s state of mind. I feel [that] over the years people have betrayed [Hitchcock] in different ways, some good, some bad. For us, it was important to have Anthony Hopkins play him, [as he’s] able to touch all of those emotions and all the layers and depth.” From the beginning, Hopkins and Mirren had great chemistry and they kept their on-screen moments fresh by nailing many scenes in one take. “Tony and Helen know each other a little bit, but [they] have never worked with each other [even though they] have wanted to,” says Gervasi. “And basically within five minutes of our first rehearsal, it was as if they had been married for 36 years. It was extraordinary. They are just such brilliant actors.”
When scouting locations for the film, California was seen as the best setting in which to re-create the love story. “For those people who know, shooting in L.A. is obviously expensive,” says Gervasi. “But, with that said, if you do have a chance [to shoot in L.A.], you often get the best people, because they want to stay at home and be with their families. So we got an incredible crew. Construction is expensive, so we tried to use as many locations [as possible, and] we were able to find these great period things. We shot at Paramount [and] in Malibu at this wonderful beach house that we found. We shot in this beautiful house in Beverly Hills and we shot exteriors in Pasadena…. I think the film has this richness to it [that] comes from being able to shoot in the real place. [We also] built a few things, like the Hitchcock bedroom.”
Gervasi found Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, ASC (The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) to be the perfect fit for Hitchcock. From their first meeting, both men were on the same page regarding the tone and feel they wanted for the project. The film was then shot in only 35 days on a RED EPIC 4K camera. “We did film test with 35[mm] and the RED EPIC, and I really wanted to go [with] film,” says Gervasi. “I was talking to Jeff and was like, ‘It’s Hitchcock, we have to go old school.’” In testing the EPIC, they were able to apply a film grain that was indistinguishable from film. And shooting on the RED ended up being less expensive, giving them more time to shoot.
Gervasi also had an easy rapport with Production Designer Judy Becker (Shame, Silver Linings Playbook), who brought him extraordinary visual references that would give the film more authenticity. And Fox Searchlight introduced Gervasi to Editor Pamela Martin (The Fighter, Little Miss Sunshine), who was hired in advance and got a head start on laying scenes out. The Hitchcock production team benefited from a short shoot and a lack of problems in post, as all crucial decisions were made during the casting and crewing-up process, which proves the importance of having a committed pool of talent from the start. “We were fortunate because we had a very strong script, we had unbelievable actors [and] we had an incredible production team,” says Gervasi, “and so that fact that we could go from the first day of principle photography to a finished movie in six months is really a testament to those things.”
While some see directing as a difficult job, Gervasi knows how smart collaboration choices can make the job much easier. “It’s about making the right decisions on the material, on the crew and how you treat your actors, and allowing the talent to just do their jobs,” he explains. “It’s the careful balance of letting go and pushing.” The job also guarantees that important lessons will be learned on each project. “Concentration is the thing I learned from [working with] Steven Spielberg [on The Terminal],” says Gervasi. “He is so concentrated and focused and brilliant. The energy is intense. He gets in and he gets out and moves on. He works so brilliantly fast and with the actors. It’s like watching a tornado go through, because he is so on it…. It’s kind of like watching the most amazing athlete [who has] fluidity, energy [and] precision.”
Hitchcock is also well known for his precise and distinctive vision as a film artist. After successfully getting inside the mind of the iconic director, Gervasi feels that he has made a movie he would pay “14 bucks” to see. “I just love that story of an artist on the top of his game, who is willing to risk everything to do something crazy.” Hitchcock is set for a limited U.S. release in late November before opening wide internationally in January 2013.