Helen Mirren shines at 'Hitchcock' New York premiere

Tuesday, 20 November 2012 08:05
hitchcock112012_optBY PAULA SCHWARTZ

Helen Mirren, in a slinky, black dress with golden patterns, stole the show Sunday night at the New York premiere of “Hitchcock” at the Ziegfeld Theater in midtown. The 67-year-old Academy-Award winning actress gave Scarlett Johannson, (Janet Leigh), wearing an tight asymmetrical mini-tube dress, and Jessica Biel, (Vera Miles) in a glittery top and matching pants, a run for their money on the red carpet. (The newlywed’s diamond ring is big as a quail’s egg, but Justin Timberlake was nowhere in sight.) Mirren stars in “Hitchcock” as Alma Reville, the wife of “Psycho” director Alfred Hitchcock who was usually in the background but indispensable as her husband’s story consultant, continuity person and casting director.

The only person missing was Anthony Hopkins, who stars as the corpulent director, as he was filming in London, said “Hitchcock” director Sacha Gervasi. Other stars from the film on the red carpet included James D’Arcy (Anthony Perkins), Danny Huston (Whitfield Cook, a writer who hits on Mirren’s character), Michael Stuhlberg (Lew Wasserman), Toni Collette (Hitchcock’s secretary) and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin.

Although we couldn’t get her on the red carpet, a day earlier at a Bafta screening, Mirren told the audience that, like almost everyone else, she didn’t know Reville’s work. “I didn’t know anything about Alma,” the Academy-Award winning actress admitted, “It’s wonderful to find a woman who was so important in creating masterworks and ultimately they were the product of a partnership in the very best possible sense of the word. I had an amazing resource for my interpretation of Alma, which was the book that was written by her daughter, the single child of Alfred Hitchcock, who chose to write a biography about her mother,” Mirren said. “She really wanted to bring her mother out of the shadows and just to reveal to the world what she was in the family, in the relationship and in this creative process.”

The movie is both a comic and demented look at their marriage and their collaboration in making “Psycho,” a difficult project to finance and get made. When Mirren was asked what drew the odd couple together, she replied, that they met during the early days of filmmaking in Britain, “where anything was possible because nothing had been done before, so I think they got together in and through their love and obsession and fascination with moves.” Most importantly, Mirren added, “I think there were three glues that held this amazing partnership and marriage: love or whatever you want to call it; love of food and wine was very high on the list; love of film and humor. And he just cracked her up.”

On the red carpet, the screenwriter, whose take on the director is mainly sympathetic, told me his biggest challenge was “trying to humanize Hitchcock instead of just doing a caricature.”

Then Anna Wintour flew by on the red carpet. She wore a lux black mink embellished with white mink flowers. “That’s a Prada coat. That’s not even out yet!” one fashion writer sighed.

Stulhburg, who plays Hitchcock’s agent in the film, talked about the grueling process Hopkins went through every day to transform himself into the corpulent director, including wearing prosthetics and a fat suit.

“He was there earlier than any of us every single day, just putting on a couple of hours of the most amazingly detailed, realistic prosthetic makeup,” and “and at the end of the day he would tear off his makeup and make a show of it because he’d been trapped in it all day long.”

D’Arcy, who plays Anthony Perkins, told me that working with Hopkins was great, but he never saw the actor on the set without his prosthetics or makeup. “He didn’t look like Hopkins. He didn’t sound like Hopkins," he said. "It was almost like not being with Hopkins.”

Johannson, who is starring as the sex-starved Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” on Broadway was swarmed by press and photogs, and said she had a strong idea of how she wanted to portray Janet Leigh. “I tried to capture the essence of her.” She was asked if she liked the style of the times. “It’s a nice period. Of course it’s a lot of foundation garment and the shape, the silhouette is always flattering.” And her favorite Hitchcock movie? “Strangers on a Train,” she replied. “As a child I responded to the carousel scene. I like that it makes you feel slightly disoriented. It takes you on a rollercoaster of suspense that Hitchcock was so talented, wonderful with.” Asked about her character Black Widow's relationship with Captain American in the upcoming “Avengers 2,” she harrumphed, “You think I can tell you anything about that?”

Gervasi commented that it is not the most obvious follow-up to his last film, the 2008 documentary about heavy metal band, “Anvil: the Story of Anvil.” He laughed.

“It’s not that dissimilar you know. I made the film myself, financed it, I risked everything for it, know that it probably wouldn’t work and hoping that it would, so when I discovered Hitchcock did the same with 'Psycho,' I had a small window into understanding the madness of being willing to stake your own money just to connect with an audience, which I did. But also Anvil was about creative collaboration in a marriage of sorts, and this movie, too, is about a collaboration. It’s about a marriage. It’s about these two people together, who, when they’re together are exceptional and then apart are less than exceptional,” he said.

As for working with stars Hopkins and Mirren, who are getting Oscar buzz, Gervasi said, “I grew up watching them on stage, on screen. I saw him at the National in 1985. I saw Helen Mirren on stage. In England, we grew up with these people mostly as stage actors, and then obviously they’ve come to Hollywood and become enormously successful so it was such a privilege,” the director said. “As I was rehearsing with both of them I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God! It’s Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren and they’re actually listening to me.”