It was a bit of a surprise to me when Sacha Gervasi was chosen to helm Fox Searchlight's adaptation of Stephen Rebello's nonfiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. The journalist and screenwriter had only one directorial effort to his credit, and that was the heralded documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil, which caught up with a long forgotten but seminal heavy metal band.
While I had enjoyed his first film, it seemed like a major leap from an indie doc to a docudrama about one of cinema's most iconic directors starring such prestigious performers as Sir Anthony Hopkins and Dame Helen Mirren. However, when I sat down with Gervasi last weekend to discuss his first narrative feature Hitchcock, it was immediately clear to me how he landed the job.
For one, Gervasi is intensely charismatic. His high energy and warm humor can be felt throughout Hitchcock, and as he spoke a mile a minute about the legendary filmmaker, film, and Alma Reville the influential figure it pulls from the shadows, his enthusiasm was positively infectious. When I asked him casually how his day of press was going, Gervasi smiled broadly and exclaimed, " I'm having a fucking good time!" From that moment, I knew he and I would get along famously.
I really enjoyed the movie. I'm a big Hitchcock fan, and I was pleasantly surprised at how funny it is.
Well that was sort of the point, you know, was to make a film that’s funny and hopefully has some heart to it in the Hitchcock style. That was really the big deal.
It reminded me a lot of his TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
I think the beginning [which alludes to the TV series] was really an entry point, because we were very conscious of making a film for an audience as he did. You know, Stephen Rebello who wrote the original book [Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Pyscho]—the original book is different than the film; it's about the making of Psycho. It's a very detailed, meticulous account of the production, what happened, how it worked. But we made—and Stephen Rebello said—I want to make a movie for the audience from this. Because to adapt this book is a documentary, and that's not what we wanted to do. And I think it's important for people to know that that the book, it served as the sort of text when we were doing the Psycho stuff it was the text that we sort of referred to and we got our information from. But the movie is something different. It's a love story, and the thing—it's a little bit in Rebello's [book] but much more in John's [J. McLaughlin] script—but the movie is about this relationship. And you know it's about—if nothing else—it's shining a light on this incredible woman Alma Reville who played such a significant part in his life. Not just personally, but also as his collaborator.
I was actually really impressed because I didn't know much about Alma before seeing the film—
Neither did I, and I studied Hitchcock at UCLA under Howard Suber. She's mentioned. We know she's in the life, but I didn't know until I got into the story and started doing my research how involved she wa
casting, script, editing. Mostly in production she would leave him alone, but for pretty much every other part—marketing—every aspect of the process she was involved, and made some pretty huge decisions.
Why do you think it is that we don't know more about her contributions?
Well, I think that's partly her choice. She was wonderfully humble. I think she had a very healthy ego. She recognized that Alfred Hitchcock was who he was. I think together they created this quite brilliant, iconic brand. The person you see on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, it's an invention. It's a character that Hitchcock is playing. The truth is that he comes from very humble beginnings in England: working class family, Edwardian Catholic upbringing, the son of a shopkeeper. And yet on Alfred Hitchcock Presents he seems like some sort of English aristocrat. You know, he was playing that character, that's not who he was. And I think she was the sort of co-author of this character because they knew how to—they were really smart. And I think also she didn't want the attention; she was happy to be in the background, supporting Alfred. She recognized that he was the genius and her intention was just to help him, and make his genius films a little more genius. But I think part of it is that she didn't seek the limelight. She would deliberately stand behind him. She liked remaining in the shadows, and I think that's why I wanted to tell her story to sort of give her a bit of credit because I think she was wonderfully humble.