HBO's 'The Girl' chronicles real-life Hitchcock horror show
When Alfred Hitchcock cast unknown actress Tippi Hedren as the star of his horror film “The Birds,” she couldn't believe her good fortune. As work on the film proceeded, however, she discovered a different kind of horror movie playing out off camera as her powerful director became sexually obsessed with her and began making wildly inappropriate demands.
“The Girl,” an HBO-BBC co-production premiering Saturday, Oct. 20, recounts how Hedren (Sienna Miller) did everything she could think of to cope with Hitchcock's (Toby Jones) erratic behavior, often in full view of the director's wife, Alma (Imelda Staunton). Initially there were no red flags, recalls the real-life Hedren, sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel suite during a recent press tour for TV critics.
“It started very slowly, by staring,” she says. “On the set, I'd be talking to people, and I'd look over, and he might have a bunch of people he was talking to as well, but he'd be staring at me.”
Hitchcock became more overt in his unwanted attentions when production approached the halfway point on “The Birds,” but Hedren's options were limited because many contemporary union rules protecting performers were not in place back then.
“This was in the early '60s. There was nothing like that,” she explains. “(Behavior like this) was common in the movie industry. I was 31. This wasn't my first rodeo, dealing with people. It wasn't every day, otherwise I don't think the relationship would have lasted as long as it did. It just finally built up to the point where I just said, ‘OK, that's it. I'm done.' ”
Among the most harrowing ordeals Hedren was forced to endure on “The Birds” was a five-day shoot filming an attic scene in which her character, Melanie Daniels, is savagely attacked by large, angry birds. The actress had been told that mechanical birds would be used for this scene, but when she reported for work, she found herself trapped in a closed-off space with live birds. In one of the most unsettling scenes in “The Girl,” Hedren is put through take after grueling take, the crew watching with mounting concern for her safety as the birds attack her over and over. Hitchcock, however, looks on impassively, his face chillingly inscrutable. Was the director punishing his leading lady for not being more personally accommodating?
At the time, Hedren says, that thought didn't really cross her mind, because she was focused on getting whatever shots her director needed for the film. And looking back today?
“Honestly, we are dealing with such a devious mind here, with Alfred Hitchcock, that there is no way I can answer that question realistically,” she replies, her lips tightening.
Jones, who spent long hours studying footage of the iconic director to capture his walk and famous speech patterns, says viewers are free to reach their own decisions about what is going on in Hitchcock's mind as he watches Hedren's distress.
“There's lots of things going on (in that scene), but in my opinion, it's mainly fascination with Tippi's resilience and wondering what the source of that resilience is and how far it will sustain her, and there's also guilt about that fascination,” the actor says. “That's also the drama of the character, but Hitchcock is gripped also by whether the actress is going to be broken.
“I think it has something to do with the fact that this was at that moment in his life when he was at his most powerful,” he adds. “He had just released ‘Psycho,' which was so hugely successful. I know many people will look at this film and go, ‘Oh, he's a monster,' but if I've done my job properly, they'll see that all of that is true, but he is also pathetic. There's just a pathetic smallness to his meanness, and a self-loathing going on as well.”
After “The Birds,” as Hitchcock and Hedren began work on “Marnie,” the director shifted strategies, pleading for Hedren's love in drunken phone calls during which he'd share his fantasy of leaving Alma so that he and Hedren could be together. Hedren says she never said or did anything to encourage those fantasies, and she was utterly baffled by Alma's tolerance of this behavior.
“The whole relationship between Alma and Hitch has been an enigma to everyone,” Hedren says. “What was it? It became very clear to me when she came to me one day and said, ‘Tippi, I am so sorry you have to go through this,' and I said, ‘But you could stop it.' She just glazed over and kind of walked away. It was ... interesting. And a sad situation, really.”
Finally, while working on “Marnie,” Hitchcock crossed an irrevocable line with Hedren.
“He made demands of me that I could not acquiesce to or even consider in my wildest imagination,” she says. “It was insulting, and I said right then, ‘I want to get out of the contract, and as soon as this film is over, I'm out.' ”
Hitchcock made good on his threat to destroy her career, refusing to allow her to work with any other directors and discouraging a push to get her an Oscar nod for “Marnie” (she had won a Golden Globe Award as most promising newcomer in “The Birds”).
Today, however, Hedren says she is able to look back on both her films with Hitchcock without rancor.
“I enjoy watching them both very much,” she says, smiling. “You know what he did? He ruined my career, but he didn't ruin my life. I would never let that happen. Nobody's going to do that to me.”
John Crook is a staff writer for Zap2it.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Crosby scores twice, Malkin delivers OT goal as Penguins beat Blues
- Steelers veteran linebacker Harrison focused on stretch run
- Friends, family, history lure natives back to Western Pennsylvania
- Penguins co-owner Lemieux snuffs rumored rift with Crosby
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin ends practice with third-down work
- Emotional send-off awaits Pitt seniors
- Pirates sign free agent 1B-OF Goebbert, RHP Webster
- Artis leads Pitt to lopsided victory over Cornell
- Starkey: Artie Rowell’s incredible odyssey
- Teen charged with firing shots in Wilkins, abducting woman
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin not grooming successor to RB Williams