The 67-year-old Oscar-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 as Alfred Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville. While usually in the background, she was 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 gracing 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.
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,” Mirren 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.”
Mirren added, “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. She really wanted to bring her mother out of the shadows and 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 asked what drew the odd couple together, Mirren said 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 together. Love of food and wine, love of film, and humor. He just cracked her up.”
On the red carpet, screenwriter John McLaughlin, 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,” one fashion writer sighed. “That’s not even out yet!”
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 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. It was almost like not being with Hopkins.”
Johansson, who is starring as the sex-starved Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway, was swarmed by press and photographers. She said she had a strong idea of how she wanted to portray Janet Leigh. ”I tried to capture the essence of her.”
When asked if she liked the style of the times, she said, “It’s a nice period. Of course, it’s a lot of foundation garment and the shape, the silhouette is always flattering.”
Her favorite Hitchcock movie? “Strangers on a Train,” she said. “As a child, I responded to the carousel scene. I like that it makes you feel slightly disoriented. It takes you on a roller coaster of suspense that Hitchcock was so talented, wonderful with.”
When asked about her relationship with Captain American in the upcoming sequel for The Avengers, she harrumphed, “You think I can tell you anything about that?”
I spoke next with director Sacha Gervasi and commented that Hitchcock isn’t the most obvious follow-up to his last film, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, a 2008 documentary about the Canadian heavy metal band.
“It’s not that dissimilar,” he laughed. “I made the film myself, financed it, risked everything for it, knew that it probably wouldn’t work but hoped 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.”
He added, “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 when apart, are less than exceptional.”
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 added, “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.”