Q&A: Anthony Hopkins On Hitchcock

David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor

When we think of Anthony Hopkins, psychopaths naturally spring to mind. After all, the Welsh actor won an Oscar in 1992 for playing Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, a career-defining role. But, of course, there’s much more to Sir Anthony than just playing brilliant fictional villains. He’s also displayed a knack for portraying complicated historical figures. In addition to playing Hitler (on TV) and William Bligh, the actor has earned Oscar nominations for playing the lead in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) and John Quincy Adams in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad (1997). Now, Hopkins has assumed the role of Alfred Hitchcock in Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, which chronicles the development and making of Psycho.

AWARDSLINE: What attracted you to playing Hitchcock?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: The project originally came to me eight years. I met the two producers and thought, Yes, it’s interesting. But who wants to see a film about Alfred Hitchcock? Plus, I didn’t want to put on weight, having just gotten fit. So it never happened. But then it came back around. Sacha Gervasi now had it, and he had such passion and blatant enthusiasm for it. He had no experience directing actors, and I thought that would be a challenge. So I decided to just jump in.

AWARDSLINE: Was it difficult acting in a fat suit?

HOPKINS: Hitchcock wasn’t as heavy when he directed Psycho as he was later. We did some tests to get it right. No one wanted me to disappear behind a lot of makeup. They did it from the chin. My jawbone is completely different from his, so it went from my chin to my neck, and then I had the costume. I spent about an hour and half in makeup each day. I also shaved my head, because I’m quite gray, and Hitchcock used dye—that awful red dye. And then, once you get into the mask, I’m not Alfred Hitchcock; I’m Anthony Hopkins playing the guy. So I used what I could. I wouldn’t go on the set till I was completely dressed. I wouldn’t go on in jeans, even in rehearsal. If you’re going to rehearse a scene, become the character. I wanted to feel the illusion of what I was trying to do, and that’s what I did.

AWARDSLINE: You did an enormous amount with your eyes in this role. Was that a conscious choice?

HOPKINS: Yes, it was. I have blue eyes, so I wore contact lenses, because Hitchcock had hazel eyes. The camera has to see behind the lens. I can’t really describe it. Acting is about listening to the other person. You get a great actor like Helen Mirren, and they do the work, and you listen. So when Richard Portnow as Barney Balaban talks harshly to me, it’s just glaring back that I do. Acting is about listening and reacting. John Wayne was right: Acting is just reacting. You don’t have to do much—as long as you stay out of the way of others. That’s why it works.

AWARDSLINE: Hitchcock is a revered figure in cinema, but this film clearly explores his dark side. Why did that appeal to you?

HOPKINS: It’s not so much dark as it’s the complex side of any personality. Hitchcock was such a master of putting on screen things that made you uneasy. Somebody once asked him what frightened him most, and he said the police. He came from a poor background. I think he understood those fears. He hated the thought of sudden violence. He was always wanting to be in control. And his films reflect that at any moment it can happen—your life is in control and then bam. He had such simpatico with the audience. And he was such a romantic, trapped in that obese body but appreciating beautiful women. We gather from biographies that he and his wife had a business arrangement, but we don’t know. He wasn’t an easy man. Janet Leigh said she had fun going to his house because he was such a practical joker. Once an actress told him that this was her best side, and he responded by saying, “My dear, you’re sitting on your best side.” He told Tony Perkins, “Don’t worry about motivation, my camera will tell you what to do.” Tony Perkins asked if he could chew candy on set, and Hitchcock said, “You can do whatever you like, my boy.” Everyone liked working with him. He didn’t say much as a director, but he was clear and supportive.

AWARDSLINE: You also portrayed Richard Nixon. Is there a thrill to playing someone historically important—and how do you refrain from dipping into caricature?

HOPKINS: Nixon is very much like Hitchcock. Both suffered from insecurities, and I know about insecurities and fears. So I understood Hitchcock at an instinctual level. He felt like an outsider, and so do I. I have a little bit of insight into that, so I like playing those characters.

AWARDSLINE: You won an Oscar more than 20 years ago. How did that change your career?

HOPKINS: It didn’t change anything at all. I remember the night I won the Oscar. I thought, Now I don’t have to do anymore. But then you wake up the next morning, and the Oscar is there, and you have to ask, “Now what do I do?” It can be a curse—some actors never work again after winning—but I don’t think about it. I just continue to do my job and get on with it.

Hair & Makeup Artists Are Key To Believable Characters

Monica Corcoran Harel is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Nov. 28 issue of AwardsLine.

Publicists, producers, personal trainers? Ha. Let’s face it: When it comes to nailing a role, a fantastic hairstylist and extraordinary makeup artist are an actor’s best friends. Where would Nicole Kidman be without her exuberant Virginia Woolf prosthetic nose? Oscarless. Ditto for Meryl Streep, who even name-checked her loyal hairstylist J. Roy Helland of 37 years at last year’s Academy Awards for her The Iron Lady victory. “I want to thank my other partner,” said the actress.

This year, the Academy tweaked the categories to include hairstyling in the makeup award for the 86th annual ceremony. It’s a smart inclusion, considering the two departments work incredibly closely, and the right period hair is essential to any film—even a post-apocalyptic one. Case in point: Hunger Games hairstylist Linda Flowers bleached 500 people’s eyebrows for the film and dyed the hair of 75 extras. With a team of 45 stylists, she also created 450 original wigs and hairpieces.

This year’s likely contenders for hair and makeup run the gamut in scope, from doctoring huge ensemble casts to refashioning lead actors into famous characters. For Hitchcock, hairstylist Martin Samuel had to recede Anthony Hopkins’ thick snowy mane with a partial shave and dye it brown at the sideburns. He also had a very sparse toupee made for the actor’s crown to simulate a balding man’s pate. “We kept it up every day for the 40 or so days of shooting, and Anthony was very patient,” says Samuel, who collaborated with Howard Berger on the prosthetics and makeup. It took 2½ hours each morning to turn handsome Hopkins into the homely, weak-chinned director.

Of course, it’s a tricky negotiation to conceal an actor’s most important means of expressing himself. Daniel Day-Lewis, in Lincoln, underwent just a scant hour and 15 minutes of cosmetic overhaul each morning to play the stately but physically craven 16th president of the United States. Instead of relying on prosthetics—which could easily encumber emoting—makeup artist and longtime Steven Spielberg collaborator Lois Burwell studied photos and casts of the president and then used a method called “stretch and stipple” to age the actor 10 years. She also dyed Day-Lewis’ natural beard darker and thinned it out.

“Lincoln had a soft chin and Daniel doesn’t, so we structured the beard to give that impression,” she says, adding that the Oscar-winning actor was new to the extreme makeup process. “You can’t just put one face on another. It’s not like you are working on a mannequin.”

The team working on the science-fiction epic Cloud Atlas, which wildly spans generations, had a Herculean undertaking in that they had to metamorphose dozens of actors into myriad characters. Consider Halle Berry as an elderly Korean man or Hugo Weaving playing a blonde, female nurse and you quickly get the idea. The film’s six storylines are directed by Tom Tykwer or the Wachowskis, and makeup artists Daniel Parker and Jeremy Woodhead worked with the directors, respectively. At the same time, the two had to constantly compare their sketches and visions to be sure that they weren’t repeating looks.

To transform Berry into an Asian elder, Woodhead used a wig, implants, contact lens, facial hair, and prosthetic teeth. “There was the added complication of an implanted eyepiece that covered the whole of one of Halle’s eyes and had to look like it was embedded in her skin,” says Woodhead. “Halle just sat there and laughed with delight as each layer went on and the character gelled together.”

Parker, who delighted in re-creating Weaving as the brutish, voluptuous Nurse Noakes, adds that last-minute directorial decisions to have an actor join another sequence as a different gender, age, or ethnicity intensified the workload. Still, he insists “this was a dream project for an artist.” He adds that the actors embraced the process and didn’t grouse about the marathon makeup sessions that took as much as four hours.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Bill Murray’s portrayal of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson. In this case, the director Roger Michell instructed Morag Ross to employ a subtle touch in physically refashioning the actor as the jovial president. “The M.O. for the whole look was less is more. Nothing heavy-handed,” says makeup artist Ross, who added a mole to Murray’s right cheek and a swath of melanoma above his left eyebrow.

A 1939 Life magazine photo of FDR became the inspiration for Murray’s hairstyle. Norma Webb made an educated guess on the hair color, as her historical references were all in black and white. “I proceeded to cut the hair as for the period,” she says. “But the cut needed to reflect Roosevelt’s seeming disinterest in ‘conservative’ behavior and image.” The translucent actress Olivia Williams also plays Eleanor Roosevelt with a soft wink. She’s not nearly as equine-looking as the First Lady in the end, but Ross added prosthetic teeth that altered both her profile and the shape of her face. Webb added hair wefts and colored Williams’ mane to reflect the First Lady’s unruly tresses and disdain for vanity.

Channeling Russian high society of the 1800s for Anna Karenina required some artistic license. Back then, women didn’t wear makeup but relied on creams to enhance their looks, notes makeup artist Ivana Primorac. Still, she and director Joe Wright wanted “to appeal to the modern audience without looking wrong for the period.” Actress Keira Knightley underwent a minimal change with a slight darkening of her fair coloring and hair. Jude Law, however, needed to be aged and refashioned as a bit of an “egg head.” To do that, Primorac altered the shape of his temples, receded his hairline and lengthened his jaw with a beard.

The near 40-artist team that tackled the hair, makeup and prosthetics on The Hobbit probably needs a long vacation. With 13 lead characters and stunt and scale doubles often needed, the crew helmed by lead makeup and hair artist Peter King had to oversee the transformation of no less than 36 actors. Even more challenging was the need to distinguish characters of the same race—such as dwarves—in appearance as well as silhouette. “Audiences must be able to recognize them by the head and body shape as they’re walking up a mountain,” says Richard Taylor, cofounder of special effects company Weta Workshop.

Realizing the vision of director Peter Jackson before filming even began required about 800 illustrations and 1,000 sculptures. New characters like goblins required their own physical evolution, but it was the high-resolution camera that made fabrication and application an arduous endeavor. “It’s exponential how much more challenging prosthetics and makeup have become because of the clarity of this camera,” says Taylor. “It sees everything. Everything!”

Composer Danny Elfman On Scoring Hitchcock

After composing five film scores straight, without a weekend off, it’s fair to say that Danny Elfman has had a very long year. Still, there was no limit to what he would do to work on a film about his idol, Alfred Hitchcock.

“I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but I have to do this,” Elfman recalls about committing to Fox Searchlight’s Hitchcock, which was scheduled for delivery right before his opus on Disney’s Oz: The Great and Powerful. “I wouldn’t have a film-music career if it wasn’t for Bernard Herrmann, who has inspired me since the age of 12.”

It would be an understatement to say that Elfman is a big fan of the Master of Suspense and his longtime music collaborator. Never mind the large photograph of Hitch that hangs in Elfman’s office (as observed by Hitchcock helmer Sacha Gervasi), Elfman is the only composer who has handled the sacred scrolls: Herrmann’s original manuscript for Psycho, which Elfman deftly adapted for Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake. For his current project, Elfman was so stoked to visit the Hitchcock set where they were shooting the Psycho editing-bay scene with Anthony Hopkins (as Hitch) and Helen Mirren (as his wife, Alma) that he asked if he could come back for a second day.

But idolization has no boundaries and, though the production was strapped for cash, Elfman wasn’t going to compromise the score to a movie about his favorite filmmaker.

“He literally bought sections of the orchestra out of his own pocket,” says a gobsmacked Gervasi. “We were recording with the top musicians in London, and we couldn’t afford to keep them through lunch. Danny asked the orchestrator, ‘How much do the violas cost? 3,000£? I’ll take them. How much for the French horns?’ And Danny held the musicians through lunch.”

An adult gesture for a composer not always recognized for his adult scores, despite having credits on a multitude of dramas like Dolores Claiborne, A Simple Plan,and last year’s Restless. We all know the gothic, orchestral stylings from Elfman’s Tim Burton fare (for instance, this year’s Dark Shadows and stopmotion Frankenweenie) to his summer tentpoles (Men in Black 3, the first of which earned him a comedy score Oscar nom), however, this is arguably the first awards season in a long time that Elfman has had an abundance of adult-themed scores, a trend that he says “isn’t intentional.” As the new kid on the block in the late ’80s, his splashy Dvorak-like score for Burton’s 1989 Batman was overlooked by the Academy, but it’s been his grownup themes for Good Will Hunting (1997), Big Fish (2003), and Milk (2008) that have garnered Oscar nominations.

In addition to Hitchcock—which Elfman committed to under the condition that he didn’t have to turn in a Herrmann-esque score, rather a romantic, classical sound—the former Oingo Boingo frontman churned out his seventh score for Van Sant, an eclectic guitar-stringed mood for the environmental political drama Promised Land. Then there’s David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook,which represents a departure for Elfman in terms of his process and contemporary sound. Employing drums, stringed-pads (that Elfman created), guitar as well as his own vocals, the score to Silver Linings Playbook is a synthesis of late-’60s harmonized sunshine pop coupled with a coffee-house acoustic vibe.

“What saved me was that these scores were different and there were no overlapping of styles. If I had two scores that were in a similar genre, I would have gone through a mental meltdown,” Elfman humbly admits. “I didn’t get log-jammed, but I had to be more focused than ever before.”

Also keeping Elfman at the top of his game is the company he keeps with offbeat directors who challenge him. At first, when Elfman heard Silver Linings Playbook was a romantic comedy, he resisted. “That is the genre that I feel no affinity toward at all, and it’s the only one I stay away from. I did a few early on in my career, and they were incredibly difficult.”

But after watching a cut of the film, Elfman was drawn to the actors’ chemistry. Upon agreeing to work with Russell, Elfman says, “He didn’t even know if he needed music in the movie. It was a total journey for him, and I learned with David, you just take that journey. I said to myself, ‘If at the end, I served no purpose but to show him that he doesn’t need a score, well, that’s fine.’ ”

That ride entailed Elfman actually stepping inside the recording booth. Typically, during a scoring session, the composer is on the other side of the glass.

“I was playing around with instruments and put my vocals onto one piece as a goof, and David was like, ‘Do more of that! Do more of that!’, like he was producing me. Before we knew it, that’s what we were doing,” Elfman says with a laugh. “It was really crazy and off the track of what I’m usually doing, which is writing very intense, big scores.”

Russell says of their first-time partnership, “He was working with a simple arsenal of instruments due to budget. The end result seamlessly blends with the source and the emotion of the characters. I think that was the challenge, to find the voice of his music that would do that.”

Elfman says Van Sant is another director who “pushes me in strange directions.” Originally on Milk, Elfman wrote 15-18 minutes of opera-like music, inspired by the fact that Harvey Milk was a fan of the genre. After playing it several times for Van Sant, “He said, ‘You know, it’s not working,’ so we went back to square one,” Elfman recounts.

And while Burton is one director with whom Elfman can easily employ his Herrmann-esque and monster-movie side, specifically the classic horror organ wafting in Frankenweenie, it comes as a surprise to learn that Elfman and Burton still don’t have a shorthand after working together for 27 years.

“Every film is like starting over. I’ve never written a cue for Tim yet where I’m like, ‘He’s going to love this!’ He’s extremely unpredictable, and I never know how he’s going to react. Sometimes he has to take a journey to find out where the musical heart of his film is,” explains Elfman.

Nevertheless, the pair has a director-composer partnership that’s second only to Steven Spielberg and John Williams, yet one that the Academy doesn’t often recognize.

“I have a simple philosophy about (Oscar politics): I don’t think about it at all. I’m a big supporter of what the Academy does for films, but when it comes to the awards part of it, I stay as far removed as possible. It’s like elections—you can go crazy trying to anticipate what’s going to happen, but how people vote is still a great mystery,” says Elfman.

As one of the few scoresmiths who can churn out a panoramic orchestral creation, Elfman will likely get his due from the Academy one day. Already his eighth reteaming with Sam Raimi, Oz: The Great and Powerful, sounds like the type of epic, á la Lawrence of Arabia,that voters crave.

“The movie has this big, blustery old-fashioned feel, and I wanted to give it a big, effective, narrative score,” Elfman says. “It’s huge—105 minutes of music.”

And no matter what road Elfman embarks on musically with a director, it always comes back to Herrmann. “If anything, I’ll evoke more Herrmann-esque sounds in Oz: The Great and Powerful than I did in Hitchcock,” says Elfman. “At times I can’t help it, I have to try not to be Herrmann-esque because his music is so much a part of my musical DNA. For that is from whence I sprung.”

Hitchcock Experiences A Revival On The Big and Small Screens

Craig Modderno is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of AwardsLine.

Director Alfred Hitchcock is experiencing something of a revival—32 years after the master of suspense left this mortal coil. Fox Searchlight’s Hitchcock, which stars Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, will open the AFI Fest in early November; Universal just released an elaborate box set, Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection, which showcases 13 of his films on Blu-ray; and HBO recently aired The Girl, starring Toby Jones and Sienna Miller, which examines the tempestuous relationship between Hitch and Tippi Hedren.

Hedren, a former model who made her feature-film debut in 1963’s The Birds, was an object of obsession for the director, something she’s only recently begun discussing in detail. Hedren served as an adviser on the HBO movie and recently attended a screening of a redigitalized version of The Birds at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

“When we made The Birds, it was a different time in film history. If there was any tension from the set or people were having affairs, the press agents covered it up,” Hedren explains. “But when Hitch attacked me the first time in the limo right before we arrived on the set, the crew knew what had happened. Then the torture began. He started using real instead of mechanical birds to attack me, and several scenes were in the final cut. It was scary, brutal, and, at times, unsafe.”

Nevertheless, Hedren still has admiration for the man who kept her under his thumb.

“He wouldn’t let me work for any other director while he had me under my 7-year contract,” she says. “(French director) François Truffaut wanted me for the female lead in Fahrenheit 451, and I never found that out until I read it somewhere. Hitchcock was just a lousy, disagreeable man. But if he was here right, now we’d find one thing to agree on: the studio should have rereleased or made The Birds in 3D. It’s the perfect film for that process.”