Interview: Sacha Gervasi

You thought you knew Hitchcock? Think again. Sacha Gervasi directs the latest exploration of the horror filmmaker in Hitchcock, which stars Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins in the title role. I was lucky enough to snag an interview with the Brit and chat about how he transitioned from the screenwriting seat to the directors’ chair.

TSL: John McLaughlin wrote the script and it’s amazing. When you were brought on to direct, did you all do re-writes or was the script finalized?

Gervasi: We did continue a bit of work on it. I think most directors who are about to direct a movie do a little work. But really John had everything there. You tailor make the movie for you. And I also rehearsed with the actors and stuff came out of that. Tony would have an instinct for a line, or Helen, and then that would find its way into the pages.

TSL: What was that rehearsal process like?

Gervasi: I insisted on rehearsal, for myself rather than for them! But it was great. I have a background in being English and loving the stage. I studied Hitchcock in school and film club. Also, I grew up watching Helen and Tony on the stage and that was also an interesting aspect.

TSL: You’ve been a screenwriter; what about this project made you want to direct?

Gervasi: I just loved the story of the relationship, which I didn’t know. I loved the story of one of the greatest artists of all time risking his own money to make this crazy little movie that no one wanted to make. I’ve made Anvil, a documentary that was also about a creative collaboration or marriage of sorts. There was something similar about the Hitchock/Alma thing. I was drawn to it.

TSL: Out of all the stories you could have explored with Hitchcock, why did you feel the Alma story needed to be told?

Gervasi: I thought there was a delicious irony to tell a centrally complicated love story against the background of an intense Slasher picture. It’s quite funny. Obviously Psycho is justifiably one of the greatest movies of all time; it’s also the most successful independent movie ever made. It’s the first Slasher picture. I didn’t know the story of the relationship, which is why it was worth telling. You always tell the story you don’t know.

TSL: You’ve compared Alma to Kathryn Bigelow. What other female filmmakers do you feel are making strides in the industry?

Gervasi: I just think it’s wonderful. This story is about women in a certain point in time, where they’re meant to be the hostess or the mother. Obviously times have changed. There are too few females out there. I think Alma was a brilliant artist in her own way. Not to take away form Hitchcock, but to add. She knew he was the genius, but she wanted to add a little bit of special magic.

TSL: She was the big elephant in the room that no one wanted to acknowledge!

Gervasi: Exactly. But she also didn’t want that. She was humble. She stayed in the shadows. She didn’t want the limelight and that’s what makes her more interesting.

TSL: What was your research beforehand since you’re writing non-fictional characters?

Gervasi: We read all the biographies, we read all the facts and then you dramatize the film based on what you know, that’s what filmmakers do. It was cool to be able to do that. The audience is smart and understands the difference between documentary and film.

TSL: It’s a challenge to write every day. How do you keep in writing shape?

Gervasi: I try and write as frequently as I can. I do re-writes, all different things. It’s a weird system in Hollywood. One of the reasons I became a director is because I find it frustrating just being a writer; it’s very random. I like being in charge of the scene. But I love writing; it’s the source for me.

TSL: And what inspires you?

Gervasi: Well, my favorite movie of all time is this obscure British film Withnail and I. It’s about two actors going away on holiday for a weekend. That’s what sort of got me going. Bruce Robinson is great. Look that stuff up! That’s serious!

TSL: Netflix que. Done. Also, you graduated from UCLA and have gone back to teach classes. What advice did you give to your screenwriting students?

Gervasi: I would get the ten best movies of all time, whatever they are to you. Presumably somewhere on the list would be Chinatown and Godfather, and I would read those scripts. You learn more from reading the great scripts and that helps you write. Go to the AFI list and watch them all!

Good advice to me. Here’s the link to the AFI directory…no excuse people.

AFI Top Film Lists

Hitchcock is out in theatres now!