Screens & Culture
A Q&A with director Sacha Gervasi
Published: December 5, 2012
For filmmaker Sacha Gervasi, reinvention has been both an inevitable professional trajectory and a personal test of will. For a brief while, the one-time assistant to British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes was a fill-in drummer for the '90s rock band Bush. Then, in the mid-'90s, he decided to attend UCLA's film school, earning a living as a journalist. This eventually led to a successful career in screenwriting, the highlight of which was penning Steven Spielberg's The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks.
In 2005, Gervasi self-funded his critically praised rockumentary Anvil: The Story Of Anvil. His shaggy dog doc went on to win numerous awards and was cited by Michael Moore as "the best documentary I've seen in years."
For his first narrative feature, Gervasi has aimed high, tackling one of the greatest directors in film history as his subject. The challenge? To get past the iconic filmmaker's well-constructed "Master Of Suspense" persona and reveal the man underneath.
Is there anything in Hitchcock's style or approach that you connected to or even tried to emulate?
For me there was a very personal connection into the story, which is that I mortgaged my house and spent all my own money to make Anvil: The Story Of Anvil. So, when I read the screenplay [for Hitchcock] it really appealed to me that this guy, at the very top of his game, was willing to financially risk everything to get to his audience and shock them. I felt like I had a small window into understanding how insane he must have been to make such a choice.
Do you think that branding, which could be cartoonish at times, ever undermined his reputation as an artist?
His reputation as an artist has certainly grown since his death. The critics loved him at first, then didn't. A lot of his films, including Vertigo by the way, were commercial and critical disasters when they came out. But now Vertigo is hailed as the greatest film of all time. Even Psycho was dismissed. I think Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it, "An awful blot on an otherwise honorable career." I think there were people who thought he was a great filmmaker but sometimes his choices were a bit slap-dash. I think he recognized that you can make a brilliant film but if no one sees it, who cares?
Much has recently been made of Hitchcock's attitude toward the women in his films. Your film touches on it but, obviously, has a different focus. Does it take anything away from an artist's achievements to recognize that he or she can have serious character flaws?
Yes, there are the stories about Tippi Hendren and The Birds. Those are well known. But Hitchcock also had some amazing relationships with his leading ladies. Whether it was Eva Marie Saint or Kim Novak, both of whom are still around. Janet Leigh expressed that her relationship with Hitchcock was incredibly warm, and right until her dying day she only had good things to say about him. So, whatever happened on The Birds was clearly not the entirety of what it was like to work with Hitchcock.