Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock
Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock

When it opens Nov. 23, Fox Searchlight’s “Hitchcock,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, will join a ‘frenzy,’ if you will, of new attention focused on the British master of suspense, including the HBO/BBC co-production “The Girl” and a year-long London celebration by the British Film Institute of Hitchcock’s entire oeuvre going back to the silent film era.

The world premiere of “Hitchcock” has also been chosen to open the AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles on Nov. 1.
But it’s not as if everyone rushed in at once --  the Fox project, which features Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and re-creates the famous shower scene in “Psycho” – has been in the works for more than ten years, its producers told us during a visit to the set.

Hopkins plays Hitchcock at 60, and Mirren is his wife, Alma Reville, in a feature that focuses on their love story at a time when Hitch is confronting some of his darker impulses – while also mortgaging their house to finance “Psycho,” a controversial project that Paramount refused to back.

Scarlet Johannson as Janet Leigh in 'Hitchcock'
Fox Searchlight Scarlet Johannson as Janet Leigh in 'Hitchcock'

After optioning the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” by Stephen Rebello, producers Tom Thayer and Alan Barnette say they “knocked on every door in Hollywood, and met with more than 25 directors,” including Steven Spielberg and Stephen Frears.  After many peaks and valleys, the break finally came when Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollock's Montecito Films got involved and hired Sacha Gervasi (“Anvil! The Story of Anvil”) to direct.

Gervasi wanted to express Hitch’s morbid voyeurism via a fascination with the deeds of Ed Gein, the real-life killer who inspired the cross-dressing protagonist of “Psycho.”  He has Hitch engage in imaginary dialogues with Gein in the film. “We explore the darker recesses of his mind,” said Gervasi during a break from filming last May.  “There was an immense amount of psychological stuff he’s repressed that he was working out in his films.”

Hitchcock also sought to reinvent himself at a time when he worried he was losing his relevance and edge, explained Gervasi.  “’Psycho’ was seen as this pulpy, trashy drive-in material, and people thought Hitchcock was debasing himself, but that’s what intrigued him,” said the British-born filmmaker. “He thought if you elevated the genre, you could do something interesting, and he was daring himself to take risks again.”