Hitchcock opens in cinemas today and though the title suggests it’s all about the man himself (and it is mostly), it also examines the relationship between Alfred and his wife Alma, played perfectly by Helen Mirren and a role which has seen her secure best actress nominations at the Golden Globes, SAG and BAFTA awards.
Defined not only by his incredible movie-making skills but also by the way he treated the women in his life, it was up to award-winning costume designer Julie Weiss to recreate the iconic image of such a domineering man and his leading ladies. Grazia Daily was lucky enough to speak to her to find out exactly how she made it happen…
Grazia Daily: Define what makes a ‘Hitchcock heroine’
Julie Weiss: It’s almost impossible to think on one of Hitchcock’s leading ladies without thinking about the man behind them. You remember the glamour, the beauty but also the control of Hitchcock. You are always seeing both, the actresses and Hitchcock.
Grazia Daily: How did you conduct your research?
Julie Weiss: The research came from everywhere really. The stories, the photos; obviously all the books are available, they are wonderful books. We must remember this is a black and white movie, and our memories are in black and white and somehow we colour correct our own memories. In Janet Leigh’s book she talks about Marion Crane’s dress being blue and we were able to find these in the archives at Universal. I was lucky enough to be able to look at it.
Grazia Daily: Where did you source the costumes from?
Julie Weiss: They came from everywhere. I designed some, made some, and found some. My family and friends go to their closets and find things for me too and yes, I do return them!
Grazia Daily: Were you able to use anything from Psycho?
Julie Weiss: No, that was never part of it. You are dealing with a memory and that was quite a few years ago.
Grazia Daily: Did you work with each actress as you were creating their look? Did they have much input?
Julie Weiss: As a costume designer, I have no desire to work alone. I want to be part of something so in order for those costumes to work they have to belong to the actor and the character. You have to know the actor as you make the costume. You have to watch them walk and learn who they are. I think each actor has their own story and level of strength.
Grazia Daily: What was the most interesting thing you learnt while working on this movie?
Julie Weiss: One of the interesting things about working on something about Hitchcock is that when you think about Alfred Hitchcock you think about his movies and how he is always there. You remember who he is and the profile. Hitchcock scared us in a stylistic way and yet those acts of care can’t match what we see in our newspapers everyday today. I think that’s why he stays so prominent in films, because he keeps us with the past. What we’re looking at gave us permission to be frightened. He was the narrator, the story teller, the strength. Even when he wasn’t in shot, he was still there; he was a man of complete control.
Grazia Daily: The colour red was prominent throughout. What was the thinking behind this?
Julie Weiss: Well, I think what’s really important is that when you’re dealing with an actor with a level of talent like Helen Mirren, it suddenly takes on many different definitions. You see her in a red suit walking into a studio taking over, you see her in a red bathing suit and get a different view of her and then in a restaurant in a red dress where she and Hitchcock are dining. We were able to use the colour red to see how she feels. It’s a colour that is never competitive with an actor of that stature and that’s a designer’s dream. I think it’s a colour that is already there in the script, and other times that when you’re in a sitting room and you put something on an actor and they look in the mirror and they realise in that moment, that bridge is there between actor and character. You never work alone. It was about creating those moments that were never written; moments that were lived.
Grazia Daily: How did you go about creating the 50’s silhouette?
Julie Weiss: You start from the inside out and have to have the right undergarments. You choose the correct shoes in which the actor knows how to walk and also for them to have the idea of what the figure was supposed to look like.
Grazia Daily: How involved are you with hair and make-up?
Julie Weiss: We all work together, you have to! Everyone did. We were always welcome in each other’s trailers.
Grazia Daily: You’ve worked with Scarlett Johannson since, haven’t you?
Julie Weiss: Yes, when Hitchcock finished, I wished we were still filming and I was lucky enough that Scarlett introduced me to the director of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof [Scarlett is currently in the broadway play].
Hitchcock is in cinemas nationwide now