Toby Jones on HBO’s The Girl

The acclaimed actor talks about playing Alfred Hitchcock in the story of his abusive relationship with actress Tippi Hedren.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

This weekend, HBO premieres The Girl, the story of Alfred Hitchcock and actress Tippi Hedren during the making of The Birds and Marnie. Hitchcock became obsessed with Hedren and even sexually assaulted her, according to the film and Hedren’s own accounts. 
The Girl is not to be confused with Hitchcock, which concerns the making of Psycho, out later this year. We got to speak with Jones after his panel for the Television Critics Association press tour.
CraveOnline: Do you see Hitchcock as a monster?
Toby Jones: Yes, he had a huge disproportionate amount of power over the people who worked for him and with him. Yes, he was a monster but he was very human in his foibles. There’s a certain pathos to him that is very human. His weaknesses were very human. 
CraveOnline: Were you aware of the Anthony Hopkins Hitchcock movie about the making of Psycho while you were playing him?
Toby Jones: I was, yeah. I think there was talk about it while we were making it. 
CraveOnline: What do you think about the different stories of Hitchcock coming out this year?
Toby Jones: Well, it’s the centenary so I imagine there’s always going to be stories and interest in Hitchcock. I think it will be, as always, interesting to compare different portrayals of Hitchcock. I’m very honored that I’m playing the same part as Anthony Hopkins.
I’m a much younger actor playing an older man so it’ll be interesting to see that. Unlike what happened with Truman Capote, it’s a different period. He’s dealing with Psycho and we’re dealing with the period after that so he’s dealing with Hitchcock at the height of his success and I’m sort of dealing with Hitchcock on the way down. 
CraveOnline: Hitchcock is such a character, one that he himself played. How did you find the balance of that familiar Hitchcock but also investing it with the emotions the story required?
Toby Jones: The thing about Hitchcock which is quite extraordinary for a director of that time, he had a very strong sense of his own image and publicizing himself. Just a very strong sense of himself as the character of Hitchcock.
And we’re all familiar with that, but of course any biopic is always going to be about the private person, and the private person’s relationship with the public person. So I had to have a very strong sense of pompous in order to show the private person. And here we see the private person beginning to crash through the public person. 
CraveOnline: What are your favorite Hitchcock films?
Toby Jones: I’d say Vertigo is the one that’s the most fascinating to me because it’s so mysterious and in a way our film is a bit like Vertigo. The one I find the most creepy would be Strangers on a Train. It’s fantastic.
CraveOnline: Is Marnie one of his more underrated movies?
Toby Jones: I find it to be one of the most interesting among the movies but I don’t think it’s one of the great movies. After having seen this film, it’s pretty fascinating to look at that because it’s pathologically interesting. 
CraveOnline: Did the makeup or suits make it come alive for you every day on the set?
Toby Jones: Probably the voice more than anything else.
CraveOnline: How did you nail that?
Toby Jones: Listen, listen, listen, listen, listen, listen all the time. And rhythm, trying to get his rhythm sorted out physically. It’s impossible for me to judge. It’s very hard for an actor to assess that stuff. 
CraveOnline: Did you speak to anyone, including Tippi Hedren, who worked with Hitchcock who gave you some keys to understanding him?
Toby Jones: No. I didn’t know anyone who knew him. I’ve subsequently met people who’ve said they met him, but I didn’t speak to anyone.
CraveOnline: What are the pitfalls you need to avoid in playing Hitchcock? People could be very judgmental of the performance because of how we all think we know Hitchcock.
Toby Jones: I think that’s true of any public figure. I think that we’re interested in Hitchcock and the only reason to make a biopic is if you’re going to have an opinion about what fueled him. I was absolutely terrified and anxious to play Alfred Hitchcock.
Of course I had no sense of what forces were generating this personality and I knew that I would have to plum that and come up with some ideas about it in addition to what Gwyneth [Hughes] suggested. There was a clash in my schedule with Snow White and the Huntsman and I was preparing to research him. I was kind of sweating every day that something was all off and I couldn’t do it.
CraveOnline: What conclusions did you come to about Hitchcock?
Toby Jones: I don’t think I came to any total diagnosis because I don’t think that’s my job to do that. I think I suppose the thing starts and ends always with the script. What works for the drama? You’re not writing a biography of Hitchcock’s whole personality but I think that it’s my job as an actor to sympathize with the character and to try and find that.
I think that he’s in control of everything at that point in his life, moviemaking, every aspect of moviemaking. He’s at the height of his fame after Psycho and then there’s something he can’t control, which is this woman who’s exercising some control over him, and I’m not sure that he has the internal resources to cope with that and I think that’s something everyone can relate to, the idea of an emotion that begins to have control over you.
Because control over such an important issue, you only need to look at his clothes, his uniform, the way he ordered his life, the way it became very systematic the way he operated, to know that control is crucial to him. 
CraveOnline: Have you ever been in Tippi Hedren’s situation as an actor with a director abusing their power?
Toby Jones: No. I think it’s a different era. I think there are stories of directors like that. I think the fact that there are stories now means that it’s very rare.
CraveOnline: You also did My Week with Marilyn. Why do you think the time is right for these behind the scenes Hollywood stories about these Hollywood icons we feel so familiar with?
Toby Jones: I don't know about that. Not just Hollywood but maybe to do with biopics in general, there seems to be a lot more of them being made. I think either way, you generate a lot of publicity through the fame of the person being dramatized. It automatically garners a public like a well-known book. That’s the best I can come up with. 
CraveOnline: You’ve been especially prolific in the last year and a half. Why is everything clicking for you right now?
Toby Jones: Oh, I don't know about that. If I started theorizing about that, I’d say something I’d regret because then I’d put a hex on it. Or also I’d see a pattern that isn’t there.