Q&A with BBC's Hitchcock Toby Jones

First Light ambassador Toby Jones is starring alongside Sienna Miller in the new BBC Drama The Girl.

Toby Jones will play Alfred Hitchcock in a film which, for the first time, will tell the full story of his obsessive relationship with Tippi Hedren played by Sienna Miller.

“This wonderful film is a riveting psychological portrait of Alfred Hitchcock’s obsession with Tippi Hedron, and in Toby Jones and Sienna Miller we have dream casting to bring this to life with glorious veracity.” Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning

Toby has also recently had roles in widely acclaimed The Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He is also well known as the voice of Dobby in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Toby spoke to Second Light trainee Sadiq Miah:

1. What was it like playing Alfred Hitchcock? Did you feel under pressure to do him justice?

Playing anyone that is as iconic as Hitchcock is a complicated process as on the one hand it’s a great honour but on the other it comes with huge responsibility. I initially thought he was much taller than me but it turns out he was only an inch taller so the height wasn’t an issue. However the weight was a big issue as Hitchcock’s fluctuated a lot during his life and in the period of the Birds 1961 he was very large. I was concerned with that as it made playing the role involve a lot of prosthetics.

2. You had to undergo a physical transformation for the role, with the help of prosthetics. What was your experience with this; did the prosthetics make life difficult?

Every day I had to undergo wearing a lot of prosthetic makeup. Due to Hitchcock’s appearance at the time I had to wear a very heavy fat suit with all the additional makeup such as false nose. This isn’t normally an issue, but I was in almost every scene , wearing it for long periods of time. The practicalities are a little off-putting as when you sweat it starts to melt the glue, this was made worse as we were shooting in Cape Town where it was very hot. So all-day you are having prosthetics adjusted. I could talk about the prosthetics throughout the entire interview it’s a very interesting subject.

There’s a fab time lapse video of Toby undergoing the transformation here

3. CGI or prosthetics? Do you have a preference?
Once you have prosthetics on its a bit like having a mask, so instantly you have more control over it whilst filming, whereas CGI is all done in post production when you’ve said goodbye to the film in reality. So in the sense of having control over the body and face I’d say I’d prefer the prosthetics even with all the negatives.

4. The BFI have recently restored some of Hitchcock’s surviving silent films; have you seen any of them?

Unfortunately I have been away from England so I haven’t managed to catch any just yet, a few friends of mine did suggest we go see the The Lodger one of Hitchcock’s first films which we will see together. I personally will hopefully be seeing North by Northwest very soon which I am very much looking forward to.

5. You play quite a variety of roles, what is it that entices you to a particular role?

It’s probably the variety of roles I do that keeps me interested and I like to defy anyone that wants to say what kind of actor I am or what sort of roles I can do. The interest I have is trying to broaden the range of parts I can play and to transform, I feel lucky that I’ve had such a range of roles so any parts that offer transforming possibility I’m attracted to.

6. What’s your favorite film to have worked on and why?

It’s a tricky question because when you’re playing lead parts your involvement with the film is very much different than if you’re playing a supporting part. If you’re playing a lead part you’re very much collaborating with the director all day every day, and your relationship with the film is total. With supporting roles your going in for little periods over a space of time, it’s a different kind of engagement with the film, it’s the same kind of commitment but a slightly different experience. I have enjoyed playing lead parts such as in Barbarian Sound Studio or The Girl as Hitchcock, but I certainly do love dropping in on films, it’s a different kind of work as you have to make an impact in a smaller space of time.

7. What inspired you to become an actor, and do you have any advice or tips for young people getting into TV and film production?

There are no simple solutions to this. I went to into acting from theatre. After graduating I went to Paris to study theatre and then I came back and starting to write my own plays. After this it lead onto other peoples plays and then casting directors saw me. It’s difficult to say what my big break was, it’s very hard to know that as you’re very grateful just to get work and you don’t know where your break is going to come from. The best advice is to engage in life in general, not just in acting, get involved in the world and observe it. Keep the acting going but try not to place all your eggs in one basket. It’s very important when you’re young not to think it’s all about a big break. It’s going to be a journey, a journey onto a long career.

8. Are you a fan of Hitchcock’s films? Do you have a favourite and why?

I have always been a massive fan of Hitchcock, anyone that has a interest in film would find it hard not to. Hitchcock invented a language to talk about suspense and cinema in general. My favourite Hitchcock film would be Psycho which I first saw as a teenager. To this very day it still has the ability to scare me. There are other Hitchcock films that I also love such as Strangers on a Train ; the famous shot of a still figure in a crowd of people watching a tennis match with heads turning from right to left. I love that. In addition, Hitchcock’s early black and white films like The Lady Vanishes are brilliant.

9. As audiences are probably more familiar with Hitchcock’s work, rather than his personality, did you discover anything unexpected when researching the role?

The main premise of the story for The Girl came from Tippi Hedren, who told us that she was very surprised to be given the role in The Birds. She was very inexperienced at the time and was thrilled to get the part. I knew that Hitchcock used real birds to attack her in one of the climatic sequences of the film. What I didn’t know is the way he became very obsessed with Tippi over the course of the filming. His obsession became such that he started bullying her in various different ways, he became totally angered and frustrated by her for whatever reason, and we had to discover this whilst we played it. This was all new to me. I didn’t know that he had tied birds to her costume and ordered birds to be thrown at her on set, he also jumped on her in the back of a limousine. Even after the film he made her life a living misery.

10. We’ve read that you spent 3 hours each day being made in with various prosthetics, does this help with getting into character for a role or is it distracting?

It certainly creates a different working style, as I couldn’t move for long periods of time every morning before shoots. This certainly helps focus and give a chance to think about the days work, it proved to be very useful time. Yes, it’s a bit long but it was useful to think about what I personally wanted to achieve. It gave Julian the director and I chance to plan and think about the script and what we wanted to show, so it was useful but honestly quite long.

11. Was Tippi Hedren around during filming? How useful was her collaboration with the project?

She wasn’t on set, however Sienna Miller and the screen writer did visit her and talk a lot about the events that are in the script, which did build a clearer, more detailed picture. One must be careful as when people remember things it can change, as we abbreviate the past we essentialise it. It’s often quite hard to get a full picture of what was going on, but one has to be curious as we have Tippi’s point of view but we don’t have Hitchcock’s.

Interview conducted by Sadiq Miah, who has participated in various Second Light Labs. Sadiq is the director of Future Voices International, a pioneering grassroots level project enabling under-served invisible communities the chance to be heard. Sadiq’s focus is people; and has been improving social cohesion through expressive media in segregated communities in South America and Asia.