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James D’Arcy, “Hitchcock” Star, On Anthony Perkins And Why “Psycho” Still Terrifies Him
If you're going to shoot a film about the making of "Psycho," you've got to have the perfect Anthony Perkins, and British actor James D'Arcy (of "Cloud Atlas") is a dead ringer for the late actor. In fact, as "Hitchcock" star Anthony Hopkins said during Perkins's audition, the resemblance was "uncanny."
During a set visit on the last day of shooting "Hichcock," D'Arcy told Moviefone about his unforgettable audition in which Hopkins literally fell out of his chair, and how much "Psycho" terrified him as a teen. In fact, he confessed the film still scares him: "I couldn't bring myself to watch it," he admitted of revisiting the movie's famous ending. Even so, it remains his favorite Hitchcock flick, as it does for so many movie fans.
How did this project come your way?
Actually I knew about it for a long time. I talked to Ryan Murphy about it five years ago when he was going to direct it. And then Sacha [Gervasi] got involved. He's a friend of mine, so as soon as I realized that Sacha was going to direct it, I thought, "Oh man, he's going to look at every other actor on the planet before he comes to me." He called me in and Hopkins came to the audition. I went in the room and Hopkins' reaction was so amazing that I feel like he really swayed everybody. He kept staring at me and telling the producer, "This is ridiculous. Why are we looking anywhere else?"
The producers said that as soon as you walked in, they thought, "Holy crap, I hope he can act."
Did they? That's funny. Sacha said, "Let's read a little bit." I had the first two lines of the scene and Hopkins fell off his chair laughing. I mean, not in a -- thank God -- "that's the worst acting I've ever seen in my life" kind of way. He gathered himself [launching into a Hopkins impersonation], "This is ridiculous. It's uncanny. Uncanny." So we start again and the same thing happens again, he falls off his chair, laughing. We did the scene and then we improvised for 10 minutes. I just thought, If I get the job, great. If I don't get the job, I'm sitting in a room, improvising with Anthony Hopkins for 10 minutes. It's amazing.
How did you approach playing Perkins? This role ended up defining him, although he didn't know it at the time.
There's a biography that I read -- I think there's only one -- "Split Image." And then I watched a lot of his films leading up to 1959. He was on a game show, where a celebrity signs in and you can't see who it is and then [the panel] asks them 20 questions and then they guess who it is. [Ed's note: It's "What's My line" from 1957.] I watched him doing that and then the only other interviews you can find of him around that time are in French. My French is okay but it's difficult. But in truth, I just watched "Psycho" a lot. He was so gangly and all arms and he seemed to have too many limbs. I'm sure it's why he never became a big star in America -- he just wasn't macho enough. And of course this role. I wouldn't say [it would've typecast him] had he made different choices in the next three years [after "Psycho"]. He fell in love, he went to Europe. They loved him in Europe. He was the highest paid actor in Europe for a good decade. He was really revered over there, but America just found his roles not manly enough.
I think when you see "Psycho" for the first time, it's surprising how subtle Perkins actually was. He's not a raving lunatic for the whole film.
I think to put it in the context of my film-watching career, I expect the nice guy to turn out to be a psychotic lunatic at the end. But nobody did in 1960, and that was what made it so shocking: that this is the first time anybody had done that. Now we're so expectant of that kind of thing, you can't even do it anymore.
What did you think of "Psycho" the first time you saw it?
I've only watched it one time. I've watched bits of it a lot. But I only watched the whole film once when I was 14. My friend was sitting on me, forcing me to watch it late at night. I was beyond terrified. I don't think I slept for the next four nights. So when this came around, at some point I thought, "Oh crap, I'm going to have to watch the film again." So I watched it up to a point and then I went [mimes switching off the remote] and then they all lived happily ever after. [Laughs]
It still affects you that much?
I couldn't bring myself to watch it! Maybe it isn't as terrifying as I remember it. The shower scene actually was not as bad as I remembered it. I just couldn't watch the end. I remember the bit where the mother's spun around in the chair. I remember that was one of the most frightening things I'd ever seen.
So you had no idea what happens in the film before you saw it? All these years after it was made, you were totally unspoiled?
The word "psycho" was in common parlance by the time I watched it, so I guess I knew that there was going to be a psychopathic lunatic on the loose somewhere. But the dead mother in the basement was a complete shock. That's what kept me up. So I didn't watch that scene [again]. But funny enough, we sort of almost recreated that scene when we were doing this, so there was in fact the dummy of the mother and I was standing there in the dress and the wig. It was a bit weird having a dress fitting done. That's a first. But you know, it was fun. The wig was really scratchy.
And you're not part of the shower scene.
I'm not. That's one of the little tidbits [about the history of the film]: Tony Perkins was in New York doing a play while they were filming the shower scene.
Is it hard working with two iconic Oscar winners or do you quickly get past that?
Tony is covered in prosthetics, so he doesn't even look like Tony. But you know, I had a really great time with him when I first met him and it never really went away. Helen's really fantastic and approachable.
Why do you think people are still so interested in Hitchcock?
I think there is an enduring fascination with Hitchcock for people who love cinema and even for people who don't love cinema. He was one of those names that transcended what he was that he did. He has framed so much of what filmmakers do, what they believe [they are doing] instinctively, and in fact, it's because we're conditioned through his films. When we were in the research period, they were screening "Foreign Correspondent." There's a plane crash in it and it's as good as anything you'd see now. It's really, really tense. You're on the edge of your seat.