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Role: Henry Howell
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James D’Arcy Talks Anthony Perkins, Norman Bates, and Hitchcock
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Hitchcock, the critically acclaimed biopic on the master of suspense is now available on Blu-ray. Directed by Sacha Gervasi (Anvil! the Story of Anvil), the movie deliciously delves into the behind-the-scenes drama that went into the making of Hitchcock's seminial classic Psycho. We recently caught up with actor James D'Arcy, who takes on the guise of Alfred's leading man Anthony Perkins and the persona of Norman Bates, for a quick chat about this provocative and insightful bit of cinematic history. How many layers are there to Norman Bates and his alter ego Anthony Perkins? Here is our conversation.
Did it make more sense to look at Anthony Perkins' work before Psycho to get an understanding of him as an actor? Since you would both be at that point in life where you are coming to the character of Norman Bates for the first time?
James D'Arcy: Yeah. I didn't really watch a lot of Psycho. I watched The Trial, I watched Goodbye Again. I found some interviews online of him. Most of the time, they were from the 80s, when his voice sounded different. There wasn't too much from the 50s, and they were all in French. That was a bit tricky. I watched some of Psycho, again. I didn't watch all of it. I have only seen Psycho all the way through once. I'm too much of a scaredy cat. I do what I'm supposed to do. I'm afraid I couldn't quite bring myself to watch the whole thing.
It just seems like it would make sense to get more of an understanding of Anthony before he entered into that production.
James D'Arcy: I read a biography of his called Split Image, which I read pretty keenly, up until the bit where he did Psycho, and then I stopped reading. That didn't have any value, as it were. You go where you can, and get what information you can, wherever you can get it. You know? He had a very particular way of moving, and a very particular way of speaking. Which could alter dramatically from his movies. From my perspective, that was really helpful. There was a consistency there. After that, I tried to be honest. It's not an impression. I wanted to be respectful of him as a human being.
This was Sacha Gervasi's first feature narrative film after having directed the popular documentary Anvil. What was it like working alongside him on his first big movie?
James D'Arcy: I absolutely loved working with him. He was just great. He was so enthusiastic. I have actually known him for a very long time. We've been friends for a number of years. He's got a very infectious enthusiasm as a person, anyway. I didn't know if that's how it would translate to how he was on set. And I was absolutely thrilled to discover that it was. We had a really good time. He makes the set a very fun place to be. I don't have enough good things to say about Sacha.
Did having known him prior to the making of the movie help in landing this role? Or was it one of those instances where you got the role, and then discovered that your old friend was also working on it?
James D'Arcy: No, it didn't help me get the role at all. I know for a fact, it really didn't help me. Because we'd been friends for so long, he really didn't see me as an actor. Just as his friend. In fact, I went in and auditioned. Anthony Hopkins was unbelievably supportive of me and the possibility of me playing that role. I think that helped enormously. Not that Sacha was against it in any way. It's just that his attention was placed elsewhere. It was a surprise to him that, oh, his friend might end up playing this part. I don't have the ins and outs of it, but I'm certainly not the only actor they met for it. And several of the actors were very namey. I hope that I was awarded the role by merit.
Its interesting to me that you've entered into the world of Hitchcock, and you're not a fan of horror. Since he was the premiere horror director of his time. What interested you about the project, since it wasn't the genre of Psycho itself?
James D'Arcy: Well, I'm in actor. Just because I'm not interested in watching horror movies doesn't mean I won't be in them. Beyond which, I don't know that Alfred Hitchcock was...Look, I know that Psycho is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, but I don't know that, when you think of Hitchcock, that you think of him as a horror director. I think of him more as a thriller director.
James D'Arcy: Yeah. Not straight up horror. He made that one film, and even that could be seen as more of a psychological thriller than a horror, to be honest. This film is its own beast. Its much more lighthearted, and it thumps along, and its got that Danny Elfman score, right from the first scene, you know you are watching something that has its tongue in its cheek. You know? But anyway, that is by the by. I have no problem being in a horror movie. I just don't want to watch them. They are not my favorite. I think that's okay...Isn't it?
Maybe its better that way. If you aren't familiar with the horror tropes and stereotypes, maybe you won't fall into those same traps. I would think it allows you to come at it with a fresh perspective.
James D'Arcy: Right. Maybe it's less likely to slip into the clichés of the genre. I just don't know. I just don't watch them. (Laughs) Hitchcock isn't a horror movie. It's almost more of a comedy. I have done a few. I've done a couple.
Now, what was it like being on set with Anthony Hopkins when he is immersed in these prosthetics, and he is embodying this legendary man? Does he completely disappear. Do you feel like you actually interacted with Hitchcock? Or does he never allow himself to go that far?
James D'Arcy: It was great. Whatever potential intimidation I might have felt by working with Anthony Hopkins completely disappeared. Because he didn't look like Anthony Hopkins. And he didn't sound like Anthony Hopkins. So it was easy to forget it was Anthony Hopkins. We got along great. He is the sweetest person on earth. I was absolutely thrilled to be on a film set with him.
Do we get to see any extra stuff of you as Anthony Perkins on the Blu-ray?
James D'Arcy: I don't know. I have no idea what else is on the DVD. Certainly, that interview segment that you see in the movie was a lot longer. I don't know if that stuff is on the DVD though, I have no idea. I don't think there is anything else on there. As I say, the interview sequence, it was significantly longer when we shot it. Maybe four or five minutes. Whether that's all on the DVD, I just don't know.