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British actor James D’Arcy plays “Psycho” legend Anthony Perkins in “Hitchcock”
British actor James D’Arcy, 37, looks uncannily like Anthony Perkins. In Fox Searchlight's shocking biopic “Hitchcock,” he sounds uncannily like him too.
Director Sacha Gervasi always suspected casting Anthony Perkins, the famously rangy, boyish actor who became indelibly associated with Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's “Psycho” – would be challenging. Then, out of the blue, James D’Arcy called him up. “D’Arcy is a friend of mine for years and I’d forgotten that, physically, he could be perfect for Perkins. He said, ‘you’re doing this Hitchcock thing, what about me?’ He came in and gave the most mind-blowing audition,” recalls Gervasi.
D’Arcy, whose recent films include “W.E.” and “Cloud Atlas” says that for Perkins, “Psycho” was a kind of gift he’d been waiting for his whole career. “I think it was a huge break for Anthony Perkins,” he observes. “Actors were lining up to work with Hitchcock at this point. At the same time, the studios were trying to position Perkins as a kind of young James Dean which he didn’t fit into terribly easily. He was more gangly and gawky and kind of childlike and he didn’t have that sort of masculinity that Montgomery Clift or Brando and all those guys had and actually, I think ultimately, that was sort of the reason that we only really know him for `Psycho' -- because he was never truly accepted by American audiences beyond `Psycho.'”
Q: You do have a remarkable physical resemblance to Anthony Perkins. The film’s producers recalled that as soon as you walked in, they said, "Holy crap, let’s hope he can act”.
James D'Arcy: 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. Thank God it wasn’t in a "that's the worst acting I've ever seen in my life" kind of way. [Launches 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”.
Q: How was it for you to go back and study this role and film?
D'Arcy: 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 “Psycho” so shocking. This was the first time anybody had done that. Now we're so expectant of that kind of thing, you can't even do it anymore.
Q: What did you think of “Psycho” the first time you saw it?
D'Arcy: 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 forced 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’.”
Q: It still affects you that much?
D'Arcy: 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 spun around in the chair. I remember that was one of the most frightening things I'd ever seen.
Q: So you didn’t know the ending before you saw it?
D'Arcy: 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 funnily enough, we sort of almost recreated that scene when we were doing this film. There was 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.
Q: And you/Anthony Perkins are not part of the shower scene.
D'Arcy: We’re not. That's one of the little tidbits. Tony Perkins was in New York doing a play while they were filming the shower scene.
Q: Was it intimidating working with iconic Oscar-winners Hopkins and Mirren, or do you quickly get past that?
D'Arcy: Anthony Hopkins is covered in prosthetics, so he doesn't even look like himself. But you know, I had a really great time with him when I first met him and that never really went away. Helen's really fantastic and approachable.
Q: Why do you think people are still so interested in Alfred Hitchcock?
D'Arcy: I think there is an enduring fascination with Hitchcock for people who love cinema, and even for people who don't love cinema. He has framed so much of what filmmakers do, what they believe instinctively and, in fact, it's because we're conditioned through his films.
Q: Do you approach playing a real person differently than playing a fictional character?
D'Arcy: I've done it before [in “W.E.”] and I think the trick is you have to make it your own. Look at Helen Mirren, as Queen Elizabeth, playing someone who's still alive. And whilst you are very clear in your mind that it's the queen, you quite quickly feel that you aren't watching exactly the queen, but a dramatization of her. And so it is here. I feel like Michael Sheen's been a huge proponent of playing people who are real, and has sort of blazed a nice trail of how you can do it and it feels authentic and it's not disrespectful. Yet you don't actually have to do an impression. That would be ridiculous.