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A Look At 'The Girl' Who Caught Hitchcock's Eye

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A Look At 'The Girl' Who Caught Hitchcock's Eye

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A Look At 'The Girl' Who Caught Hitchcock's Eye

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 movie "The Birds" is a terrifying story of a seaside town besieged by flocks of birds that viciously attack human beings. As in many Hitchcock movies, it stars a pretty girl who suffers. In that film, it was Tippi Hedren, playing the socialite Melanie Daniels. The making of "The Birds" is the subject of a new movie, airing tonight on HBO, called "The Girl." As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, the story is as haunting as one of Hitchcock's own movies.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Alfred Hitchcock once said, "Blondes make the best victims" - blondes like Grace Kelly, in his movie "Dial M for Murder."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DIAL M FOR MURDER")

BLAIR: Or Janet Leigh, in "Psycho."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PSYCHO")

BLAIR: Or Tippi Hedren, in "The Birds."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE BIRDS")

BLAIR: In one scene, she's brutally clawed and pecked - over and over again - by ravens and seagulls. In the HBO movie, Sienna Miller plays Tippi Hedren.

SIENNA MILLER: I mean, it's such an iconic, incredible film. I first saw it, I think, about seven years ago; and it was terrifying.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE BIRDS")

MILLER: Just the concept of something so mundane as a flock of birds turning against you, is - you know, just that it's such a simple idea and yet, you know, everytime we walk outside, we see birds. And it just stays with you forever.

BLAIR: The great Alfred Hitchcock was riding high in 1962. His most recent movie, "Psycho," had been nominated for four Oscars. He plucked Tippi Hedren from near-obscurity after spotting her on a TV commercial, and offered her the starring role in "The Birds."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE GIRL")

BLAIR: The HBO movie shows just how eager, and grateful, Hedren was - at first.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE GIRL")

BLAIR: Playing one of the most popular and eccentric movie directors of all time, was a daunting task for actor Toby Jones.

: You have to keep saying yes, it will be OK - even in the midst of extreme panic.

BLAIR: To prepare for the role, Toby Jones studied Alfred Hitchcock's voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BLAIR: In the fall of 1962, Hitchcock did an extended interview with French filmmaker Francois Truffaut.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

: This is Hitchcock very relaxed, and there's candor. Because we only know the public persona of someone, you're always after, well, what's it like when the mask slips?

BLAIR: And by most accounts, when Alfred Hitchcock's mask slipped, he could be controlling, self-loathing and abusive. In the HBO movie, he becomes obsessed with Hedren, and tries to mold her into the perfect blonde of his imagination - as screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes puts it. She based the script largely on Donald Spoto's biography of Alfred Hitchcock, and interviews with people who worked on "The Birds."

GWYNETH HUGHES: Really, life was imitating art, to a great degree, in this story and that - Tippi Hedren, in real life, was a Hitchcock blonde. And his growing interest in her, which became an obsession about her, was a very, very - the kind of thing that he might have made a film about, in a different universe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE GIRL")

BLAIR: When Tippi Hedren rebuffed Hitchcock's sexual advances, there were dire consequences for her career. But that's not the only way she suffered. In the famous scene where she's attacked in the attic, he used real birds instead of the mechanical ones he used for other scenes - this was before CGI. But he didn't tell her until just before the filming began. In 2010, Tippi Hedren told NPR what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR INTERVIEW)

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE BIRDS")

MILLER: She certainly could've lost an eye. I think, you know, a bird narrowly missed her eye.

BLAIR: Sienna Miller got to know Tippi Hedren, during the filming of "The Girl."

MILLER: She endured an awful lot. She was incredibly exhausted. She collapsed, actually, after the - after that scene, and slept for a week. And, you know, she really went through the mill.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE GIRL")

BLAIR: Had "The Birds" been made today, Tippi Hedren probably could have sued Alfred Hitchcock for what he put her through. Julian Jarrold directed "The Girl."

JULIAN JARROLD: He was obsessed by beauty and almost put her on a pedestal, like a goddess. But at the same time, he found some kind of beauty in the way that she was suffering. He was a very complex, strange guy. And there's a - I think there's a real mystery, at the heart of Hitchcock.

BLAIR: As for Tippi Hedren, she won a Golden Globe Award for "The Birds." She went on to star in Hitchcock's next film, "Marnie." She didn't want to work with him ever again. But he wouldn't release her from her contract, to let her work with anyone else. She recently said, "He ruined my career, but he didn't ruin my life."

"The Girl" premieres on HBO tonight. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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