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Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): Inside Anthony Hopkins' 'Hitchcock' transformation

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Image Credit: Suzanne Tenner

In Hitchcock, normally thin actor Anthony Hopkins embodies the heavy paunch, jowls, and stature of “Master of Suspense” director Alfred Hitchcock through expert acting, but also expert prosthetics and Hitchcock’s signature black suit over a puffy full bodysuit since he didn’t want to gain weight for the film. Below, director Sacha Gervasi, makeup artist Howard Berger, and the film’s costume designer Julie Weiss tell how Hopkins was transformed. 

For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes) coverage

As told by: Sacha Gervasi, Howard Berger, and Julie Weiss

SACHA GERVASI: Anthony is very thin. He’s naturally very fit and strong and works out at a gym all the time. He’s 74, but kind of like a marathon runner. He made it clear he didn’t want to put on the weight and gain 70 pounds. It was not that hard for him, what it must have been like to be Alfred Hitchcock, to carry around this weight in his face. He felt like he was genuinely huge and fat. For Tony, putting on the costume, and the suit, allows him to step in and become the character. That’s a huge part of his process. Tony told me, “Once I stepped into his shoes, I felt like I walked in his shoes.”

We did prosthetic tests over a couple of months. At one point, Anthony looked exactly like Alfred Hitchcock, but Anthony Hopkins was buried underneath it. The last thing you want to do with a great actor like Anthony Hopkins is cover him in prosthetics, so the audience can’t connect with him. The testing process on camera was immensely helpful to us, to balance out everything. These types of movies, adult character films, even with the younger stars, are really hard to make these days. Had we lost four and a half hours to makeup each day, we wouldn’t have been able to make this challenging schedule. We didn’t want Anthony to impersonate Hitchcock. We wanted him to channel him. It’s a nice balance between the two.

HOWARD BERGER: The big thing is, it’s not a likeness makeup, it’s a portrait makeup. If the studio said, “We want an exact copy of Hitchcock on Anthony Hopkins,” I would say that can’t happen. I was doing makeup on one of the world’s most well known actors, Anthony Hopkins, as one of the world’s most well known directors, Alfred Hitchcock. I looked at Tony’s face, and Alfred Hitchcock’s face. Hitchcock is bald, with a round chubby face, and the pouty lips. When we first started designing the makeup, it was with a lower lip. Tony’s lips are very thin, and we were concerned we wouldn’t get the pout. We did a series of test makeups that included a lower lip. As Tony became more comfortable with the character, with the makeup, we started losing things. The first thing to go was the lip. He thought he could do the lip on his own.

The makeup consisted of a horse shoe wrap-around. That’s a jowl piece. It was the biggest silicone appliance we had on Tony: the neck, chin, sides of face, and where the piece ended was right under Tony’s own cheekbones. I didn’t want to bring it all the way up into his crow’s feet or to his temples. We had a nose piece, the nose and nostrils. That’s the center of your face. It’s very distinguishable. We had earlobes. We had a thinning hair piece that went on top of Tony’s head. We shaved the whole top of Tony’s head every day, since he has a full head of hair. The hairdresser would glue that piece down. We put in brown contact lenses. Tony has those piercing blue eyes. At test four, Tony said, “We need brown lenses.” The lenses were custom-made to fit Tony and his specifications. We tested three different type of lenses: a light brown, a medium brown, and a dark brown. The dark brown made him look a bit souless, and the light brown had a hazel quality, so we went with the medium brown. It was an exact intensity.

As a makeup artist, I always bring a percentage of the character to the table, and the actor brings the rest. I was lucky to have an actor that brought 300 percent to the table. I wanted to have a mix of Hitchcock and Tony Hopkins. You forget you’re watching an actor wearing a makeup. You have to step back and pull the reigns on yourself. When makeups aren’t successful, the artist feels I want to cover the actor’s whole face. You have to put your ego aside.

It was a full suit he would get into: The arms have to be the right dimension, the legs, the hips, the rear. Julie made a great under-suit. Then the clothes were fitted over that. Julie has a great eye for stuff. It added that much to the character. It’s way more than just the stomach. There’s a lot of anatomy that has to be recreated. It took an hour and a half to do his makeup. It was very fast. We’re dealing with an actor who’s 74-years-old and in every scene, so it couldn’t be longer than that. It made him very happy, it made the studio very happy, and it made the director very happy.

JULIE WEISS: We always remember Hitchcock in a black suit. The black suit was his signature. In this particular script, in the way it was defined, Hitchcock was our consistent figure. It was also about his relationship with his wife Alma, and moments directing Psycho. The padding is something that will hopefully not be noticed. Once Hopkins dressed as Hitchcock and came out of his dressing room, you believed he was Hitchcock. It wasn’t until he went home in the evening that you remembered he was Anthony Hopkins. I am a heavy person myself. And to have Hopkins understand that, without anyone showing him, shows that he has been nondiscriminatory in his life — the fact that he portrayed a man who has directed some of the most beautiful women in the world, with grace.

There’s a photo of Hitchcock dancing, very light on his feet. Hitchcock also had a peephole in his office. He would watch people the same way he saw through a camera. The way he saw things, and his demeanor — no matter how he directed, he would still be someone outside the circle, watching, filming, bringing something on the inside. You remember him physically, and his voice, and all the movies he did. For someone like myself, to stand on that set, to realize he has become the Hitchcock of Hopkins and Sacha, that’s why I’m in this business. [Hopkins] didn’t collide, he merged. You would see an actor become one.

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