Tippi Heddren: The Birds the Start of Career Swan Dive Thanks to Alfred Hitchcock

Aug 03, 2012 07:57 PM EDT | Brian Brennan

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Actress Tippi Hedren has weighed in on what it was like to work for legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, describing him as a controlling and vindictive predator who destroyed her career.

The actress, 82, starred in two Hitchcock films - 1963's The Birds and 1964's Marnie.

Her experience on the former film is the subject of a made-for-television movie, an HBO-BBC collaboration called The Girl.

According to Reuters, the movie portrays Hitchcock as punishing Hedren for not acceding to his sexual advances by forcing her to perform dangerous stunts on film. He sent a prop bird crashing through a glass phone booth in which she was standing, and had her work for five days with live birds in an attic scene when mechanical ones had been promised.

When she refused to work with him again after 1964's Marnie, he held her to a personal contract and refused to let her work for anyone else.

The Girl stars Sienna Miller as Hedren and Toby Jones as Hitchcock. It is directed by British director Julian Jerrold, who also directed Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane and helmed the 2008 remake of Brideshead Revisited.

The cast and crew were on hand for a panel discussion as part of the Television Critics Association's summer press tour, at which Hedren was quoted regarding Hitchcock.

"I think he was an extremely sad character," she said. "We are dealing with a brain here that was an unusual genius, and evil, and deviant, almost to the point of dangerous, because of the effect that he could have on people that were totally unsuspecting."

Other Hitchcock leading ladies were Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, and Janet Leigh. The director is well-known for preferring regal blond actresses, and for putting them through the paces during filming. He had Janet Leigh provide fleeting but shocking (for its day) nudity in 1960's Psycho, and her gory shower scene has become famous for its arduousness and the length of time (six days) it took to shoot. Leigh also spent much of her appearance in the film in a bra and half-slip discussing her love affair.

It was not uncommon for Hitchcock's female characters to be violated in some way.

In The Birds, Hedren plays Melanie Daniels, a spoiled, impetuous heiress who follows a man to the town of Bodega Bay, only to experience the town's mysterious attack by wild birds. Those familiar with the film will remember the two scenes referenced in The Girl's publicity: the scene in which Hedren's character attempts to take refuge from her winged attackers in a phone booth, and the scene in which she is pecked nearly to death in an attack.

In Marnie, Hedren plays the title character, a haunted, sexually frigid con-woman blackmailed into marriage with Sean Connery. Having been forced into consummating the marriage, she attempts suicide.  

Hedren's career had largely been confined to modeling when Hitchcock hired her; and her two films with him were the highest-profile roles of her career.

"He ruined my career but he didn't ruin my life," she says of him. "If this had happened today I would be a very rich woman."

Marnie was a critical and commercial flop, and Hedren's career did indeed stall. By the 1970s, she was appearing largely in low budget films and episodic television.

In 1981, she was involved in an even bigger flop than Marnie, when her passion for activism on behalf of animals led her to make the notorious Roar. She starred in the film with her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and her husband, Noel Marshall, who wrote the screenplay. Hedren and Marshall also produced the film, which cost $17 million to make and made just $2 million at the box office.

The pair later divorced.

In recent decades, Hedren has maintained a nature preserve and has had a few good roles come her way. She played a savvy abortion activist in the acclaimed comedy Citizen Ruth in 1996, and appeared alongside a prestigious cast in I Heart Huckabees in 2004.

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