‘Hitchcock’ Actor Danny Huston On The Power of Good Movies

By  · Published on December 4th, 2012

As much as Hitchcock is a romantic bio film comedy, it’s also very much about the ups and downs of filmmaking. Hitchcock may act like a drama queen in the picture, but nearly anyone who’s picked up a camera or acted has gone through similar troubles. Speaking with actor Danny Huston, he confirmed that’s often the case.

The Hitchcock co-star, playing the director’s romantic rival, has faced the worry of one of his films never reaching an audience. He’s certainly been a part of movies which didn’t takeoff upon their release, but have been remembered more fondly later on than whatever movie opened #1 that weekend.

That’s how Huston sees it, who also discussed with us dealing with critics, seeing your work with an audience, and taking a shower with Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins:

The big scene in the movie that people talk about is when Hitchcock takes joy in seeing the audience respond to Psycho. For you, how important is it seeing a film with an audience?

You know, for me, it’s very important. There’s certain actors who don’t like seeing their work, become self-conscious, and don’t enjoy the experience. I love it, and it’s not out of ego or loving to watch myself [Laughs]. I divorce myself from myself, so I just see the film play. I started as a director, not an actor. I really had no intention of becoming an actor. For me, once I’m done with the characters I play they belong to the story and the film. I don’t really concern myself with myself anymore. I want to see how the film works. I’m very interested in an audience reaction, where they may chuckle or cry. I want to feel that pulse. I’m interested in getting back into directing again, so seeing how a film is edited, scored, and how it comes together is very important. To me, it’s extraordinary how different screenings, places, and countries create a different film with the reaction; it’s not always the same film. Like a good book you read a few years later, the experience can be completely different: you see new aspects. For me, that’s fascinating.

It’s funny, today Hitchcock might say, if a movie didn’t play, “It’ll find a life on DVD,” and you’ve had films like that, notably with Birth, Children of Men, and The Proposition. Is that still as satisfying, a movie finding an audience even if doesn’t in the theater?

Yes. You mentioned three films I’m extremely proud of, which are films that have, speaking with people, garnered a cult following. People remember them, and maybe more than the films which were released more successfully that weekend. The thing is, sometimes it’s short-sighted to judge a film by it’s first weekend, because films live on. It’s great to hear those films mentioned, and it made me happy just to hear you speak of them. They’re films that are close to my heart. They’re old friends, you know? They’re characters I’m fond of, so that means something to me. I’m always delighted to hear people bring them up.

I think Birth has really been gaining more fans over the years.

Right. It’s a quirky, strange, odd film, which was met with a little resistance at the time. Nicole Kidman had just won an Oscar, and there were certain expectations for the choice she was going to make. She made, God bless her, a dangerous choice about an uncomfortable, haunting subject. I think the reaction was mixed because of that. [Director] Jonathan Grazer is such a superb director. Every atom has to be in place for him; it’s very controlled. Many people mention that movie having a deep impact [on them]. Also, it’s a very mature film about grieving. You have to have life experience for…maybe not experience, but at least for loss, to connect to it.

Are you like the Hitchcock we see in the movie, who does put a lot of stock into what the critics say when the movie opens?

Yes, I do. This also relates to your first question about looking at the work, that I like knowing what other people think. I read reviews, and I get affected by them. They mean something to me. For a film which is more independent and requires attention for people to see it, if you get a bad review, your heart kind of sinks, going, “Oh no…” Sometimes they can be vicious, but sometimes they can be overly good. I think my father said, “You shouldn’t believe the bad reviews, because you can’t believe the good ones.” [Laughs] Maybe it was the other way around, but still… Basically, it’s something that has an impact.

Also, it is something you have to brush off. I remember the first movie I directed, called Mr. North, which my father executive produced, a review said, “John Huston passes on the baton to his son, Danny, who trips over and drops it.” [Laughs] I mean, like, ouch! They are important. I mean, the trade, Variety, and The Hollywood Report, what they say is very important if you don’t have distribution in place yet. They affect distributors. So much of that is the emperor’s robe’s syndrome, where everyone starts believing what everyone else says.

In that regard, I suppose, we are talking about Hitchcock, aren’t we? It’s remarkable how someone like Hitchcock had such a hard time getting Psycho made. After so many successes they were concerned it was too risky. They didn’t get it. It’s wonderful to think he was so connected with the artist within himself that he put himself on the line, that he had to struggle. In a way, that daring quality is what kept him so fresh and authentic as a filmmaker. Without risk, things become stagnate and too safe. You have to have some people not liking what you’re doing.

We only get hints of this in the film, but obviously Hitchcock could get intense with his actors. How do you work with directors like that?

I think sometimes the creative process is frustrating, and sometimes people don’t behave correctly because of that. I think of it as some kind of great, temperamental chef in the kitchen [Laughs]. Sometimes long ingredients will go into the soup, something will get knocked off the shelf, and a mistake will arise, but something good can come out of that. Sometimes it’s worthwhile shaking things about a little bit, to see what will come out. There’s been a lot been said about Hitchcock, whether he was good with his actors or not. I tend not to wholeheartedly believe that. The way he cast his films and the performance he got were so superb.

To give you a little anecdote [before you go], my favorite part in performing for this film was being in the shower sequence with Helen Mirren, having [Anthony] Hopkins attack me with a knife. I thought I had died and gone to heaven, being sandwiched between the two of them in the shower. It was too much fun for me.

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Hitchcock is now in theaters.

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.