It’s been a while since we’ve seen British actress Sienna Miller on our screens – and December will mark her first appearance in a BBC drama when she takes the starring role in the new Hitchcock-based film, The Girl.
Penned by screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes and directed by Julian Jarrold, the drama follows American fashion model Tippi Hedren as she is plucked from relative obscurity by British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock to star in his movies The Birds and Marnie. But the director’s obsession with the beautiful young blonde soon swamps their professional relationship – and his unrequited love leaves their partnership in tatters.
Miller plays Hedren – alongside Toby Jones as Hitchcock, Imelda Staunton as his wife Alba and Downton Abbey actress Penelope Wilton as Hitchcock’s secretary, Peggy…
Sienna, this is your first BBC drama – what was it about The Girl that made you want to get involved?
The script was initially what attracted me to this project. It was brilliantly written by Gwyneth Hughes with fully-formed character and a fascinating story. It just seemed, within the script, that there was that kind of mounting tension that is so intriguing in his films and it was really apparent on the page.
Julian Jarrold is a brilliant director and I have seen a lot of his work and admired it for a long time, so to work with this script and this director was obviously very appealing. And then Toby Jones came on board, which obviously made it a no-brainer!
Did you meet with Tippi after taking on the role?
I think it is always a big responsibility when you are playing someone that existed, especially when they are still alive, as Tippi is. I went to Los Angeles, where she lives, and I met her and spent the day with her.
She has been really helpful and has been on the end of the phone and we have been emailing. She is very supportive of this story being told and she approves of me doing it, which is an immense relief!
What can you tell us about Tippi’s story?
Well, she was a model and a divorced single mother. She was 32 at the time of The Birds and is a very strong, independent, feisty woman. She found Hitchcock endearing and hilarious… he could be very charming and funny. In the 60s she was an unknown person suddenly flung into this world of movie stars and glamour. Things were wonderful and she felt very much part of Hitch’s family. Then I think gradually, as his obsession built, the relationship disintegrated.
I think she was very uncomfortable with his advances and his way of being. He would often tell really filthy limericks, which she didn’t particularly appreciate and there were several times when he made attempts to be romantic with her, which she brutally rebuffed.
I think it was probably that stoicism and her ability to kind of withstand his attentions that made him more obsessed with her. She dealt with a lot of difficult things, as you will see in the film, but she dealt with them with real grace and elegance.
So the film focuses on Hitchcock’s treatment of her?
It was a very interesting relationship… she was a divorced model who was kind of plucked from obscurity and put into these amazing films, and he became obsessed with her.
Hitchcock moulded her to be his creation of the perfect Hitchcock blonde. You see the build-up and the demise of that relationship. Tippi had signed a seven-year contract, and he held her to it even though they never worked together after Marnie.
You’re lining up alongside a pretty terrific cast – what was it like working with them?
The incredible Imelda Staunton plays Alma, Hitchcock’s wife. I think we are so lucky to have Imelda in that role because she is mind-blowingly brilliant. And Peggy, who was Hitchcock’s secretary, is played by Penelope Wilton, who is another extraordinary British actress.
I think for me what’s been so extraordinary about making this film is having the opportunity to work opposite Toby Jones and see his process. Toby is an expert at playing anyone and anything. He has really morphed into Alfred Hitchcock – who was an intriguing man in his own right. I think what Toby has really managed to capture is the humour and the sadness and the genius of the man. Although Hitchcock is not necessarily sympathetic in the film, I think it’s very fair, it’s balanced. You come out understanding both, which makes it wonderful. Toby is an amazing actor.
The Girl will be shown on BBC2 in December. Watch a clip featuring Sienna Miller and Toby Jones below: