Sienna Miller on her flight from Hitchcock

The Hollywood actress discusses how she drew on her own traumas to play Tippi Hedren, a woman wooed and then broken by Alfred Hitchcock

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Sienna Miller on her flight from Hitchcock
Written By
Benji Wilson

For the past decade Sienna Miller has been trapped in the headlines, not so much for her films (Factory Girl, Layer Cake) but cast variously as Jude Law’s scorned fiancée, a paparazzi magnet, a cool fashion designer, a star in a reasonably priced car on Top Gear and a standard-bearer against press intrusion.

But now she is content as a new mother. “My life is really different: it’s much better,” says the actress of her latest role as mum to baby Marlowe, the daughter she had in July with her fiancé, actor Tom Sturridge.

“People told me not to have kids, but I think motherhood’s got a bad rep – I don’t feel compromised. In fact, I don’t want to be anywhere else except with her.”

When we first met, Miller was three months pregnant, and in the middle of a brutal shooting schedule for The Girl, which tells the story of Alfred Hitchcock’s obsession with Tippi Hedren, the model he cast in his 1963 film The Birds after seeing her in a TV commercial.

“I think he wanted to create his ideal blonde, his ideal woman,” says Miller. “He found this unknown so that he could mould her. Initially she trusted him. Then it started to get really weird.” Weird meant manipulative, lewd and, finally, vindictive.

For the famous scene in The Birds where Hedren’s character Melanie Daniels is attacked in an attic, Hitchcock had live birds wired into Hedren’s clothing. One of them gouged her cheek; Hitch had told her they would be using mechanical models. Hedren’s attic-scene ordeal lasted for five days.

For their next film, Marnie, Hitchcock insisted on a rape scene, against his producers’ advice. When she still rebuffed him, Hitchcock kept her under contract for a full seven years, but never cast her again, effectively ruining her career.

Tippi Hedren lives in California these days, running a sanctuary for big cats. Miller was summoned to meet her.

“I think she wanted to make sure that physically I fitted the mould. She said that a lot of actresses are so tall and athletic now – and I’m not athletic at all.

"And she was worried that an English person was playing her, until I said I’d played more Americans [Miller has an American father and dual nationality]. In the end she was happy that I was doing it. We’ve spoken on the phone a lot and she’s been great.”

While re-enacting the making of The Birds, Miller had to endure many of the things that Hedren did. “I did go through a bird attack for two hours. It pales in comparison to what she was subjected to, but it was pretty horrible. There were men in off-camera with boxes of birds, throwing seagulls and pigeons in my face.”

Hedren was in her early 30s when she made The Birds; Miller is 30; both started out as models and achieved fame in ways they never foresaw; and both found themselves at the mercy of controlling men.

In Miller’s case, it was photographers – she told the Leveson Inquiry that she was often pursued by ten to 15 of them, verbally abusing her and trying to get “an emotional reaction”. At the height of his obsession, Hitchcock paid henchmen to follow Hedren and report back.

Miller plays down the comparison, but appreciates Hedren’s ordeal. “Initially that kind of attention is very flattering. Then the next thing you know there are people following you and you’re being asked what you’re doing out with this person. Suddenly you’re into something you had no idea you were walking into, and it’s too late to get out.”

The Girl will be broadcast tonight at 9:00pm on BBC2

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