British actor James D’Arcy, 37, looks uncannily like Anthony Perkins. In ‘Hitchcock’, he sounds uncannily like him too. D’Arcy worked in the drama department of an Australian school. He fell so hard for acting he applied to drama school on returning to the UK, and subsequently graduated from the highly-regarded London Academy of Music and Drama (LAMDA).
His acting career quickly gained momentum with a series of TV roles including a 2002 stint as Sherlock Holmes long before Benedict Cumberbatch or Robert Downey Jr. had even considered the iconic character.
His many film roles of late have included 2003’s ‘Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World’ opposite Russell Crowe, 2011’s ‘W.E.’, directed by Madonna, in which he played King Edward VIII and last year’s ‘Cloud Atlas’.
How did this project come your way?
I knew about it for a long time. I talked to Ryan Murphy about it five years ago when he was going to direct it. And then Sacha [Gervasi, director] got involved. He's a friend of mine, so as soon as I realised that Sacha was going to direct it, I thought, "Oh man, he's going to look at every other actor on the planet before he comes to me”. But I got called in for an audition and Anthony Hopkins was there. I feel like he really swayed everybody because he just said: "This is ridiculous. Why are we looking anywhere else?"
You do have a remarkable physical resemblance to Anthony Perkins. The film’s producers recalled that as soon as you walked in, they said, "Holy crap, let’s hope he can act”.
Did they? That's funny. Sacha said, "Let's read a little bit”. I had the first two lines of the scene and Hopkins fell off his chair laughing. Thank God it wasn’t in a "that's the worst acting I've ever seen in my life" kind of way. [Launches into a Hopkins impersonation.] "This is ridiculous. It's uncanny. Uncanny." So we start again and the same thing happens again, he falls off his chair, laughing. We did the scene and then we improvised for 10 minutes. I just thought, “If I get the job, great. If I don't get the job, I'm sitting in a room, improvising with Anthony Hopkins for 10 minutes. It's amazing”.
How did you approach playing Perkins? This role ultimately defined him, although he didn't know it at the time.
There's a biography that I read, I think there's only one: ‘Split Image’. And then I watched a lot of his films leading up to 1959. He was on this game show, ‘What’s My Line?’ A celebrity signs in; you can't see who it is. The panel asks them 20 questions and then guesses who it is. I watched him doing that and then the only other interviews you can find of him around that time are in French. My French is okay but it's difficult. But in truth, I just watched ‘Psycho’ a lot. He was so gangly and all arms and he seemed to have too many limbs. I'm sure it's why he never became a big star in America - he just wasn't macho enough. After ‘Psycho’he might have made different choices but he fell in love, he went to Europe. They loved him in Europe. He was the highest paid actor in Europe for a good decade. He was really revered over there, but America just found his roles not manly enough.
Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johansson and James D'Arcy
How was it for you to go back and study this role and film?
I think, to put it in the context of my film-watching career, I expect the nice guy to turn out to be a psychotic lunatic at the end. But nobody did in 1960, and that was what made ‘Psycho’ so shocking. This was the first time anybody had done that. Now we're so expectant of that kind of thing, you can't even do it anymore.
What did you think of ‘Psycho’ the first time you saw it?
I've only watched it one time. I've watched bits of it a lot. But I only watched the whole film once when I was 14. My friend forced me to watch it late at night. I was beyond terrified. I don't think I slept for the next four nights. So when this came around, at some point I thought, "Oh crap, I'm going to have to watch the film again”. So I watched it up to a point and then I went [mimes switching off the remote], ‘And then they all lived happily ever after’.”
It still affects you that much?
I couldn't bring myself to watch it! Maybe it isn't as terrifying as I remember it. The shower scene actually was not as bad as I remembered it. I just couldn't watch the end. I remember the bit where the mother spun around in the chair. I remember that was one of the most frightening things I'd ever seen.
So you didn’t know the ending before you saw it?
The word ‘psycho’ was in common parlance by the time I watched it, so I guess I knew that there was going to be a psychopathic lunatic on the loose somewhere. But the dead mother in the basement was a complete shock. That's what kept me up. So I didn't watch that scene again. But funnily enough, we sort of almost recreated that scene when we were doing this film. There was the dummy of the mother and I was standing there in the dress and the wig. It was a bit weird having a dress-fitting done. That's a first. But you know, it was fun. The wig was really scratchy.
And you/Anthony Perkins are not part of the shower scene.
We’re not. That's one of the little tidbits. Tony Perkins was in New York doing a play while they were filming the shower scene.
Anthony Hopkins, Scarlett Johansson and James D'Arcy
Was it intimidating working with iconic Oscar-winners Hopkins and Mirren, or do you quickly get past that?
Tony is covered in prosthetics, so he doesn't even look like Tony. But you know, I had a really great time with him when I first met him and that never really went away. Helen's really fantastic and approachable.
Why do you think people are still so interested in Alfred Hitchcock?
I think there is an enduring fascination with Hitchcock for people who love cinema, and even for people who don't love cinema. He has framed so much of what filmmakers do, what they believe instinctively and, in fact, it's because we're conditioned through his films. When we were in the research period, they were screening ‘Foreign Correspondent’. There's a plane crash in it and it's as good as anything you'd see now. It’s really, really tense. You're on the edge of your seat.
Do you approach playing a real person differently than playing a fictional character?
I've done it before [in ‘W.E.’] and I think the trick is you have to make it your own. Look at Helen Mirren, as Queen Elizabeth, playing someone who's still alive. And whilst you are very clear in your mind that it's the queen, you quite quickly feel that you aren't watching exactly the queen, but a dramatization of her. And so it is here. I feel like Michael Sheen's been a huge proponent of playing people who are real, and has sort of blazed a nice trail of how you can do it and it feels authentic and it's not disrespectful. Yet you don't actually have to do an impression. That would be ridiculous.
What's your favourite Hitchcock film?
I'd say that ‘Psycho’ is the one that's had the strongest effect on me but Rear Window is pretty special.
What's your favourite on-set moment from the shoot?
The first time I saw Tony in the prosthetics was goose-bumpy. That was a pretty special moment. I kind of cartwheeled out of the building.