Aug. 2, 2012 at 8:15 AM ET
Tippi Hedren spoke Wednesday about rampant sexual harassment by Alfred Hitchcock nearly half a century ago, during the making of "The Birds" and "Marnie."
"I think he was an extremely sad character," she said during a panel discussion of HBO's upcoming "The Girl," which recounts her troubled relationship with the director. "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."
She was one of those people, she said.
Hedren, now a glowing 82, was a model in her early 30s when Hitchcock hired her for "The Birds." Although there were times of "delight and joy" as Hitchcock personally coached her on her acting, there were other times when he treated her horribly.
Those events form the spine of director Julian Jarrold's "The Girl," which will air in October and stars Sienna Miller as Hedren and Toby Jones as the master of suspense. Jarrold and his stars spoke at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.
"The Girl" shows Hitchcock aggressively forcing a kiss on Hedren in the back seat of a car during the filming of "The Birds," and later demanding that she "make yourself available to me sexually." The film also suggests that Hitchcock punished her for rejecting his advances. In one scene, he sends a prop bird crashing through phone booth glass without warning her. Another sequence shows him forcing her to work with live birds for five days for the film's attic scene. Hedren suffered multiple cuts, including to her face, in both cases, according to the film.
Hedren couldn't escape Hitchcock's control because she was under contract, and the director refused to let her work for others once she refused to work with him again after "Marnie." There were no laws in place to protect women from such harassment.
Still, Hedren said Wednesday, she "lived through it beautifully."
"He ruined my career but he didn't ruin my life," she said. "If this had happened today I would be a very rich woman."
The film offers a rare look into the mind of one of Hitchcock's cool blondes. Hedren said her daughter, Melanie Griffith, was unaware of what she went through.
After she saw the film, Hedren said, Griffith "jumped up and said, 'Now I have to go back into therapy.'" (The young Griffith is briefly portrayed in the film.)
Miller said she has never suffered the kind of abuse from a director that Hedren described from Hitchcock.
"I think it's a very different world for women in film today than it was for women then," Miller said.
The film is based on the book "Spellbound by Beauty," by Donald Spoto. Screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes interviewed several people familiar with the Hitchcock-Hedren dynamic, including costume supervisor Rita Riggs, "Marnie" actress Diane Baker, and Hitchcock's first assistant director Jim Brown, who is prominently portrayed in "The Girl."
All helped shape her image of a cruel and despicable but also rather pathetic Hitchcock. In one scene, he drunkenly confesses his insecurities to Brown about his looks and weight.
Jarrold said Hitchcock's survivors, including his daughter, have not objected to the film -- but also haven't seen it.
Hedren, now an animal activist who maintains the Shambala Preserve wildlife sanctuary, believes she is one of many actresses harassed by the cinematic legend.
After "Psycho," she said, actress Vera Miles refused to ever work with the director again. Hedren also said Suzanne Pleshette told her during "The Birds" filming, "It isn't always like this."
Hedren says she knows "Vertigo" star Kim Novak, but the actress has "never said a word about anything wrong."
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