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There's One Thing Alfred Hitchcock Never Let His Actors Do On Screen

The "Master of Suspense," Alfred Hitchcock, was firmly in charge of each of his productions, and he sometimes tormented performers, especially if he thought it was necessary for the film. During production of "The Birds," poor Tippi Hedren spent days having actual live birds thrown at her body for the climactic sequence (via The Guardian). After Hitchcock did some fake stabbing himself to get the correct fearful reaction from actress Janet Leigh in the "Psycho" shower scene, she was petrified (via Screenwriting in LA).

He famously told fellow director Francois Truffaut, "Actors are cattle," but Hitchcock may have been exaggerating his actual feelings. Documentarian Kent Jones pointed out to The Guardian that Hitchcock often had strong collaborations with actors, such as his partnership with Jimmy Stewart on "Rear Window," "Rope," and "Vertigo." Some thespians, such as Hedren, eventually hated working with him, while others like Grace Kelly and Bruce Dern, enjoyed their time on set with the director.

Hitchcock wasn't a tyrannical auteur all of the time, but there was one thing he didn't let his actors do on the screen.

Hitchcock didn't usually let actors improvise

During Alfred Hitchcock's conversations with Francois Truffaut, the younger director revealed that he had allowed all three actors to improvise one of the scenes in his movie "Jules & Jim." Hitchcock was surprised by this because he just couldn't imagine letting actors have so much control over the material they were filming. Later in 1969, he also joked to The Montreal Gazette (via The Hitchcock Zone wiki), "When an actor attempts to change his lines or to direct a scene I tell him to do whatever he wants. There's always a cutting room." His films relied so strongly on precise, fluid camera work that loose rules about dialogue and movement didn't fit the director at all.

This doesn't mean all improvisational material was left behind. On the "Notorious" set, Hitchcock surprised his collaborators when he accepted notes from star Ingrid Bergman on her scenes (via Vulture). And when Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins filmed "Psycho," they were allowed to come up with actions that suited the characters, as long as the camera didn't have to be moved. Perkins even came up with the idea that his character, Norman Bates, would always be eating candy corn on screen (via Bradenton Herald). "Hitch," as he was nicknamed, was always in charge, but he didn't always have to be in total control of everything either.