Alfred Hitchcock created some of the most arresting images in film history. For this year’s Hollywood Portfolio, the heart of our 14th annual Hollywood Issue, 21 of the finest actors working today have joined with four regular Vanity Fair photographers to re-create 11 of Hitchcock’s most iconic scenes.
“What makes these scenes so impressive is that they don’t last long in the movies, but they have become classic,” says photographer Art Streiber, who shot two of the portfolio pictures. “They hold up 50, 60 years later, as stills, without dialogue. You know immediately what it is.”
One reason the images endure is that Hitchcock was such a stickler about getting things on set exactly the way he wanted them, and everybody working on the Vanity Fair shoots was mindful of making sure the details were correct this time, too. That wasn’t always easy. Given the lack of phone booths today, it was impossible to find one the right size for the picture inspired by The Birds (with Jodie Foster in the Tippi Hedren role). So senior photography and beauty editor SunHee Grinnell, who oversaw the portfolio, had a 1960s-vintage phone booth built for the occasion.
Getting the man-versus-biplane scene from North by Northwest right began with a suit. Knowing it was important to match the one worn by Cary Grant in the original, Grinnell handed the assignment to senior style editor Jessica Diehl, who styled all 11 photos. “I asked Jess, ‘Can you find out who made Cary Grant’s suit in that film?,’ and it turned out to be Norton & Sons, on Savile Row, which still exists,” Grinnell says. After a phone call to the London clothier, and a set of measurements for Seth Rogen, who took on the Cary Grant role, a replica was on its way. Meanwhile, Streiber found a piece of unplanted farmland northwest of Los Angeles, rented the right plane, and hired a pilot. Things got tricky when an official on the ground, charged with making sure no aviation regulations were violated, demanded that anyone within 500 feet of the plane be sent away. “There were farmworkers just north of where we were shooting,” Streiber says, “and we had to clear them out. Then we had to track down the owner and pay their salaries for the day.” The next challenge was Rogen. “We probably did a dozen passes where Seth was actually running,” Streiber says. “At each go he probably ran for about 20 yards at a full sprint, which is not something Seth Rogen does on a regular basis.”
The Lifeboat still was taken in the water tank of a Hollywood back lot. Contributing photographer Mark Seliger had a dock built so that he could lean in with his camera when the light was just right. “It was a perfect Hollywood moment,” Seliger says. “The weather was great, we were outdoors, and the water was controlled. Everything is perfectly orchestrated by Hitchcock, so my job was remarkably easy.”
The stars didn’t merely model, but engaged in some real acting. Especially notable was Renée Zellweger, who stood in for Kim Novak’s Vertigo heroine. “Renée was watching the scene over and over while getting her hair and makeup done,” says Grinnell, “and when she came on set she started breathing really hard, almost hyperventilating.” Says contributing photographer Norman Jean Roy, “She just absolutely exploded on the set and truly became that character like I’ve never seen before. We were in awe.”
Features editor Jane Sarkin had the grand task of figuring out which actors would not only be right for the parts but also give readers a Hollywood Who’s Who for 2008. The performers who were kind enough to take part include six Oscar winners: Zellweger, Foster, Charlize Theron, Gwyneth Paltrow, Julie Christie, and Eva Marie Saint. Other participants had breakout performances in 2007: Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), Tang Wei (Lust, Caution), Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma), Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Rogen (Knocked Up), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), James McAvoy (Atonement), and Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose). Still others have proved themselves masters of two domains, doing huge box office while pleasing critics: Naomi Watts (of Eastern Promises and the Ring movies) and Keira Knightley (of Atonement and the Pirates of the Caribbean series). There’s also a go-to character guy, Omar Metwally (so good in Munich), and two “actor’s actors”: Jennifer Jason Leigh and Robert Downey Jr. Throw in a talented beauty to rival any Hitchcock heroine—Scarlett Johansson—and you’ve got the entire, ridiculously star-studded cast.