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'Good Evening': 'Hitchcock' Opens AFI Film Fest to Awards Buzz

Sacha Gervasi's biopic on the famed director stars Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock.

Sacha Gervasi Hitchcock Premiere - P 2012
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Sacha Gervasi

Sacha Gervasi stood in front of the opening night audience at the AFI Fest at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and nervously told the crowd that he had just finished his film, Hitchcock, 20 minutes earlier.

“So if it seems as if it’s still wet, it is,” he joked.

The biopic about Alfred Hitchcock, which focuses on his relationship with his wife, Alma Reville, during the making of Psycho, was a fitting opener for the annual festival, which brings the best of awards season hopefuls to Hollywood.

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While the master of suspense never won on Oscar, he was given AFI’s highest honor, the Life Achievement Award, in 1979. So when Searchlight announced that it would open Hitchcock in theaters on Nov. 23, in time for awards consideration, the film – which stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as Alma -- became a perfect fit for the Opening Night Gala on Nov. 1.

Although Gervasi, who sat in the audience one year ago for the opening night premiere of Shame, would have never seen it all coming.

“If you had told me, ‘A year from now, you’ll open this festival with Hitchcock,’ it hadn’t even gotten a green light, I would not have believed you,” he told The Hollywood Reporter on the carpet before the event.

The film, based on Stephen Robello’s book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, features a powerful performance by Oscar winner Hopkins, who takes on both the physical attributes and particular verbal signature of the movie icon with ease and finesse. And while neither of the leads could attend the event (they’re shooting a film, Red 2, together in London), they did create an opening video message for the crowd.

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Gervasi told THR that Hopkins and Mirren were his only choices for the leads in the film, which is his first narrative feature.

“When I met with [producers] Tom Pollock and Ivan Reitman about the job, I said, ‘If you don’t get Anthony Hopkins, there’s no point in doing it,’” Gervasi told THR.

“He’s brilliant. He’s the best actor alive, I think,” he added. "He’s so experienced, so human, so flawed, so vulnerable and powerful as an actor. We couldn’t believe that he actually said yes.”

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But it was Mirren’s performance as the woman-behind-the-man that garnered the strongest applause during a scene when Alma gives a speech putting her overbearing husband in his place.

After the world premiere, awards buzz was already circulating about the performances of Mirren and Hopkins. Hitchcock could, in a way, give the late film director the awards love he never received himself.

“Well, it’s highly competitive,” Reitman told THR when asked about Hitchcock’s chances this awards season. “And we’re very proud of our film. It has wonderful emotional moments in it that make you cry and cheer and laugh, and those kinds of films tend to rise to the top when they’re good. And I think we’re good. So we’ll see what happens.”

AFI Fest 2012 runs Nov. 1 - 8 in Los Angeles.

Hitchcock will open in theaters on Nov. 23.

Email: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com; Twitter: @Beccamford