Guest Blog: 'What Does it Take to Make Great Art?: Actor Joanna Vanderham on Playing Tippi Hedren and Hitchcock's Cruelty in DOUBLE FEATURE

'When I first read Double Feature, Tippi’s story felt like one I needed to tell.'

By: Feb. 09, 2024
Guest Blog: 'What Does it Take to Make Great Art?: Actor Joanna Vanderham on Playing Tippi Hedren and Hitchcock's Cruelty in DOUBLE FEATURE

When I was offered the role of Tippi Hedren in John Logan’s Double Feature, aside from delight, I felt quite a lot of pressure. She is a living icon.

Ms Hedren, now a spirited 94-year-old, shot to fame when she starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in 1962. But her relationship with the director was far from glamorous; it was fraught and complex. She has talked in her memoir and in interviews about how ‘Hitch’ treated her, on and off the film set - half a century before the #MeToo movement, before phrases like ‘stalking’ and ‘sexual harassment’ entered our vocabulary.

Famously, while filming The Birds, Hitchcock subjected Hedren to five gruelling days of having live birds thrown at her for hours on end, leaving her injured and in tears.

Guest Blog: 'What Does it Take to Make Great Art?: Actor Joanna Vanderham on Playing Tippi Hedren and Hitchcock's Cruelty in DOUBLE FEATURE

But he was also incredibly possessive, controlling and manipulative towards her. And when she refused to work with him again, he tried to destroy her career by keeping her under contract for two years so she couldn’t work with other directors.

What strength of character must she have had to stand up for herself? Because by the sounds of things, no one else stood up for her. This is the Tippi who inspired John Logan to write the play.

How much has changed in the industry since 1962? A helluva lot, I would hope. But some may have an easier time of it than others. Some feel they can speak up for themselves, that they have a strong support network around them to advocate on their behalf, that they will be listened to and believed. Does everyone? I’m not sure. To this day, there are still some very powerful bodies in Hollywood. In my experience, sometimes speaking up doesn’t have the effect you’d expect. To me though, all this means is we must continue to speak up, and to speak louder. Speak for those who feel they can’t.

When I first read Double Feature, Tippi’s story felt like one I needed to tell.

I not only wanted to do Ms Hedren justice, but felt a responsibility for people who had suffered similar traumas. In preparation, I wanted to capture her essence, her physicality and so I watched as many interviews and videos of her as I could find - the screen tests she did with Hitchcock were particularly illuminating. I listened to her memoir to pick up any vocal qualities I could hear, and of course, watched The Birds and Marnie.

Then it was time to set aside the research and focus on creating a character, one who says and does what’s in the script, one who “goes through a crucible” to “emerge sane at the end”.

Guest Blog: 'What Does it Take to Make Great Art?: Actor Joanna Vanderham on Playing Tippi Hedren and Hitchcock's Cruelty in DOUBLE FEATURE

Directed by Jonathan Kent, Double Feature follows the power games between two directors and actors - Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, in the middle of filming Marnie, and also director Michael Reeves, whose career is hanging by a thread as Vincent Price threatens to walk out of Witchfinder General

John Logan's play delves into the intricacies of the artistic process, revealing the lengths individuals go to in creating great art. Rehearsing this play has felt rather meta, debating the essence of great art while actively engaged in making it… I can certainly relate to the act Tippi puts on, trying to be the person Hitch thinks she is. I can also relate to her aspiration for a successful career, everything that would bring. I have wondered, what would I do for my next ‘big break’… what does it take to make great art? Obsession? Desire? Honesty?

Tippi along with Hitch, Vincent and Reeves (played by Ian McNeice, Jonathan Hyde and Rowan Polonski) are all pushed to their breaking points. They argue their cases from the minute the play starts, and I believe audiences will feel that they have been given a rare glimpse into the complex hearts and minds of artists. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Double Feature is at Hampstead Theatre until 16 March

Rehearsal Image Credits: Manuel Harlan




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