The British-born Gervasi, who worked as a journalist and screenwriter before turning to directing, freely admits that he was no one’s first choice to helm Fox Searchlight’s movie about the making of the famous filmmaker’s “Psycho” and his relationship with his wife Alma Reville.
“They interviewed 26 directors and I was 27,” says Gervasi, who had one documentary, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”, under his belt, but had never helmed a dramatic feature before. “I thought I (had) nothing to lose, so I pitched how I thought (“Hitchcock”) was a love story, and felt that this had to be right upfront.”
Producer Tom Pollack was convinced by Gervasi for that very reason. “He saw immediately that what we needed deepened was humor and heart,” Pollack says. “He articulated that, and that is why Sacha got the job.”
For more than a decade, he worked strictly as a screenwriter, gaining credits in movies such as “The Big Tease,” “Terminal” and “Henry’s Crime.” “But as a writer in Hollywood, you’re not in control of the material,” he admits. “I felt like I wanted to be in control of my own destiny.”
So Gervasi spent years developing and making the critically acclaimed documentary feature “Anvil!” about the leaders of a Canadian heavy metal band that released an influential album and then plunged into obscurity, even as they kept playing and touring on the fringe of success. Gervasi, who served as a roadie for the band as a teen, even mortgaged his house to complete the film and worked diligently on a DIY campaign to get the movie out to audiences.
Though “Anvil!” was nonfiction, it turned out to be Gervasi’s best calling card for his transition to features. Pollock had seen it and loved it, and emailed Gervasi to come in for “Hitchcock.” “Hitchcock” star Anthony Hopkins was also an “Anvil!” fan.
“To put everything I had into this story of aging heavy metal musicians who hadn’t even made it was insane,” Gervasi says. “But it paid off.”
As different as “Anvil!” is from “Hitchcock,” Gervasi says that the two films have a lot in common. “At their heart, we’re talking about couples that drive each other nuts, but can’t live without each other, so it’s about creative collaboration, and artists risking everything to feel alive in their art,” he says.
Making the leap to managing a large crew and directing top talent like Hopkins and Helen Mirren was an organic shift, according to Gervasi, a former musician in the band Bush. “I come from rock ‘n’ roll,” he says. “I enjoy working with collaborators.”
Prior to shooting, Gervasi workshopped John McLaughlin’s script with different thesps, making the love story more palpable. He even reserved some extra rehearsal time with Hopkins and Mirren.
With his first fiction feature in the can, Gervasi would like to build on his newfound momentum. He’s long been developing a biopic about Herve Villechaize, based on Gervasi’s own interviews with the diminutive “Fantasy Island” star, who committed suicide in 1993.
The key is to continue to tell stories that appear slightly surreal, he says. “But when you peel away the layers, there’s a heart and a human connection with the material.”
Making history less of a lesson | Corporate baddies suit up this season | Gervasi’s rock heart opened to ‘Hitchcock’ | More thesps tapped for glory on both silver, smallscreens | Globes embrace the next big things