Tippi Hedren: “I was never one to make people say, ‘Oh my god, look at her!'”
Actress Tippi Hedren captivated moviegoers with her luminous beauty and presence in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and her decades-long career that followed. Following her 91st birthday this week, we’re re-sharing the time the icon and activist spoke to JENNIFER MCSHANE about fashion, film and what she loves about Ireland
At 86 years old, actress Tippi Hedren still retains the same alluring mystery that caught the eye of Hitchcock when he was casting The Birds. She is warm and engaging all throughout our conversation, but I’m still left curious about the iconic star. This is no doubt the reason that she still can captivate her audience just as she did at the height of her fame.
It makes sense to start with Hitchcock; her name will forever be intertwined with that of the infamous filmmaker – a man who she looks back on with admiration, gratitude and utter disgust – yet despite their tempestuous working relationship (which she speaks in detail about in her new book), Hedren remains grateful for everything. “I was given an incredible gift,” she said. Would she change anything about the early days? “No, I don’t think so. I was so grateful for it all and even at my young age, I took it all very seriously.” Indeed, most are familiar with how Hedren’s career played out and how little control she had over it, thanks to an airtight contract with Mr Hitchcock.
But it’s a disservice to merely refer to her as ‘The Girl’ (a title ungraciously bestowed on her by her former mentor); she’s as famous for her body of work – which includes over 80 film and TV roles – her humanitarian efforts and animal activism – she founded the wild animal sanctuary, Shambala Preserve – as she is for being the matriarch of a Hollywood dynasty which includes her actress daughter, Melanie Griffith and granddaughter Dakota Johnson.
Thankfully, she felt the time was right to put her version of events to paper and her new memoir is a detailed and personal reflection on her incredible life. “There has been so much written about me and I thought ‘well, why don’t I give it my point of view, rather than someone else’s?'”
She praises her co-collaborator and life-long friend Lindsay Harrison and says the reflection and looking back was her favourite part of the writing process. “It was then that I really realised that I’ve had quite an extraordinarily wonderful life! I’ve been so lucky that I’ve been gifted to do so many incredible things and I’m looking at it like I’m a very adventurous woman. I don’t have a big fear of anything. I was going around the world at 22 which, at the time, wasn’t an easy thing to do.” Indeed, Hedren possesses egoless confidence and a strong sense of self; it was this uncompromising spirit that enabled her to free herself from Hitchcock’s iron grip.
What also couldn’t have been easy was processing her rapid rise to the top; The Birds was followed by Marnie and a stream of other projects from the controversial Roar to Charlie Chapman’s final film A Countess From Hong Kong.
Hedren is often referred to as a Hollywood icon, something she says, she never gets used to hearing. “It is a strange thing, I’m very honoured by it but not in any way impressed with myself, however, I never look at it that way,” she continued. “Though when it was all beginning, I used to just say, ‘I can’t believe what’s happening!'”
But few can doubt Hedren’s style was iconic, certainly on screen; the green suit in The Birds is still sartorially heralded today and the actress said she favours a similarly simple and classic look when it comes to fashion nowadays.
“I like anything simple and classic – I was never one to make people say, ‘Oh my god, look at her!’ and I still love all of Edith Head’s costumes, who designed much of my personal wardrobe and the outfits for my first two films. I also love Ralph Lauren and Thierry Mugler.”
Our talk turns to Ireland and Hedren speaks fondly of her time here (she’s visited more than once) and loves its rural sights and sounds outside of Dublin. The Irish countryside is, she says, “so beautiful and underrated” and describes the Irish people as kind, considerate, fun and all the good adjectives you can think of.”
Hedren in ‘Marnie’
Hedren remains as busy as ever, preferring to “just keep going” and when our topic turns to the subject of the every day, she says the little free time she has she’ll spend reading a book “though I don’t have a book I read over and over” and cites Sylvia Brown’s The Other Side And Back as a recent favourite.
And with it being the festive season, she happily admits she goes all out at this time of year. “I go to my daughter’s and she celebrates it the way I would have – I always make a big deal out of Christmas. I have all the trimmings; the tree, the whole house decorated and we always have the tradition of opening the presents on Christmas Eve. We’ll have the big dinner and everyone will dress beautifully and it’s all very festive.”
The process of writing her story has she said, been one of the highlights of her life and a piece of work she’s hugely proud of. And what does she hope readers take away from it? “More that it’s so important to just go through any door that opens to you and see what happens. We have so much offered to us and at times we have to be very courageous in order to walk through and find out that’s in that room.”