In the film, which tells the story of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock's life and marriage at the time he was making his 1960 horror classic Psycho, Johansson, 27, and Biel, 30, play the parts of that film's leading ladies, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, respectively.
"When we took that still of Scarlett behind the wheel and put it up against the still of Janet behind the wheel in Psycho, it was eerie," says Hitchcock director Sacha Gervasi. "The extent to which Scarlett was able to channel Janet [was] a real surprise. She brought it in such a way that no one really anticipated."
As for Biel, embodying Miles – a longtime Hitchcock collaborator who had infuriated the mercurial auteur when she dropped out of his Vertigo to have a baby – proved more of a stretch.
"Hitchcock dressed her up in a wig and did everything could to make the beautiful Vera Miles look frumpy," says Gervasi. "What Hitch tried to do to Vera we tried to do to Jessica, and the results were equally ridiculous. It is not possible to make Jessica Biel dowdy."
Don't expect Johansson, who plays Norman Bates's first onscreen murder victim, in a shot-for-shot recreation of Psycho's famous shower scene. Rather than copying, Gervasi showed that sequence from Hitchcock's perspective. While the original sequence took about a week to shoot, "ours took considerably less," says Gervasi.
Hitchcock, which also stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitch and Helen Mirren as his wife and creative collaborator Alma, is due for release Nov. 23.
Suzanne Tenner; Everett