Novak is clarifying why she used the word “rape” to describe how she felt about The Artist. The 79-year-old Vertigo actress, who will be honored next month at the TCM Classic Film Festival, said during a phone interview Monday that hearing the score from the Alfred Hitchcock film used in the recent Oscar-winning homage to the silent-film era reminded her of the same feelings she experienced when she was raped as a child.
“It was very painful,” said Novak. “When I said it was like a rape, that was how it felt to me. I had experienced in my youth being raped, and so I identified with a real act that had been done to me. I didn’t use that word lightly. I had been raped as a child. It was a rape I never told about, so when I experienced this one, I felt the need to express it.”
Novak, who played the dual role of both a suicidal trophy wife and a morose working girl opposite Jimmy Stewart in the 1958 thriller, said in a statement released in January by her manager that she “wanted to report a rape” and that the filmmakers of The Artist had no reason “to depend on Bernard Herrmann’s score from Vertigo to provide more drama.”
Novak’s comments drew criticism from rape crisis groups, who noted that plagiarism was not the same as a sexual assault. Other actors have similarly been chastised for misusing the word “rape.” Johnny Depp and Twilight star Kristen Stewart both issued apologies after they compared having their photos taken to being raped in respective interviews.
“I never reported my real rape, so I felt the need to report this one,” said Novak, who left Hollywood in the 1970s for Big Sur, an isolated section of California coastline, before eventually relocating to Oregon. “I felt that someone needed to speak up because the music has been taken advantage of too much. I hope that in the future, maybe somehow it will do some good.”
Michel Hazanavicius, the writer-director of The Artist, which won five Academy Awards last month, including best picture and original score, responded to Novak in January, noting that the film was “a love letter to cinema” and that he loves “Bernard Herrmann, and his music has been used in many different films, and I’m very pleased to have it in mine.”
Novak said that the motion picture academy sent her a letter disapproving of her making the statement while The Artist was in Oscar contention. She acknowledged that after getting “over the shock” that the Vertigo love theme was used in The Artist, she actually enjoyed the film and thought it deserved its Oscar glory — except for the best original score trophy.
On April 14, as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival, Novak will add her hand and footprints to the Grauman’s Chinese Theater forecourt, where Hollywood stars have been honored since the 1920s. She will also introduce a screening of Vertigo and participate in an interview with TCM host Robert Osborne for a special scheduled to be broadcast next year.
“I was an original,” said Novak of her highly lauded Vertigo role. “I didn’t give a performance that was prepared for in a Hollywood or theatrical sense. I didn’t study a style of acting. I gave a performance that was from my gut. I’ve always just been who I am. That doesn’t go out of style because it’s real. It’s not based on the fads or fashions of today.”
Novak’s other films include the musical Pal Joey, with Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth; Jeanne Eagels, featuring Novak in the title role as a troubled 1920s star, with Jeff Chandler as her love interest; and Bell, Book and Candle, starring Novak as a witch who again entrances Stewart — this time on the eve of his marriage.