To understand me, you have to accept that I’m really, truly shy, you know, and I have been so all of my life.
One dominant character trait for Alfred Hitchcock was his shyness. Since early childhood, he has found it difficult to open up to people and find new friends, always afraid that he will be rejected and become a laughingstock. His only childhood friend was a boy named Hugh Gray.
Besides him, Hitch was always on the side of things, compensating for it with good grades. His shyness served as a giant wall which shielded him from the world and made life more difficult than it could be.
Becoming a famous person through quality work usually helps with those things, but in his case it didn't much.
He gave numerous interviews where he stressed how big of an impact his shyness was on his life and he never said anything about it diminishing as he got more popular/older.
As is often the case with shy people, he was the kind of person who kept things to himself.
While in his daily environment (on a set, for example) he felt comfortable to strike a casual conversation, Hitch steered away from spilling beans about personal stuff until he knew someone very well. He crossed that bridge with only few people in his entire life.
Keeping secrets was rooted so deeply within him that even people who knew him and knew him well for many years struggled to get inside his "trust zone".
Confident among friends
Hitchcock was very active socially and had many friends. He spent plenty of time in restaurants, socializing with famous actors etc. The catch was that those were all his friends.
Once knowing people long enough, he was starting to feel comfortable in their company and had no trouble socializing. Hitch liked being alone, but had a strong social drive too and he acted upon it more than he sat alone. When not going out, the director was rarely alone too as he and Alma lived together and were very close.
Repulsed by his body
Just as Alfred Hitchcock's character traits centered around his shyness, so his shyness centered around being fat.
I have always been uncommonly unattractive. Worse yet, I have always known it. The feeling has been with me so long, I cannot imagine what it would be like not to feel that way.Alfred Hitchcock
He was a chubby boy since early age, always keen to watch sports (he was big West Ham United fan, for example), but never to actually exercise himself.
For a person for whom his obesity is such a nightmare, he did very little to try and change that - eating healthy and less wasn't a priority on his list either.
The director was active, liked to go scouting for new movies, socialize with friends etc. but his physical activity was limited to walking.
Confident at work
Directing movies means working with people. Sitting in director's chair exposes a person and forces to constantly communicate with actors, letting them know when something goes wrong, manipulating them to fit the mood of the scene, explaining the meaning of their roles etc. There were actors that complained about poor communication with Hitchcock, but it was never on the basis of his shyness.
At work, Alfred was confident, he liked to hang around and joke with people. He was almost never afraid to let someone know when the job was done poorly. There were few cases where actors had a green light on everything they were doing.
Tallulah Bankhead on a "Lifeboat" set was one such example - the actress often acted very unprofessional, telling crude jokes one after another and dominating the set completely, to which other actors didn't respond too well and ran to Hitchcock with complaints.
He didn't say a word to her, but did so because he was charmed by her, loved her strong personality and found her sense of humor delightful.
Dealing with people on set was never a problem for Hitchcock, but that's nothing rare given his position. As a director, he was the ultimate man to which everyone had to report. Being confident at work versus relationships in private life are often two entirely different scenarios and it was certainly the case with the great director.
Reports about his diligence have been very mixed. Many people spoke about his attitude towards work, some worked with him very early in his career which should give great insight into how he developed as a director, but unfortunately there are almost as many opinions as there are people who got asked about it.
After compiling it all together, it looks like in the beginning he was very ambitious about his work, working extra hard to make sure everything goes as planned. His grades at school were very good and he took every opportunity to learn his craft inside out.
First reports of him getting lazy at work are from his Henley days though and he that's when he was still a teenager. Supposedly, he was endlessly postponing some responsibilities there which put him in trouble on numerous occasions.
As he got older, he became more lazy, often running away from work into socializing.
The most probable scenario was that both kinds of reports are true and at times he was working hard, while at other times, and for specific kinds of duties perhaps, he avoided work. Looking at his catalog of movies and the number of high quality ones, he definitely was no stranger to hard work.
Psychology and psychotherapy experienced a giant boom into mainstream popularity in the 1940s and Hitchcock capitalized on it with his movie Spellbound. The occasional distance to the subject and self-mockery present in certain dialogues is probably the expression of his personal attitude towards the subject. Many people even go as far as saying that his portrayals of psychology are caricatures.
The British director didn't take it too seriously and wasn't sure about the idea of subconscious. Various people advertised and suggested him to visit a psychotherapist to check it out for himself, but he didn't like the idea. It is a possibility that, due to him guarding his personal stuff so vigorously, the idea of telling his secret to a complete stranger were something he didn't want to overcome, but that's just plain speculation.
A popular belief about Alfred Hitchcock is that he was a perfectionist, working every angle of every detail as if his life would depend on it. That is not true.
Perfectionists actually have a very hard time finishing tasks, as fixating on details that just have to get done makes it a lot tougher finish work on schedule. Hitchcock wasn't like that at all, he had a very practical approach, putting as much energy as he could to finish the job and then moving on when it's time to move on.
There were times in his career when more perfectionism would actually be good for him, as some of his movies he was less enthusiastic about ended up half-baked. Generally though, his attention to detail was about right for the kind of work that he had to do throughout his life.
Almost every American who met someone from England will tell that Brits have a peculiar sense of humor. Even though the same language is spoken in both countries and USA historically is a British colony, there are many differences between the two that can make a visitor feel like a complete stranger. Sting's "Englishman in New York" song is about just that!
After Alfred moved to the United States, he knew all about it. He felt that his Britishness was coming through in the way he talked and behaved and that it was a barrier between him and Americans. He felt that it's harder for him to connect with Americans than for those born and bred there.
Ironically, this feeling of strangeness in a foreign country was one of the things that made him bond so well with Ingrid Bergman. Both were Europeans that somehow couldn't fully fit to the American way of life. Or at least they felt like they can't - after crossing the Atlantic Ocean, both found themselves at home once and there certainly was room for them in Hollywood.
More introverted as he aged
In the 1960s, Hitchcock's wife had cancer and at one point doctors didn't give her much time to live. This was devastating to him, and to make things worse multiple other people he knew died. One of those people was David Selznick with which Hitchcock had a turbulent relationship, but which nevertheless was one of the most important people in his life.
This traumatic period has resulted in him gaining weight, suffer minor health problems, and most importantly: changing his attitude towards life. He became more defensive, distrustful and aloof. His inner circle decreased to only few people and he limited socializing. Even though Alma managed to beat cancer, he remained in that retracted state until his last days. It was a permanent change.
Donald Spoto, a famous biographer known for his books about Laurence Olivier, Marlene Dietrich and few more, also wrote Hitchcock's and, unfortunately, it is one of the most popular books about the movie maker.
Inside it, the author paints Hitchcock as a psychopath with sadistic tendencies. It takes all the dark episodes in his life and makes them to be his true face. Spoto's biggest sin is that using a very poor psychoanalysis, comparable in its sophistication to that presented in Hitchcock's movies, it tries to prove that every bad and twisted thing that happens in his movies stems from his personal issues.
This, of course, is pure nonsense, and Spoto probably knew it in the beginning, just trying to find an angle that would sell his books. While many of the things presented in it are indeed true, Hitchcock made his movies with the same spirit with which Spoto probably wrote the book - to shock, to produce an entertaining experience.
Every person who gets through multiple good Hitchcock biographies can easily see how absurd painting him as some sort of dark and twisted character is. The director's personality had multiple layers like most of us, and death and destruction certainly weren't the main theme playing inside his heart. Reports claiming that they were need to be treated with a grain of salt.
"I'm full of fears and I do my best to avoid difficulties and any kind of complications. I like everything around me to be clear as crystal and completely calm. I don't want clouds overhead. I get a feeling of inner peace from a well-organized desk. When I take a bath, I put everything neatly back in place. You wouldn't even know I'd been in the bathroom. My passion for orderliness goes hand in hand with a strong revulsion toward complications."