Hopkins, Anthony: One on One Interview

Anthony Hopkins made an indelible impression, reaching his widest audience to date, as the brilliant serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs, for which he won a much-deserved Oscar Award. Hopkins is not only one of the most respected performers in the world, but also one of the busiest. In times of declining film production, the British actor boasts an impressive record of four movies released in l992: Howards End, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Chaplin, and The Efficiency Expert.

Graduating from one of England's best acting schools, RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts), Hopkins belongs to a rare breed of actors who have left their mark on virtually every medium of entertainment: theatre, film, and television.

Hopkins made his film debut precisely 25 years ago, in The Lion in Winter, co-starring Katharine Hepburn, earning a British Academy Award nomination for his very first role of Richard the Lionheart. Among his landmark performances since then are Captain Blight in the l984 version of The Bounty (co-starring Mel Gibson), and the benevolent doctor in David Lynch's The Elephant Man.

He has won just about every award an actor can win. His television work has earned him two Emmy Awards: for his role as Bruno Hauptmann in The Lindbergh Kidnapping, and as Adolph Hitler in The Bunker. For David Hare's intriguing play, Pravda, Hopkins won the Laurence Olivier Award for outstanding achievement. In l987, he was awarded the prestigious Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Director Francis Ford Coppola has always wanted to work with the noted British player. The opportunity came when he was casting Bram Stoker's Dracula and needed an accomplished actor to play Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, a role played by Laurence Olivier in a previous version. Bram Stoker created Van Helsing as the nemesis of Count Dracula. The scientific, rational Van Helsing lives in the world of Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud–in some ways, he is Dracula's alter ego.

Hopkins perceives Van Helsing as “a man who has been down into depths. He's done everything and he's been down to the darkness and seen the face of terror and death and then comes out the other side.” “I'm aware of another side of myself which I can draw on,” the actor adds wryly, “I've played a few strange creatures myself.”

Indeed, what could be stranger than playing the scary serial killer, Dr. Hannibal (the Cannibal) Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, the top-grossing movie of l991 in the United States which was also international hit all over the world. The still “hot” video and laser versions have achieved unprecedented popularity in foreign markets. In Germany, Silence of the Lambs was the top rental video of l992!

Hopkins feels that homevideo performs a vital function in the film industry: “It broadens the appeal of movies, it enhances the business. “Move business has come back,” he explains, “in large measure because of home-videos. People tell me all the time, 'I saw you last night on TV.' And some people see the movie in the theater and then again on video.”

The modest, self-effacing actor didn't really anticipate winning an Oscar for Silence of the Lambs, even after receiving the New York Film Critics Award. “People said it was a tough race, neck to neck, with Nick Nolte,” he said. On the morning of the Oscar telecast, close friends were predicting he would win, but Hopkins still refused to believe it. He fondly recalls that “it was only during the show, when Ted Tally won an Oscar for his screenplay, that I thought I had chance of winning.”

Winning the Oscar Award, and for a lead role, was a “double pleasure,” says Hopkins, because “I was on the screen for only 25 minutes and some people thought it was a supporting role.” But the Oscar catapulted Hopkins to international stardom and exerted immense impact on his career. “All of a sudden,” says Hopkins, “I began to get romantic parts in love stories.”

As a premier actor of his generation, Hopkins has worked with the best directors: Richard Attenborough (Young Winston, Magic), James Ivory (Howards End), and, of course, Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs). Hopkins thinks that both Coppola and Demme are “brilliant and perfectionist directors.” Yet, Demme was “more accessible, friendly and lighter,” whereas Coppola was “more remote.” As for his countryman James Ivory, who also directed his upcoming film Remains of the Day, Hopkins says, “he is so calm, so relaxed, it doesn't seem he directs you at all.”

Given the numerous remakes, sequels, and spin-offs any new Dracula must have a strong distinguishing feature to justify its raison d'etre. Hopkins emphasizes the faithfulness of the new version to the l897 novel, which is the reason why it is called Bram Stoker's Dracula. For him, Coppola's work is “a movie spectacle in the grand tradition, rich in texture and highly entertaining.”

Hopkins depicts Coppola as “a genius, larger-than-life director, a strange mixture of a grand opera conductor and incredible master of the language of cinema.” Operatic may be the appropriate word to describe Coppola's best-known movies (The Godfather film trilogy, Apocalypse Now) given their big budget, epic scale, stunning visual style, and brilliant sound and editing. “Francis is an extravagant director,” he elaborates, “he likes big sets, bizarre costumes.” Above all, Hopkins singles out Coppola's “willingness to take great risks in his work.”

Making Dracula involved extremely hard work. “I've never met a director who worked as hard as Francis,” says Hopkins, “he was on the set all the time, 24 hours a day. Francis is a perfectionist, so he would film over and over again, until he got the exact results that he wanted.”

At the same time, it was “great fun” for the seasoned actor to be surrounded with a young and talented cast, especially fellow-Britisher Gary Oldman, who plays Count Dracula, and American actress Wynona Ryder, cast as Mina, his love interest. In fact, the versatile Oldman reminded Hopkins of himself when he was younger.

The independently minded Hopkins has his own way of working. “I don't like to be told what to read or what to do,” he says. “I prefer to read the script loud, over and over, by myself.” Hopkins tends to conduct extensive research for every new role and to store a lot of information. For Dracula, he actually learned a lot about medical science, specifically about blood transfusions.

There were three weeks of rehearsals, though the actor admits he doesn't like lengthy rehearsals. “It took two long and boring days to read the book,” Hopkins says mischievously about Coppola's idea of having a reading of Bram Stoker's book by the entire cast. On the set, Hopkins tends to be “detached.” “I don't like to get involved in personal matters,” he says, “I stay in my dressing room when I am not needed.”

Hopkins concedes that British actors admire their American colleagues because “they see them as much more real, much more committed.” “In England,” he says, “we have a different tradition of acting, and we don't have such elaborate publicity for movie stars.” While respecting American “Method” actors like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, Hopkins' favorite actors are the old American actors, such as Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum, actors who learned their skills in front of the cameras. He favors “simple,” effortless acting–arguably the hardest kind to master. “I don't like the overly academic or analytic approach to acting,” he says.

Hopkins jokes about the “extreme intensity” of some American actors. “I don't like to burn myself,” he says, “I like to keep life and reality focused all the time.” He claims that with experience he has become a more relaxed actor, and more at ease with himself. “I used to be angry, rebellious, to show mutiny against my directors, but my attitude now is much lighter.” This attitude is reflected in his work: Hopkins has mastered a brand of acting that appears to be natural–one in which the sweat and hard work don't show.

Always the consummate professional, Hopkins firmly believes in self-discipline and has no tolerance for temperamental actors. “You are paid to do a job and you have to do it the best you can. I don't approve of actors who won't come out of their trailer if they don't feel like–it's a selfish, abominable behavior.”

As for future plans, Hopkins is featured in the upcoming Shadowland, a love story, though “there are no nude scenes.” And there has been much anticipation for the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. “It's only a matter of time,” says Hopkins, “Thomas Harris is a slow writer.”

Asked to comment on his role in the sequel, Hopkins shrugs his shoulders and notes, “I have to wait, Harris won't give any clues.” But no matter what the new role calls for, one thing is sure: in the hands of Anthony Hopkins it will become another masterful performance.
The interview took place at Four Seasons Hotel in fall 1992