The Guardian - January 20, 2010
Meet the painter Anthony Hopkins
Actor, director, screenwriter, composer – and now painter. Anthony Hopkins has been busy
by Simon Hattenstone
An LA state of mind … detail from a painting by Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins is at home in California – Malibu to be precise, on the beach. It is late afternoon, the sun is dipping, everything
is lovely. I am at home in London. It is 1am, cold and windy, and I am dribbling into my sofa.
The phone goes. It is Sir Anthony, to talk about his paintings. Next month the first British exhibition of his art will open in
London, followed by another show in Edinburgh. In recent years, the 72-year-old actor has become something of a renaissance man:
in 2007 he wrote, directed and scripted a film called Slipstream. Last year, his composition The Masque of Time was given its world
premiere by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Now there's the painting.
Hopkins's paintings are varied and variable – ranging from traditional landscapes to much darker and more garish images. I am looking
at an idyllic scene when he calls: corn fields, white-blue skies and reds blobs that could be cattle or haystacks. It's all very calm.
Well, yes, Hopkins says, so it should be. He has everything he wants: his lovely third wife Stella, success, health. "Over the years,
you settle into a calmness. I suppose what you're observing is my state of mind or state of being." But while he talks, I am
looking at a painting that is anything but calm: a blood-red face, outlined in yellow, unsmiling and harsh. This is more how I
imagined Hopkins's work would be: restless, melancholy, haunting.
The Welshman has played pretty much every kind of role there is, during a long career on stage and film. But there are two roles he
excels in: the quietly repressed (such as the butler Mr Stevens in The Remains of the Day, for which he was Oscar-nominated) and the
hammily monstrous (Hannibal Lecter, for which he did win an Oscar). Perhaps it is not surprising that he does these two extremes so
well. Hopkins, who left his first wife when his only child was tiny, has implied in interviews that he is a little emotionally
stunted; he claims that, because he went to boarding school, he never really understood the nature of family or the role of a
father. And, as he will freely admit, he has been monstrous in his time. There are myriad stories of him raging against light and dark in his alcoholic years, improvising on stage because he had forgotten his lines – sometimes brilliantly, often appallingly. But he stopped drinking a long time ago, in 1975, and for now there is the calm.
"Oh, I had a grand old time. I was a wild boy, yeah! Van Gogh type. I wouldn't have missed it. It was a lot of fun. I lived it up a
storm. But it would have killed me. Over the years you get a little smarter. You slow down a bit, but I'm in full vigour. I'm on
the treadmill every day and I lift weights and I'm very strong and powerful."
Strength is a recurring theme, as is family. He talks at length about his mother and father, the bakery they ran in Port Talbot.
"They never had holidays. Dad worked 4am till 7pm. Then he went to bed. He was a strong man. And just before he died, he started
painting. I've got three of his paintings here. My mother painted, too – beautiful flowers. They worked so hard; they gave me my
values." When he was young, his father would leave a loaf for him in the oven. "And I'd cut it up and eat it. I was like a savage.
I'd stuff it down with butter, peanut butter and bananas. I was a monster. Of course you become addicted to that. And that's my
biggest downfall, bread – the sugar in the bread, I guess."
This is another thing that's changed: his diet. He used to eat junk on film sets, and put on loads of weight. How much? "Oh, I'm not
going to tell you." Whisper it: it's just between me, you and Guardian readers. "Oh no, oh no ... I was about 230lb. I'm down to 180
now. Good weight."
A few years ago, it was reported that Hopkins was giving up acting. "No, I didn't actually say that," he says gruffly. "I was doing
Titus [with director Julie Taymor], which was a very complicated film. We were working at 4am and I was sitting in the freezing
rain, covered in mud, and I said to someone: 'I think I've had it with this business, I'm a bit too old for this.' And someone said:
'Are you going to retire?' and I said: 'No, it's just a bit tough.' The Mail got hold of it and said: 'We hear you're retiring.' I
said no, and it was in the press the next day. I was tired. Actors say this sometimes."
Actually, he says, his passion for acting has returned since he started composing and painting. "When it comes along, I enjoy it
more because I'm laid back. My mind is clear, my body is clear. I'm fit and well, so I can apply all my strength and power to the
Well, relatively laid back. Another story emerged a few months ago: that Hopkins had been reunited with his estranged daughter,
Abigail. I tell him it was great to read this. Silence. Then a bark. "No, that's not true at all. No, I haven't seen her for years.
No, that was some crap, that probably came from that garbage in the Mail. They're a bunch of assholes. I've had no contact with my
daughter for years. That's her choice. Anyway, you move on. If people don't want to bother with me, fine. You know, God bless them,
and move on. I don't hang out with negative people or people who bitch and moan about the injustices of the world. I don't waste any
time with people like that."
Has this always been his philosophy? "Always. I don't like freeloaders, I don't like people who are negative. There was a guy here.
I used to meet him for lunch. I always ended up picking up the tab. By the time I'd finished having lunch with him, I wanted to
commit suicide because I felt so guilty about being happy when this guy was so fucking miserable. If people don't want to know me,
then fine. I'll see them the next decade. Just get on with it. If you don't like life, do something about it, but don't bother me
with it. Don't infect me with your plague." He pauses. "I'm a pretty tough guy, you know. I'm a pretty hard man. I've got a lot of
compassion, but I don't waste time with people. Don't fuck with me, and I'll stay out of your way if you stay out of my way."
In 2007, when talking about the failure of his second marriage, Hopkins is reported to have said: "I'm devious, cruel, cunning and
addictive." Is that another fiction? No, he says. "I don't think I'm devious any more. Maybe I was in my drinking days. Devious?
Well, I'm an actor – all actors are devious. What was the other one? Addictive? Well, yeah, I like all the bad things in life. I
used to love the booze. I like to do everything at great speed. That's an addiction, I guess. But now I've deliberately turned the
dial down. I don't live at that pace any more."
The playwright David Hare, who directed him in a production of King Lear, once said: "Tony is permanently in the grip of feelings
he can't control." Roger Donaldson, who directed him in The Bounty, said Hopkins scared him to death. If he met his younger self,
what would he make of him? "I wouldn't have wanted to meet myself as I was 30 years ago. I was horrible." He thinks, and reassesses:
"No, I was just a bit confused, like all young people in the acting business. I look at them now and think, I've done all that, and
try to smile about it. I don't want to ever go back." One reason he is so happy in LA, he says, is that it's easy to be solitary.
"I don't have any friends in the acting business. I keep well away from them." Has he always been a loner? "Oh yeah. Do my own thing.
Not answerable to anyone."
A happy marriage, his painting, composing, writing and acting (he has roles in the upcoming The Wolfman, and Thor): Hopkins
couldn't be more content. But, as he's keen to stress, that doesn't mean he's getting soft. There is still plenty to grump about.
He turns his attention to today's male movie stars and their penchant for mumbling (Hopkins has always prided himself on his
diction). "Why don't people speak properly? There are a lot of young kids, good actors, but they are so macho they think it's sexy
to whisper. I don't know what the hell they are talking about. They may as well put subtitles on them. I teach acting classes at
UCLA, and I stand there and say: 'I can't understand one word you're saying, so how d'you expect me to sit in the audience?'"
What advice does he give them? "Clarity and courage, and just get on with it. That's my philosophy. Stop trying to impress people
by mumbling, because it's boring, and stop belly-aching. I don't waste time, you know."
Sir Anthony Hopkins Fanatic Asylum