Link: The Age, Australia - November 1 2002

 

Always Anthony Hopkins

Anthony Hopkins may give a film the stamp of quality (and assured box-office success), but to him it's just a job, writes Jim Schembri.

 

With eyes that could sink an aircraft carrier if they got into the wrong hands, Anthony Hopkins is staring. The look on his face is fixed, resolute. He wants to know just one thing.

"Why do you laugh like that?"

It was an involuntary response to an unusual response he gave to what seemed a reasonable question. It wasn't a big deal. Well, it wasn't meant to be a big deal, but Sir Anthony wants his answer.

Reclining on a two-seater couch with a glass of red at the far end, Anthony Hopkins is exhausted after 16 days of yapping about Red Dragon, his third film as Hannibal Lecter, the cultured, cannibalistic murderer made famous in 1991 Oscar-winner The Silence of the Lambs. Exhausted, but relaxed.

Despite his reputation as one of the most accomplished and versatile actors alive, Hopkins is a man who refuses to put any tickets on himself, even if one of them was given to him by Her Majesty. He doesn't use the "Sir" on his name. "Great honour and all that," he says, but it's not his style. As for acting, it's just a job. Forget method, forget reaching into the dark corners of the soul. "I show up on the set, keep it as simple as possible, and that's it."

Movies are just movies, nothing more. Never were, never will be. "I have no illusions. I'm not pulled into the movie mystique at all."

Playing Lecter gave him no insight into the evil that men do. The shooting at Monash, which had occurred only the day before, the massacre in Bali, the Washington sniper, September 11. He has nothing to say.

"That's why I want to down play the publicity, especially in Australia," he says, his voice often just one notch above a mumble. "I mean, I do these publicity things mildly reluctantly, but I'm not comfortable with promoting movies. I do it because the studio wants me to. I don't mind it, it's part of the contract, but these long tours are a little daunting."

Not that he doesn't have anything to offer. "I've got, hopefully, a good perspective on life, about movies and where they fit into the public psyche, so I don't get carried away with it. I don't get turned on and crazy about it. I do it for the job and I enjoy it."

He has been enjoying it lately. Since Silence, Hopkins' name on a film has gone from being a stamp of quality - "makes me sound rather boring" - to being a major box-office draw. They could make Hannibal, the second Lecter film, without Jodie Foster reprising the role of Clarice Starling (that honour went to Julianne Moore), but they couldn't dare do it without Hopkins. And people aren't going to see Red Dragon because Edward Norton is in it.

It seems Hopkins owes Lecter.

"I don't get you. What do you mean, 'I owe him?'."

You're a marquee name, now, and for the first time.

"So?"

How's that feel?

"It doesn't feel - there's nothing spectacular about it," he says. "I was just lucky to play the first role, and then it turned into a box-office success. It didn't change my life. I didn't have scripts piling up outside the front door. Life's not like that in the movie business. You're as good as your last job. That's about all."

He liked playing Nixon, one of his best performances to date. He liked Oliver Stone, the cast and the research, "which I don't normally do". But don't talk to him about passion. "People keep talking about acting as if it's your passion. Well, I don't have any passion."

About acting, maybe. But what is he passionate about?

"I'm not passionate about anything."

This is where you have to laugh. You don't mean it. It just comes out. Bam. It's a loud one, too.

Uh-oh. He hits you with those eyes.

"Why do you laugh like that?"

Apologies. It's just such an odd thing to hear, sir.

"I enjoy my life. Being passionate implies, like your crazy laugh just now, like, aaargh!" He does a pretty good mock laugh to illustrate the point.

"I've been around the block many times," he explains. "I've seen the excitement in Hollywood when people say - and I'm always very suspicious of people who use this vocabulary - they say, 'T's awesome! It's humungous! It's fantastic! It's brilliant!' I say, 'Oh yeah?', and I turn over and go to sleep, because it's all a lie.

"It's a movie industry. I enjoy being a cog in the industry and being invited to make a movie, but I don't eat, sleep and breathe it. It's a good job and it's a wonderful life. If you want me to dig up fancy answers for you, fine, but I won't lie to you."

Apologies again for overreacting.

"It sounds like you're nervous because I'm not giving you the right answer. Passion implies that kind of ..." He does the laugh again. "I leave that to the younger guys."

He takes a breath.

"I've done all that crap. It's just boring. I've been around and I've travelled around with these guys who are passionate on their cell phones, they're all walking around. I think, 'Thank God. Let them have a heart attack, I just want to go back to the hotel at night'.

"The theme of my life is very ordinary. If I'm on a film and they say, 'We found this great fish restaurant in town, you gotta come out to dinner', I say, 'Oh, OK, well, enjoy yourselves'. Then they say, 'You've got to come', and I say, 'No, I'm going back to the hotel'. I don't hang out with actors. I don't hang out with anyone, because I've done it all.

"I've drank my fill and ate my fill over the years. I've sat at tables until the early hours of the morning talking about acting, years ago. Done it all. I'm washed out with it."

Does he ever reflect on the legacy he'll leave up there on the screen? "No, I don't even think about it. What's the point of thinking about all that stuff? More important things in the world than marquees and movies."

More important things. Such as? Promise not to overreact this time.

"Living," he says. "Just living. Respect for people. Being kind and walking on the beach, reading my books, being friendly with people. It's an ethic, I guess.

"You know, on a movie set once, maybe 10, 12 years ago, I remember watching someone treating somebody in the props department really badly. He was this old guy, been around for years. This young lady had a very delicate prop and just flung it on the floor and said, 'Pick it up'. I looked at him and he just looked me and he said, 'I've seen them come and go. She won't be around long.'

"I remember that, because I thought, 'Oh dear, who is this young punk to do that to this guy who's been around the industry for years?'. The crews make the movies, not the actors. Where would an actor be without a camera crew or without the sound department? It's something I'm very aware of. I've seen people who have been badly treated and disrespectfully treated, so I'm very, very cool about all that. I don't like to hang around with people."

Hopkins has faced many dragons in his life. Drinking, divorces. One can conquer dragons, but can they ever be killed?

"You have to ask a psychiatrist. I don't know. I'm a very shallow person. I don't think much about any of that stuff." He laughs. "I just show up and make sure the cheque's in the mail to my agent."

I should have figured that out by now. Stupid question.

Red Dragon is now screening.

 

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