In his most recent film, Hopkins portrays William Parrish, a media tycoon with astonishing wealth and power, whose fabulous, orderly life is disrupted by the arrival of Death. Although in Meet Joe Black, Death has a pretty face (Brad Pitt), and falls in love with Hopkins beautiful daughter, Claire Forlani (The Rock), the outcome is inevitable. The romance proves to be complex and bittersweet for everyone involved. What makes Anthony Hopkins one of the best of all times? He shared a few secrets that might help in the answer.
UNIVERCITY: What was your gut reaction to the script for Meet Joe Black?
Anthony Hopkins: I don't really have gut reactions. It doesn't happen in that kind of dramatic way. Certainly in my life it doesn't. I was doing a film called The Edge and a phone call came through to do Zorro and I said, Yeah, I'll do that. Then there was script called Meet Joe Black and a script called Instinct at the same time. My agent told me that I couldn't do both, so I read the scripts, and they were both good, so I chose the one that came first which was Meet Joe Black. Then my agent informed me that it wouldn't clash to do Instinct as well, so I said fine. I'll usually do it if it is a good and interesting script and if I'm on screen alot - if I'm on the last page, it means I have a big part.
UNIVERCITY: What's it like to come face to face with death, literally and figuratively in this film?
AH: He's very pretty (laughs).
UNIVERCITY: Where there lots of death jokes on the set?
AH: There were a lot of jokes, but not about death.
UNIVERCITY: What do you think people's reaction to this film will be? What will they talk about when it's done?
AH: I did a film called Shadowlands that was a painful one for people to watch, because it's where we all live. Like Meet Joe Black - the poster says - Meet Joe Black. Sooner or later we all will. We're all aware of it. As I get older, I have no illusions left. I'm very happy.
UNIVERCITY: Are you in the same state of mind as your character is in the film? Are you satisfied with where you are and what you've done with your life?
AH: I've done everything I've ever dreamed of wanting to do. More than everything. I hope I go on another fifty years. I just take what comes along the conveyer belt.
UNIVERCITY: Are you talking in terms of acting or life in general?
AH: Everything has been a big surprise. I wanted to be an American actor. I'm not. I'm a British actor. I always wanted to live and work in America and I ended up virtually living here, not permanently, but I work here a lot. I've worked with some pretty great people like Brad, Antonio Banderas, Steven Spielberg. I'm working with Jessica Lange at the moment. It's all a big party to me. It's a non-stop merry-go-round. I hope I don't sound smug, but there's nothing more I could ask for. I don't have any great passions to become an artist or a director or a writer.
UNIVERCITY: Are you a workaholic?
AH: I just love working. I don't think it's a neurotic thing. I'm restless if I'm not working.
UNIVERCITY: Is the American attitude towards acting different from the British attitude?
AH: I've never had a problem with American actors. I'm a fan of American actors. I do think that there is too much talk of cinema school. These film students talk about analyzing Citizen Kane. Give us a break. Just do the film! They talk about who's a great director or a great actor. They know their job. That's what makes them great. The new geniuses that have come up the block in the last few years - arrogant, egotistical - they make a couple of films that are hot and flashy, but where are they now. I think greatness is - well Speilberg is a great director. Marty Breast is great. Just tell the audience the story.
UNIVERCITY: What are the ingredients of a great actor?
AH: They're watchable. They make it all look very real. There were so many good, strong actors. People like James Cagney was a self-taught dancer. Self-taught actor. Spencer Tracey. That to me is greatness. They're entertaining. They tell a story.
UNIVERCITY: Do you consider yourself a great actor?
AH: No. If I thought of myself as a great actor, I'm finished. If you start thinking things like that, you're dead. You can't. You can't go onstage being great.
UNIVERCITY: Do you have any acting secrets?
AH: Well, I do have an obsessive way of learning text. I read it exactly 250 times. It's kind of a magical number. I go over it over and over and over again, but I enjoy it. It's not a hardship, and I know that I know that I know that I know it so well, that I need never worry about it again. I was looking at a scene yesterday to the film I'm working on now called Titus, and I thought, I don't know this line. So I read through them, and it all came back. It's like opening the memory banks. Once you know it, it's like filling up a balloon with hydrogen and then you can take off, but you've got to have fuel. If you don't know the text, you can't move. You can't drive on an empty tank. Not only that, it's rude. It's a disservice to the entire film crew and to the other actors. If you can't learn your lines, than give the job to someone else. It's a well paid job. You can't bluff your way through, because the camera will call your bluff.
UNIVERCITY: Do you have any other advice for young actors?
AH: Discipline. Learn your text. Learn your lines so well. Don't try to con people into thinking you know what you're doing, unless you know the basic craft of it. That is to know the text and don't spend too much time with the gurus. There are too many teachers who are taking a lot of money from young actors, and they're being conned. I've seen them - acting schools, acting coaches. Some may be good, but a number of them I have seen are cons. I told some students in New York a while back, don't waste your money. This guy is conning you. It's all rubbish he's teaching you. It's got nothing to do with what you want to do as an actor. Basic training is good, because it's very essential to be able to speak clearly. All the fine actors of today are clear. It's a myth to think it's got to do with some stuffed-shirt technical skill that's got nothing to do with acting or inspiration. It's got everything to do with inspiration. Technique- clarity, diction, voice, movement. It's the clarity of purpose. Without those basic techinques, you can't even begin to move, and people unfortunately think they can. They think it's about something else. About endless classes or pretending to go back into the womb for something.
UNIVERCITY: Out of all the films that you've done, which is your favorite?
AH: Silence of the Lambs. I enjoyed that. It was a lot of fun to do. They've all been pretty good to do. I've done one or two clinkers, but I've enjoyed them all.
UNIVERCITY: Is there a sequel for Silence of the
UNIVERCITY: If Death came knocking on your door today and said you had
48 hours left, what would you do?