A candid conversation with Britain's preeminent actor about battling directors, shunning Shakespeare and becoming the world's most famous cannibal.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that 27 minutes of screen time changed Anthony Hopkins' life forever. For years it seemed as if Hopkins would be relegated to the relatively pleasant life of art underachiever; an actor who worked constantly but never attained the level of true star. He was known on-screen and onstage for his solid, interesting, even inventive performances. Offstage he had a reputation as a difficult man haunted by demons. Then a character named Hannibal Lecter came into his life.
Hopkins was on-screen less than half an hour during "The Silence of the Lambs, playing the jailed serial killer with a taste for human liver and fava beans. The role won him an Oscar for best actor and transformed him into the kind of star he dreamed of becoming as a lonely, tormented boy growing up in Wales.
Critics, who had always appreciated his efforts, now placed him in the pantheon of such gifted British actors as Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and John Gielgud. When "The Remains of the Day" opened this past autumn, the media again fell in love. "No other actor need apply," wrote "Time" magazine. "Hopkins is just the man for this." "The more I see of Anthony Hopkins, the more convinced I become that he is the most brilliant and versatile actor since Laurence Olivier," wrote Rex Reed. Michael Medved called Hopkins' performance "one of the greatest acting achievements ever captured on film." His latest film, "Shadowlands," was talked about as an Oscar contender well before its release simply because of the newfound power of his name.
In the UK he was recognized as a national treasure and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth shortly after receiving his Oscar. Few people realized how far he had to travel to enjoy such success. For those who knew the 56-year-old actor well, the most amazing news wasn't that he had won an Academy Award or had been knighted--it was that he had survived at all.
Hopkins was born December 31, 1937, in Port Talbot, Wales, the hometown of Richard Burton. His parents ran a small bakery, but young Tony managed to avoid working in the family business. His school life was a disaster. He claims to have had virtually no friends and describes himself as the ultimate misfit--in fact, he often lapsed into total silence for weeks on end. When his teachers voiced their concern to his parents, Hopkins was sent away to boarding school, where he was shy around girls, didn't play sports and had no idea what he wanted to be when he grew up.
At 17 he discovered acting in an amateur play and, at 18, thanks to a talent for playing the piano, won a scholarship to the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. After two years he fulfilled his mandatory training in the British army, where he served--incompetently, he says--as a clerk. In 1960 he became an assistant stage manager at the Manchester Library Theater, then joined the Nottingham Repertory Company. In 196I he won a scholarship to study at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Work in other repertory companies in Leicester and Liverpool followed, and in 1965 he was invited to audition for Laurence Olivier, director of the National Theater. "I thought I was going to be discovered overnight and become a big movie star within three days of stepping onstage," he said. "None of that happened." Still, within two years, Hopkins was designated as Olivier's understudy and was considered likely to take over the directorship. "I was told that I had the promise of becoming one of the great actors in England." But booze and a hot temper turned an opportunity into a nightmare.
While appearing in "Macbeth" and rehearsing for "The Misanthrope," Hopkins blew up at a director and quit the National Theater. His decision was final, even though he was warned that he was probably destroying a promising career. His stubbornness and rage were already legend among those who knew him--and he said he would rather drive a cab than take direction from someone he didn't like.
His drinking became a problem ("I was drinking myself to death," he admits) and he was often deeply depressed. His first marriage lasted just four years, and when he walked out he left behind a baby daughter, whom he seldom saw after the divorce. In 1973 he married Jennifer Lynton, whom he met while filming "When Eight Bells Toll."
No matter what happened in his personal life, Hopkins kept working. Over the years he has appeared in 18 plays, 43 television dramas and 28 movies. For British and American television he convincingly portrayed Charles Dickens, Danton, Lloyd George, Edmund Kean, Guy Burgess, Adolf Hitler, Mussolini and Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. His first film was "The Lion in Winter" with Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn, in 1967. He also starred as an eerie ventriloquist in "Magic," as the doctor in "The Elephant Man," as Captain Bligh in "The Bounty" and as a dealer of rare books in "84 Charing Cross Road."
Now, with Hopkins once again on everyone's list of Oscar candidates, PLAYBOY sent Contributing Editor Lawrence Grobel (who last interviewed Joyce Carol Oates) to probe into the mind of the man who made cannibalism sexy. Grobel's report:
"I didn't know what to expect when I went out to the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, where Hopkins likes to stay when he comes to Los Angeles. I had read enough stories about him saying how he understood characters like Hannibal Lecter and Adolf Hitler well enough to play them. I had no doubt the man had demons, but I wondered whether they would surface when we talked.
"It turned out that Hopkins isn't a man who keeps his opinions to himself. He doesn't look kindly on his profession or the prima donna behavior of his fellow actors. He's bold enough and confident enough to say what he feels. He may be one of the most fearless actors working today.
"I saw him twice before he left for England to make 'The Remains of the Day' and twice more after the movie was done. At one of our sessions I presented a copy of 'The Silence of the Lambs' for him to sign. He obliged by writing how much he looked forward to having dinner with me, where we could dine on a plate of raw liver, fava beans and a bottle of chianti. Wishing me pleasant dreams, he signed it 'Hannibal Lecter.'"
Sir Anthony Hopkins Fanatic Asylum