Anthony Hopkins was in a surprisingly good mood promoting Red Dragon in a New York hotel. Casually attired in leather jacket and jeans, the Oscar-winning Welsh knight begins by impersonating Red Dragon producer Dino De Laurentiis, with deep Italian accent to match.
"We’ll talk later about doing another one, eh? Five more." Hopkins, who returns as the famed cannibalistic serial killer in the prequel to Silence of the Lambs, has told the producer that he really cannot conceive of doing more than three in total. But he concedes never say never.
"I honestly don’t know. I guess anything is possible; I’m like putty," says Sir Anthony with a smile.
Hopkins is reticent about his work. He says he despises the celebrity aspects of his life as an actor, does the minimum of press required to promote a film and speaks in short, staccato sentences. After almost half a century in the profession, and over a decade in the limelight, it remains a job and always has.
Removed and detached
"I live in Los Angeles, but never read the trades. So I don’t know what’s going on, I’m very removed from it, and really removed from the business of acting. I trust that my agent is going to come up with a script every so often, and he does. I have lunch with him once every six weeks maybe and we talk on the phone and that’s my connection with Hollywood," admits Hopkins.
"And I love that, but I just don’t have it in my nature to become part of an acting community. I don’t have actors as friends. I like actors, but I don’t hang out with any so I’m physically and mentally detached, and always have been. Even while acting in London, I never hung out with actors. One or two friends were actors, but I’m completely divorced from it all."
Even when it comes to analysing his work in Red Dragon, Hopkins finds it difficult to remain close to a film once it is done. "It’s a job, it’s what I do, and I’m really removed from it. I see my face on the poster and think 'Oh!' But I don’t have a connection with it, maybe because the film has been done and it’s on now. I feel disconnected from it which is a good feeling, because once you get involved in all this stuff and believe what they say of you, then you go mad. So you lose balance, and perspective and you forget to live."
Giving something back
Perhaps that is why he left England for California. To live a little? "I just like walking on the beach. For what it’s worth, you can see that I’m not that attached to the acting business. I don’t talk it, I don’t discuss acting. My only connection with the acting mechanism is I go on Saturday mornings to teach a class in Santa Monica. I don’t actually teach but the actors get up and they perform scenes. I help them out, I help to clear away the unnecessary stuff and I get a good feeling about that."
This is what makes Hopkins feels content, teaching these Saturday morning acting classes, during which he teaches them "simplicity, directness and clarity, intention within scenes, which I enjoy; it brings out some kind of director in me, but I have no desire to be a director."
The acting life for me
While he has directed before, no more, he insists, "Because I’m an actor. You have to be up first thing in the morning to be a director, and the last to leave the set at night. An actor’s life is easy compared to the other one. I directed one film and they said the most exciting part is the editing. I went into the editing room and after two days, I thought I’d go insane. I couldn’t look at those scenes anymore. They said this is the new high-tech equipment, the new video-splicing machine. They said, ‘Go to frame 46.’ To which I replied ‘You do it.’"
With no shortage of acting roles in his career Hopkins sees no reason to change. As reticent a star he is, Sir Anthony has also emerged as a cultural icon, thanks to one Hannibal Lecter, a character for which he won an Oscar over ten years ago. He reluctantly admits that he created that cultural icon but again feels too detached from it to take it seriously. In no rush to step into Lecter’s shoes once more, he was attracted to Ted Tally’s script which harks back to the genesis of Lecter’s killing spree and his capture by an FBI agent, Will Graham, played by Edward Norton, who ultimately enlists his help to find another serial killer.
Here's the deal
Hopkins admitted that it was fun doing Red Dragon, despite his reluctance to come on board. "I voiced my reticence to my agent. He said, ‘Well, it’ll be good. Why not do another one?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve done two.’ He said, ‘Well, Ted Tally is writing the script’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I know. He’s a good writer. Let me see the script.’
And I read the script. I wasn’t that reticent. I wasn’t saying no. I just wanted to think about it and I read the script. I don’t like playing hard to get because I don’t think actors can afford to play hard to get.
I told my agent, ‘Just sign the deal.’ ‘Should we ask for more money?’ ‘No, no, do it.’ So, I read it and I said, ‘Yeah, it’s good. Really good.’ So I met Brett Ratner here in New York last June, who had been primed by Dino to talk me into doing it. I wasn’t that reticent about it, but he was very nervous. He sat down and said, ‘We could have a good movie.’ I said, ‘Yeah, okay. I’ll do it.’" As long as Hopkins could do it differently.
"I wanted to play it with more menace, more danger and much more rage, because after all, he has put me in here for life and I’m really not very happy about it. I also wanted to reveal to the Will Graham character and to the audience, that behind the mask of this charming man is this lethal killer who’s dangerous. You don’t mess around. You don’t go out to dinner and have a friendly chat with him. I just wanted to show that vicious, really horrifying side of him."
Through the film, Hopkins says, he was tempted to go back "to the cutesy, almost campy side of it sometimes because it’s very tempting to do all of that and get a cheap laugh here and there. But Brett was very strong about that and insisted on us keeping our course."
Losing the years
While he didn’t feel it necessary to re-watch Silence of the Lambs in preparation for this prequel, it accidentally came in handy.
"It was on television a few weeks before I started, so I watched it again and I think I watched all of it. I thought, ‘Oh, so I’ve got to go back there’. The difference being that my voice has deepened since then because I’m older. I’ve been working out for the last ten years, so I’ve been doing weights and all that, working out regularly so my chest cavities are bigger therefore my voice has dropped, and you get more baritone.
So, I thought that I can’t really strain and make an effort by trying to produce a tenor sound, which was the original Hannibal Lecter, so I produced the same almost monotone which wasn’t difficult. I didn’t want to go too far into the strength and try to become 12 years younger, but I cut down on the weight training and tried to flatten out here," he says pointing to his stomach.
Hopkins is next set to shoot a new film in Italy, Edgardo Mortara, and then hopes to play Ernest Hemmingway. Never tiring, he still gets great pleasure in driving cross country across America. "I very much want to go to Yosemite and eventually explore Alaska." Long drives help him forget about Hollywood and acting, and that is how he likes it.