Interview : Anthony Hopkins

In an early moment from "The Human Stain", Anthony Hopkins’ Coleman Silk, a classics professor, is falsely accused of racism, at which point Silk walks out. “He says ‘screw you all’ and gets up and walks out and leaves, which is what I’ve done in my life,” admits a surprisingly candid Hopkins, the day after the film’s North American premiere in Toronto

With a reputation for being coolly guarded, Hopkins concedes that throughout a career spanning four decades, the Oscar winner felt at ease relating to that ‘screw you’ attitude of the otherwise complex Coleman Silk, “in several situations in my life, which have been life changing in a way. My attitude has been, if somebody doesn’t like what I do, I say ‘well, screw you’ and then I leave. In work, if I find the situation is intolerable I say, ‘bye, get somebody else.’ I’ve done that several times. Its political correctness for some actors to take their punishment from sadistic directors and thirty years ago I said ‘screw you’ it and I left The National Theatre at the time and was threatened and warned that I’d never work again. I said, ‘I don’t give a shit what you think, but I’m off.’ And that was a life changer,” the actor recalls.

In Human Stain, Coleman Silk harbours a terrible secret, one that ultimately leads him to a second lease on life. Hopkins says that, like Silk, he too, has several leases on life, both professionally and personally, but mostly the latter. “In life itself, the decision to come to America to live. When people ask me why, I’ll say ‘well, that’s no one else’s business’. I just did it because I’ve spent a lot of years in America.” Hopkins other lease of life, he says, was his recent third marriage to Stella Arroyave. “She’s a younger woman and I just feel life’s much simpler than I imagined it could be. I just don’t get het up about things anymore like I used to,” Hopkins admits, pensively.

The actor, who had no qualms about playing an African-American character ‘passing’ as white in Human Stain, insists that his stage of life and career, the Oscar winner has nothing left to prove. “No I’ve got nothing to prove and nothing to lose”, says Hopkins. “My approach to everything in life has actually been fairly straightforward but about work. I’m just an actor and if my agent phones up to say ‘I’ve got a script for you and I don’t really recommend that you do this but if you wanted to read it,’ and I say, ‘no, I’ll take your word for it’, he’s the sort of agent that would say ‘have a read of this’ and I’ll read it. Maybe I’ll disagree with him but generally he’s 85% on the nose with it and so I’ll say ‘yeah’. He sent me one recently actually, which I’m going to do called Proof, Dave Auburn’s play, which I’m going to do with Gwyneth Paltrow. He actually was thinking twice about giving it to me because I’d said I didn’t want to work for the rest of the year and I picked up on this piece of information. I said ‘well let me read it’ He said ‘you said you didn’t want to work’ I recognized a fantastic script. I said ‘I’ll do it’ he said ‘no, you can do it if you want to’ So that’s how I work. That’s how I approach things, so I don’t have to prove anything.”

Hopkins has always maintained that acting is a job, and that he doesn’t delve too deeply into a character, even as someone as complex as The Human Stain’s Coleman Silk. “I just learn my lines, show up and do it and that ‘s what I do. I don’t go to great depths of character analysis.” Hopkins may have nothing to prove, but at 65, he says, his motivating force that keeps him going is his renewed love of the profession. “I enjoy working, because it keeps me out of trouble, off the streets and out of the bars. It’s just a job and I enjoy it more now than I have ever done because of that paradoxical attitude that if there is nothing to win there is nothing to lose, so you go into it and think, oh well, if it works it works and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. I enjoy the procedure I guess, the showing up for work.” It’s all very practical, Hopkins aggress. “Well that’s all I am. There is nothing spectacular about acting. All this mysticism about it is a load of bullshit.”

As for reprising the character that won him an Oscar and Hollywood fame, Hannibal Lecter, Hopkins is adamant we won’t be seeing Hopkins in the role any time soon. “He’s been unequivocally put to rest.” But not so much Sir Anthony’s career!

THE HUMAN STAIN OPENS ON FRIDAY

- PAUL FISCHER