Sir Anthony Hopkins

Talks to Moviehole about his hit thriller “The Rite”

Sir Anthony Hopkins has been scaring the pants off us since his Oscar winning turn in “Silence of the Lambs”, and the subsequent sequels. Seriously, all he needs to do is look into the lens and I’m frightened. Now he’s in a new film called “The Rite”, where he plays an unorthodox priest, Father Lucas, who teaches a young American priest the art of exorcism. His natural delivery adds humour to the scary flick, most of which I had to watch through my hands.

I sat down with the great Hopkins in LA to chat about exorcism films, what he believes, and get an insight into his acting process.

Exorcism films are nothing new but what was it about the script in particular that really grabbed you about this one?

Anthony Hopkins:  It was a combination.  I thought the script was very, very good and then meeting Mikael Håfström, the director.  It’s always the genesis of doing movies, you meet the director and you read the script and then gradually it all comes together.  I was glad there were no special effects in this.  It was based on reality I guess.  I was intrigued about it.  Also, I started reading quite a lot, not the subject of exorcism but the nature of belief and non-belief.  I didn’t get involved in reading about Satanism and all that because I don’t know about that.  I have no knowledge.

Are you religious?

Anthony Hopkins:  In a way that I suppose Einstein or Darwin were.  They believed in some great intelligence at the back of everything.  I believe that myself.  I don’t have a personal God.  I used to be an agnostic I guess.  I don’t know.  I don’t have any certainty.  I’m pretty open-minded about everything.  I believe all is possible.  I think for me is to not be certain.  I don’t have any certainty and a strongly defined knowledge about anything.

I had a feeling when I was a little boy, a feeling of – that overused word awe.  When I was a kid I remember being taken into the woods in Margam and seeing the bluebells.  It was in spring.  I would go, “Ahhh…” the awe of seeing all that color and rushing and grabbing all these bluebells and apples in the orchards when I was on the farm as a little boy.  There were farmyards nearby.  I didn’t know what it was; there was something quite inspirational about all that, like Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill, the green farms and the fields of my childhood.  I wasn’t brought up in a religious household.  My father was an atheist.  My mother wasn’t but my father was.  He told me that it was all a load of rubbish.  He didn’t believe.  I went along with that and then gradually slowly I’ve come to believe that I know nothing.

Do you believe in the devil?

Anthony Hopkins:  No.  I don’t know what I believe.  Somebody said, be kind because everyone is fighting a great battle.  We all have parts of our lives which are – we have access to cruelty and violence and horror and unkindness and misery.  We have access in ourselves to great goodness and kindness.  As you get older, as I get older, I think be kind, and don’t take yourself seriously.  Because once you start doing that and thinking – you know, I know people in this business who… you see them being interviewed on television actors and they’re very bright and intelligent people but they all seem to have these opinions about everything.  They all know a lot.  God bless them, that’s fine, but I don’t know anything.  I know nothing.  That gives me an openness and an access to all kinds of possibilities.

Did you do any research for this role?

Anthony Hopkins:  No.  I read a lot anyway.  I started reading about the Jesuits and the history of the Jesuit movement.  I read some book by Malachi Martin on exorcism and Satan.  I read a few of those books.  I read Scott Peck’s book called People of the Lie.  I used to read when I was younger.  I read a lot of Alan Watts who is part of whole flower movement and Timothy Leary and all that.  His books are very interesting on spiritualism.

I started reading scientists, science books.  I mean, The Origin of Species, Voyage of the Beagle by Darwin and various books on Einstein because there are answers in there as well.  There are seeming answers to the riddle and the mystery of the universe and the mystery of consciousness.  Jung, I have read.  So I go on reading and reading.  Not that I’m any wiser.

A character like this has any influence in what you do like maybe in the music or when you’re painting?

ANTHONY:  No.  I just paint and music.  I don’t do anything to plan.  I don’t have an academic background.  I write music.  I got a concert being performed in Birmingham, England in July I think and in London.  I paint.  I’ve got a show in – I’ve got a gallery in Hawaii and I sell paintings.  It’s all up for grabs.  I mean, they seem to buy them.  I don’t know.  I don’t have academic background or structure.  It’s just good freedom really.

Are you the kind of actor who creates a whole background for the character you are playing?

Anthony Hopkins: When I was a young actor, I studied Stanislavski and I was trained in the Royal Academy by two very great teachers of Stanislavski which is really the method in a way. I used to write enormous subtext. What I had for breakfast. It’s very useful but finally you have to – it’s a lot of work.  It doesn’t really get you anywhere very much because you have the information in your head but the audience doesn’t see it.  I still use it.  I still use it on some unconscious level.

For me the important thing is to know the text so well.  I go over it literally.  I do it now.  I go through it once and they go one.  I go through the speech two, three… five times.  I do a fourth one so that’s 20 times 10.  I build it up until I know the text. I put 500 times over a period of several weeks.  I believe that if you keep the brain active and you strengthen the synapses so it becomes automatic like playing the piano or you learn the text so well that you know, that you know, that you know it.  You don’t have to think about it.  That’s the kind of method I work so that you’re so relaxed you could do it in your sleep and then you’re free to improvise.

Like Woody Allen, I just worked with Woody Allen.  He said, “Okay, make sure that’s good.  Let’s do it again so you can improvise and kick it around.”  So you know the text so well and, “Okay let’s go.”  Then Woody would stop, he said, “Okay, let’s do it again, but don’t go to the chair like because you rehearsed it that way.  Let’s do it as if you’re not going…”  I said, “Okay.”  So you have to know yourself so well, the material, the text, the scene so well that you can do whatever you like and you are limitless.  You can only have one shot at it because there is one take.  The director can say, let’s try it again, maybe do it a little faster, try something else with it so you got various variations.  Maybe the director will pick one of those.

You can’t be too indulgent with that because then you can start showing off.  It’s like when they will say, okay, let’s improvise the scene and you see the films that are totally improvised and you can see that it looks improvised.  It becomes an affectation that it’s not reality at all.  You can get too clever with it.  Sometimes the direct approach isn’t – you watch some of the old movies like Spencer Tracy and all those guys or some great European actors like – sometimes the simpler approach is better, instead of trying to convince the audience that this is real because I think it becomes phony and fraudulent in a way.

So you have to be judicious and choosy about what you do.  It would be nice to keep everyone guessing but in the end, you look at everything and go “Come on, that wasn’t necessary.  Just say the line.”  The thing that drives me mad is watching movies… I can’t understand what people are saying anymore.  {mumbling sounds} I switch it off because I can’t understand what people are saying.  I think it’s a form of arrogance when an actor thinks that you’re going to be interested when he says {mumbling sounds}. Brando got away with that.  He was the one who invented all that kind of acting.  He was great at it.  He was the best.  But now it’s…I think, what are they saying; I don’t understand what anyone is saying, so I may as well go home. I find it insulting.  I mustn’t take myself seriously but I think – I’ve paid money to see this.  I don’t know what anyone is talking about so I don’t know what the story is.  My attention span is like that of a hummingbird.  I can barely follow the story of I Love Lucy.  For me to sit in a movie – and there are some great movies – and I won’t mention names and some good actors there – I don’t know what any of them are talking about.


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