This weekend's opening of the film version of David Auburn’s award-winning play, Proof (which had an outstanding production at the Heritage Repertory Theatre in Charlottesville a few seasons ago), sent me searching for an article I wrote about the movie’s co-star, Anthony Hopkins, when he appeared at the Virginia Film Festival in 2000.
Proof is the story of a young woman who is unsure whether she has inherited her genius father’s mental instability as well as his talent. Hopkins told Conan O’Brien on tonight’s program that he took the part of the math professor in Proof because it was the sort of role “that I became an actor to do, a very meaty part.”
Here is the piece on Hopkins, which appeared in The Metro Herald on November 3, 2000:
Sir Anthony Hopkins Receives Virginia Film Award
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor
Oscar®-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins was the recipient of the Virginia Film Award at a ceremony last Saturday, October 28. The award was presented on behalf of the Virginia Film Festival by Gayle Vale, president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, who thanked him “for playing this great role in making Virginia one of Hollywood’s favorite places to make films this year,” mentioning the actor’s two most recent films, Hannibal and Hearts in Atlantis, which just completed filming in the Commonwealth.
Prior to the ceremony, Hopkins took part in several events at the Virginia Film Festival, speaking to drama students in a private meeting at that Helms Theatre; introducing a screening of The Silence of the Lambs at the neighboring Culbreth Theatre; and being interviewed by film critic Roger Ebert about his career after a screening of Titus, designer-director Julie Taymor’s provocative (if unsuccessful at the box office) rendering of Shakespeare’s “bloodiest play,” Titus Andronicus.
Hopkins also made himself available for a press conference in the Helms Theatre. For almost an hour, he fielded questions about acting, the film industry, his personal life, and his past and future career. The Metro Herald was there.
To Hopkins, acting “is a job. I do stand by that. It’s a pretty good job,” and “they pay me quite well to do what I do.” He continued: “I am not my job. Acting is what I happen to do.”
When not working, Hopkins retires to his home in Pacific Palisades, California, where he plays piano and reads voraciously. “I have a quiet, normal life,” he said, “and it suits me. My friends are not actors.” Hopkins said that he wishes he “could read and devour books faster. I’m fascinated,” he added, “by the new physics,” noting that he is currently reading a new book about “the nature of time” and a recent biography of Richard Nixon that was sent to him by director Oliver Stone.
Asked about the movie industry and the Hollywood culture, Hopkins said, “I love the movie industry. Hollywood has been very kind to me.” He revealed that he is himself impressed by celebrities, saying that he likes attending the Academy Awards ceremony because it gives him a chance to meet actors he admires. In his opinion, he said, American actors are the best in the world because “they make it look easy,” mentioning names like Spencer Tracy and Gary Cooper as models for “simplicity” in the acting craft.
At the same time, he said, “actors need tough directors like Oliver Stone.” Stone, Hopkins asserted, “puts the pressure on – not in a cruel way, but it is a pleasure to work for him.” (Stone directed Hopkins in the biopic Nixon.) On Richard Nixon himself, Hopkins said he studied the former president through film documentaries, photographs, and television interviews. “There is a great element of tragedy in Nixon,” he said. There was a greatness in him, so misused.”
Chris Sandlin, a reporter from The Collegian, the newspaper of the University of Richmond, noted that Hopkins had filmed his two most recent projects in Virginia – in and around Richmond and Charlottesville – and asked the actor what he liked about making movies in the state. Virginia, he answered, “is beautiful, especially at this time of year” and it has “good restaurants, too.”
The Metro Herald posed this question to Hopkins: His first major film role was as Richard the Lionhearted in The Lion in Winter. Would he ever consider doing that script again, this time as King Henry II (the role played in that film by Peter O’Toole)?
Hopkins seemed surprised, and almost perturbed, by the question, but he answered it directly. That very role had been offered to him within the past two years, he said, but “I didn’t want to do it. Why remake it?” he asked. “Peter O’Toole already did it definitively. It’s like remaking Casablanca – an exercise in futility.”
Asked why he comes to events like the Virginia Film Festival, Hopkins said, “I enjoy talking to people. I started off as a hopeless student, but” because of a chance meeting with fellow Welshman Richard Burton in his hometown of Cardiff, he made a determination to become an actor, just like Burton. Since then, he said, “magical things have happened to me, synchronistic things . . . I feel very grateful.” He added that he hopes some of that magic might rub off on the students and others who attend film festivals in search of inspiration.
Sometimes, at major events like the Cannes Film Festival (“a nightmare”) or the Berlin Film Festival (“an even bigger nightmare”), the paparazzi can become bothersome. But, Hopkins said, “I’m not Brad Pitt (I wish I were, but I’m not)” so he is not so much the target of the more virulent strain of tabloid journalists.
Hopkins gave the impression of a man comfortable in his own skin, who views his acting career as just one part of a well-balanced life, who is grateful for the opportunities he has had, and who has not grown an inflated ego on account of the many accolades placed upon him. His calm affability makes him, one participant noted, “the kind of man you’d like to have in your home for dinner.”
One has to wonder if the offer made to Hopkins to play Henry II in The Lion in Winter was eventually accepted by Patrick Stewart, who played the role opposite Glenn Close on Showtime last year; or was it by Laurence Fishburne, who played the role on Broadway opposite Stockard Channing?