Interview: Anthony Hopkins
by Carlo Cavagna
LEFT: Anthony Hopkins stars in The World's Fastest Indian.
So it can be considered unusual at this point to find Hopkins headlining a film like The World's Fastest Indian, a movie financed in part by the New Zealand Film Commission and produced by a bunch of companies you've never heard of—mostly because they didn't exist before The World's Fastest Indian. It's even more unusual to find Hopkins working with director Roger Donaldson, with whom he legendarily fought on the set of The Bounty (1984).
The story of The World's Fastest Indian is most unusual of all. It starts in the southernmost town in New Zealand, a place called Invercargill, and follows a sixty-something local eccentric named Burt Munro as he sets off for Utah to break the land speed record in a broken-down forty year-old motorcycle—an Indian Twin Scout.
In Los Angeles, Anthony Hopkins spoke with reporters about his new film, his relationship with Donaldson, and how he doesn't like to think about acting.
AboutFilm: How do you play a character who is outwardly abrasive but is also sympathetic to people? People want to help him. Is that a difficult thing to do?
Hopkins: No. I'm just an actor. It's the way the script is written, and it's easy. I don't have think about it. When you receive the script, you know pretty well how to play it, apart from little technicalities like the accent, or how to become as close to Burt Munro as I possibly could through [watching] the documentary film [about him]. But, people ask questions like, “What do you think about the message of the film,” or about anything. I never think about stuff like that. We are dying from overthinking. We are slowly killing ourselves by thinking about everything. Think. Think. Think. You can never trust the human mind anyway. It's a death trap. So I don't think about that. I just learn my lines, go on set. Do my preparation, whatever that is. Have a cup of coffee. Say hello to everyone. And be friendly. “Action”—and then do it.
Question: Did you know about Burt Munro before you did the movie?
Hopkins: No, this is the first time [I learned about him]. I had played a speed guy before [in the BBC's Across the Lake (1988)], Donald Campbell—British man who broke the water speed record. They're interesting characters. Donald Campbell in his interviews—he was asked, “Do you ever feel scared?” He said, “Yeah, of course I do, every day. But that's the whole point of courage, to overcome your fear.” That's the interesting thing, when courage bleeds through the fear. They're so tired of being frightened, they take some action to kill the fear.
Question: Did you enjoy riding the bike?
Hopkins: I did some. I did. It was uncomfortable for my lower back.
Question: Did you have fun in this role, or was it especially difficult?
Hopkins: No. It wasn't difficult. I did enjoy it. In New Zealand it rained a lot, it rained non-stop, which can cause problems with the filming. But you adapt to that. We'd always be ready. One day we couldn't film because the wind blew so badly. We couldn't work. Sand was blowing everywhere and everyone was hiding. It was pretty rough down there. Massive gales and a lot of rain. Utah was easier because it was sunny, and we were lucky there. We filmed just in time before the rains came.
Question: Do you yourself have any desire for speed?
Hopkins: Nope. I'm the slowest driver in the world.
Question: This movie is about living your dreams. Being so accomplished, are you living the dream?
Hopkins: Oh yeah! Today, I'm having the best time of my life.
Question: Is there anything you have left to accomplish?
Hopkins: Yes. I'm composing and writing music, and I've got a concert in San Antonio in May. And I've just done an exhibition of paintings of mine—one hundred paintings down in San Antonio for some friends of my wife, Lulu and Aaron Tucker. I am doing another series for a San Antonio library for a charity called Born to Read. It supports literacy among young kids, trying to encourage kids to read and write. Yeah, my life is fantastic. Funnily enough, people ask me what is it like being a celebrity. Well, I live an ordinary, simple life. And people think “Oh I bet you do.” But I do. I don't have people following me around, like bodyguards. I don't know how people live like that. Maybe the young movie stars have to live like that, I don't know. But it seems a little crazy to me. I don't think you need all that stuff.
Question: Do you have a home in San Antonio?
Hopkins: No. It's just that friends of my wife Stella married recently, just about a year ago. This young woman, she's Brazilian, her name is Lulu. She and her husband Aaron, they had a little bit of a struggle, so my wife Stella decided to set up a gallery, because [Stella] wanted to be in the art gallery business. And my wife was in the art gallery business here on La Cienega some years ago. So she had the experience, and she set up this art gallery, helped them to get it together. She said to me, “I want you to do one hundred paintings.” So I did. Then she said, “Right, I want you to do some acrylic things.” I said, “I've never done acrylic.” She went, “Start!” She does that because she believes that I can do it. So I said, “Okay.” The last eight months I've done a lot—a lot of paintings. I did four yesterday. They're rich colors, and I love the colors.
Question: In this movie, you get help from many people. Have you ever had someone help you out, help you up?
Hopkins: Oh yeah. Sure. I worked with Lawrence Olivier some years ago. He was a great mentor. You make your own way in life. You meet people on the way. I think it takes a while to learn to be relaxed and mellow, I guess. I think that's what happens once you get older. It's easier to work with people, and people find it easier to work with you. And so generally, you ask me if I'm living my dreams, yeah, I am living my dreams. Every time I try to retire, or even think of retiring from acting, my agent comes up with a script. I say, “Oh yeah, okay.” And he says, “I thought you were going to retire.” I say, “Well, maybe I'll think about that tomorrow.”
Question: Have any of your characters or your films influenced your paintings?
Hopkins: No. I play music—I write my own music, but I play music, just background music really, and just let it happen.
Question: How has your relationship with Roger Donaldson changed over the years since you worked with him on The Bounty?
Hopkins: Well, we're much more friendly than we've ever been. When you're younger you have so many ideas about yourself; everything is important. It's not when you look back, nothing is that important. It's only life.
Question: You've been quoted saying to young actors, “If you never act a day again in your life, no one will care.” What importance does an actor or an artist bring to society?
Hopkins: That is a philosophical question I can't answer. I have no idea. I don't know what acting is, but I enjoy it. I think we ask too many questions of ourselves. We make too much importance of stuff. But I do say to actors when I have taught in classes, or when I sometimes do a talk to a group. I'll say, “If I never acted again, the world wouldn't stop, nor would it stop if I didn't stop acting. That's how important it is. I know it [seems] important when you're young. But I say, “Lighten up. Don't take it all so seriously.” All the gurus and teachers will take your money and run.
AboutFilm : Do you think there are films that are important?
Hopkins: I don't know.
AboutFilm: The Lion in Winter was your feature debut, correct?
AboutFilm: What was it like making the transition from stage to screen?
Hopkins: It was easy because I wanted it to be easy. I knew enough to think, “Don't overact on film.” Working with Katherine Hepburn, she said to me, “Don't act.” She said, “Read the lines. Just be. Just speak the lines.” I said, “Okay.” She said, “You look good. You got a good pair of shoulders, you got a good head, good face.” She said, “Watch Spencer Tracy. He didn't act. He just came and spoke his the lines.” I thought, “Well, that's pretty good advice.” I think all those actors from that generation, like Bogart—they were wonderful actors. They didn't act. They just came on and they did it, and the characters were wonderful. People say, “They didn't act. They were always themselves.” Well, who else were they going to be? What they did, they were really good at. See, in England they come from a tradition where everyone is acting. Too much acting. I watched a film the other day with a very famous, great, great actor, I won't mention his name because everyone loves his memory, but I thought, “God he was acting a lot.” Great actor, but nonstop acting. Wall to wall, fitted-carpet acting.
Question: What made you want to become an actor?
Hopkins: No, I just didn't know what else to do. Richard Burton came from the same town as me, so I thought I'd follow my nose, and follow my luck. I think I've been very lucky.
Question: Do you think all the training that some actors go through can be helpful?
Hopkins: I'm sure it can be helpful. Indeed it can, like any training. Of course it can. As you go on learning, you become better. I read an interview with Kenneth Tynan back in the Sixties, and he was talking about mannerisms. He said, “We develop mannerisms. We develop little habits, which give us comfort.” And he said, “The thing is to break those as much as you can. It's good to have them, because they are security blankets. But you have to break them. Find the courage to break them, and find new things all the time.” It's difficult to do that, but if you make the effort to do it, it's worth it in the end because you throw off old habits—and everyone has them. You see them in movies. And sometimes they're very attractive habits to look at, charismatic habits. But sometimes they look ridiculous. I saw the great Marlon Brando in a movie the other night. And he was so bad. That's like attacking some sacred— He was so bad in this movie. I thought, “How can he be so bad?” It was with Yul Brenner [Morituri (1965)]. I'm like, “What's he doing?” For God's sake, act! Do something! Let go. But sometimes even great actors like that can be bad, really bad. That's okay though.
Question: Where do you keep your Oscar?
Hopkins: In the house. It's near the television, actually. My wife's family came over to the house recently and they all wanted to touch the Oscar. And they all had photographs with it; it was funny.
Question: Are you doing the voice in the new movie about Hannibal Lecter [Hannibal Lecter: Behind the Mask]?
Hopkins: No, no. [laughs] I've done that. That's enough of that.
[Read the AboutFilm review of The World's Fastest Indian]
[Read the AboutFilm interview with writer/director Roger Donaldson]
Article and interviews © January 2006 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2005 Magnolia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
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