These days it seems there are two sides to Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins. Whether one is chatting with the celebrated actor in a closed off tent in Park City in the midst of the Sundance Film Festival, or in the quieter confines of a Beverly Hills hotel, Anthony Hopkins casts a more relaxed figure than one is used to. But then perhaps as Hopkins frequently confesses, he has little to prove.
On screen, Hopkins takes centre stage as a wily antagonist in the Hitchcockian thriller Fracture opposite Ryan Gosling, as an aeronautical engineer who murders his adulterous wife in cold blood, confesses to the killing and then pursues the prosecuting and ambitious assistant District Attorney by going after his flaw. For an actor who can pick and choose, or not act at all, Hopkins found the idea of playing this wily killer too irresistible. “When I opened the script and read it I phoned my agent and said ‘Well this is a rare one'”
Hopkins sees Fracture as being “reminiscent of movies like Primal Fear, Jagged Edge, or Presumed Innocent, that kind of slick, slick commercial entertaining popcorn film. I think that’s great because nowadays we’re so busy with a camera, we can’t see what’s going on so what I like is this is the kind film that just unfolds and tells its story. I like the way it’s written, which is so precise as told by the grammar, with the colons, semi-colons or the periods. There’s just not too much descriptive stuff going on.”
Hopkins admits that these days he can afford to be selective, admitting “I don’t rush into things like I used to. People say I’m always working but I’m not. I take a lot of time off, I paint and I write music and I play piano every day and stay fit.” The entrenched Californian resident is as involved in painting and music, as he is in acting.
This month, Hopkins launches an exhibit of his paintings in Las Vegas, and he also composed the score for Slipstream, his second directorial feature which he wrote. A quietly original meditation on life and death, Hopkins says that Slipstream came about at the right time in his life. As the film explored the notion of mortality, the actor, as he approaches 70, told me at Sundance that he has become increasingly aware of his own sense of mortality, “which I think is very healthy. I’m not preoccupied with it, but aware of it., so I live life to the full but I’m also aware that it can turn on a dime.”
But Hopkins says that thematically, Slipstream is more than that. “It’s actually my perception of life and existence. ‘I’m not trying to make it heavy, but I think it’s all strange” he muses. Almost forty years after making his film debut in the classic The Lion in Winter, it took him that long to both write and direct his first feature. “I’ve been in mainstream movies I suppose and never had the time or didn’t have the inclination.” It was his wife, Stella “who encouraged me to write this. My mother just died about four years ago and I was a little kind of in limbo and a bit disillusioned with things – not the acting business – just a bit tired. I thought ‘What do I do?’ We just got married and she said ‘Why don’t you just write a script’ and here we are.”
Hopkins now laughingly refers to himself as “a guerrilla filmmaker at 69”, and isn’t ruling out making another film, not caring at the response his work receives by the critics. Slipstream did get mixed reviews at Sundance, but Hopkins remains philosophical. “Well the website reviews have been very good and I think we’re getting a distribution out of it as well, so I’m very happy with it. But look if it works, it works and if it doesn’t it doesn’t and there’s nothing I can do about it. I didn’t expect people to like it because of what an odd, quirky movie, but I got a lot of reviews which were really good.”
If the financing comes through, Hopkins’ next outing in front of the cameras will be playing legendary icon Alfred Hitchcock. “He was a very unhappy man because he always felt a failure. Psycho was smashed by the critics, his Vertigo was destroyed. North by North West had a fairly good review, so he felt most of his life a total fraud and a failure.” While not drawing on how he intends to play the Master of Suspense, he admits that it will be tough to avoid imitating many of his classic mannerisms. “Well I’ll have to do a little bit of that. I’ve got a lot of footage of him talking and being interviewed, but of course Hitchcock is very specific.”
An actor now for four decades, Hopkins says he is at his most content, never realising that when he first stepped in front of the cameras, he would end up in the position he has attained today. “I had no idea – you can never second guess yourself, you never know what the future’s going to hold so I was hoping I could have a long time in the acting business and that I’ve lasted this long is terrific.” And Hopkins assures me he has no intention to retire any time soon.