Anthony Hopkins Interview, Beowulf

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down with Anthony Hopkins at the Los Angeles press day for his new movie, "Beowulf,” directed by Robert Zemeckis based on a screenplay by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. "Beowulf” stars Ray Winstone in the title role and Hopkins as the corrupt King Hrothgar, as well as John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson, Crispin Glover, Alison Lohman, and Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother.

Anthony Hopkins (Hrothgar) received an Academy Award for his performance in "The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), and was subsequently nominated in the same category for his performances in "The Remains of the Day” (1993) and "Nixon” (1995). He was also given the Best Actor Award by the British Academy of Film & Television Arts for "The Remains of the Day.” In 1993, he starred in Richard Attenborough’s "Shadowlands” with Debra Winger, winning numerous critics awards in the U.S. and Britain. In 1998, he was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his performance in "Amistad.”

In 2001, Hopkins starred in the sequel to "Silence of the Lambs” entitled "Hannibal,” opposite Julianne Moore. Directed by Ridley Scott, the blockbuster film grossed over $100 million domestically. He also recorded the narration for the 2000 holiday season’s hit film "Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” In 1998, he starred in "Meet Joe Black” directed by Martin Brest, "Instinct” directed by Jon Turteltaub, and "Titus,” Julie Taymor’s film adaptation of Shakespeare’s "Titus Andronicus” with Jessica Lange.

In 1992, he appeared in "Howard’s End” and "Bram Stoker’s Dracula” before starring in "Legends of the Fall” and "The Road to Wellville.” He made his directorial debut in 1995 with "August,” an adaptation of Chekhov’s "Uncle Vanya,” for which he composed the musical score and also played the title role. He also starred in the title role of "Surviving Picasso” and opposite Alec Baldwin in "The Edge,” a dramatic adventure written by David Mamet and directed by Lee Tamahori. "The Mask of Zorro,” directed by Martin Campbell and co-starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, was released in July 1998, and "Amistad” directed by Stephen Spielberg was released in December 1997.

In 1960, he was invited to audition for Sir Laurence Olivier, then director of the National Theater at the Old Vic. Two years later, Hopkins was Olivier’s understudy in Strindberg’s "Dance of Death.” Hopkins made his film debut in 1967, playing Richard the Lionheart in "The Lion in Winter” starring Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. He received a British Academy Award nomination and the film received an Academy Award nomination as Best Picture.

American television viewers discovered Hopkins in the 1973 ABC production of Leon Uris’ "QBVII,” the first American miniseries, in which he played the knighted Polish-born British physician Adam Kelno who is ultimately destroyed by his wartime past. The following year, he starred on Broadway in the National Theatre production of "Equus” and later mounted another production of the play in Los Angeles, where he lived for 10 years, working extensively in American films and television.

After starring as Captain Bligh in "The Bounty” (1984), he returned to England and the National Theatre in David Hare’s "Pravda,” for which he received the British Theatre Association’s Best Actor Award and The Observer Award for Outstanding Achievement at the 1985 Laurence Oliver Awards. During this time at the National, he starred in "Antony and Cleopatra” and "King Lear.”

Hopkins also appeared in the feature adaptation of Stephen King’s "Hearts In Atlantis” for director Scott Hicks, the action comedy "Bad Company” co-starring Chris Rock and the box-office hit prequel to "Silence of the Lambs,” "Red Dragon” co-starring Ed Norton, Ralph Fiennes and Emily Watkins and in Miramax Films’ adaptation of the Phillip Roth novel "The Human Stain” opposite Nicole Kidman and directed by Robert Benton.

Hopkins was most recently seen in Miramax Films’ "Proof” opposite Gwyneth Paltrow, "The World’s Fastest Indian” for director Roger Donaldson, "All The King’s Men” for director Steven Zallian and co-starring Sean Penn, Jude Law and Kate Winslet, and the crime thriller "Fracture” opposite Ryan Gosling. He also wrote, directed and composed the score for his debut independent feature, "Slipstream,” which premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

Hopkins, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1993 and became a U.S. citizen in 2000, is a fabulous person and we really appreciated his time. Here’s what the distinguished actor had to tell us about his new film, "Beowulf,” and what it was like working with motion capture technology:
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MOVIESONLINE: HAVE YOU SEEN THE FILM YET?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: No. I haven't seen it, no.

MOVIESONLINE: HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS AN ACTOR WORKING WITH MOTION CAPTURE TECHNOLOGY?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Well, I was called in by Robert Zemeckis a few days before we started — well, before the huge process of the computer, and they put the bead on you and all the costume that you see on the screen. And then that's the last you see of it. They take in all the computer information — facial expressions — and he asked me how I would play the part. He said, ‘What accent would you use?’ Being an American, he wasn't quite sure of the different kinds of dialect. Why should he be? But I said, ‘Well, Welsh would be my closest because that's where I come from.’ Then he said, ‘Do you think everyone else should play it Welsh?’ I said, ‘No, I don't want to take the responsibility. But I know Americans can do Irish pretty well. Welsh is a bit of a difficult accent, and it's not easy to do. And not having seen the film but working with everyone, everyone sounded fine. I went in there completely puzzled. I didn't know what was expected. It was explained to me, I'm not stupid, but I still don't get the idea of how it works. I have no idea.

MOVIESONLINE: SO THIS WAS YOUR FIRST TIME IN THE BODY STOCKING WITH THE SKULL CAP AND THE DOTS?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Yes. My first day they put me on this big throne which was just steel bars and a wooden platform planks and all steel — tubular steel — so that the computer could then paint in all the details of what the throne looks like. And I said, ‘How drunk do you want me to be?’ ‘Very drunk.’ ‘Okay.’ Being a Welshman, I've done plenty of that in my life. I know what Welsh drunks are like. So it was a question of jumping off the diving board into the deep end of the pond.

MOVIESONLINE: DID YOU DO YOUR SCENES WITH ROBIN WRIGHT PENN THERE?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Yes. We were sitting side by side. She was there on camera with me. I was just doing an interview with Angelina Jolie for Good Morning America, and she corrected the interviewer by saying, ‘It’s not exactly animation.’ The best I could could come up to as an explanation is it’s like there's a restaurant I go to sometimes, a little café, and you see photographs and you think, ‘Are those photographs of Santa Monica or are they paintings? And you look closely and they're photographs, but they've been treated so they actually look like paintings. It’s kind of phony painting. And you can buy those in shops there – Gainsboroughs. What this is, is it's us on the screen but with a veneer of computerized paint. So they look like works of art, I suppose. But the advantage we've had in making this one is they've discovered since Polar Express that they needed to do something with the eyes, the eye movements, all this area here (points to eye) they covered with these little pearls here and here so that the eyes look alive. Now I haven't seen the movie, but I've seen a little bit of it on the trailer, and it looks pretty good, I think.

MOVIESONLINE: WITH YOUR CHARACTER IN PARTICULAR, THEY REALLY DID CAPTURE YOU.

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Did they?

MOVIESONLINE: THERE ARE SOME SCENES WHERE YOU LOOK AT THEM AND WONDER IF THEY WERE PART OF THE LIVE ACTION.

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Oh yeah. I'm looking forward to seeing it. They make Ray Winstone look about 10 feet tall.

MOVIESONLINE: DO YOU FIND WORKING WITH MOTION CAPTURE SIMILAR TO DOING LIVE THEATRE?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Well, that was a bit like it, because you have one room, you don't have sets, so it is like being in a Brecht play, you know, with just bare bones and you have nothing else. I worked with a director years ago called John Dexter and he believed in having the stage just a plain platform. And we did a couple of plays of his ‚ Equus and things like that — just a plain platform. And John said, ‘Now you've really got to act. You've really got to show your stuff, because you've got nothing to support you.’ On this, you do have the support of the camera crew and the knowledge of the people behind the cameras and the computers, so you're not completely bereft. But nevertheless, you have to be ready, you have to know your lines. You have to know what you're going to do. And Robert Zemeckis, being a true director, lets you do what you want, lets you come in with some suggestions. There's a scene — I've seen it on the trailer recently when I talk to Ray Winstone about it's not my curse, and I remember when I read the script, I was going through it slowly, just that scene, and I thought there's something deeper than it’s written in here, that there's a connection to Grendel, the relationship, and it's the only time I could put some kind of intelligent subtlety into Hrothgar because he's not just a drunken buffoon, he's a very clever man. He's just consumed by his own lust for power and alcohol and all that. So I thought well here's a chance to see him as a wily man who does have a very good brain and knows the meaning of life and knows the meaning of his own life and his own destiny.

MOVIESONLINE: WHAT WAS YOUR RECOLLECTION OF THE ORIGINAL LITERATURE? DID YOU HAVE TO READ IT AT SCHOOL?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: No, I was hopeless at school. I couldn't read anything. I mean I could read, but I was so inattentive. I was one of those poor kids, you know, who was just very slow, didn't know what they were talking about. I began to understand Shakespeare a little earlier on because I was so removed, so detached from the teaching there, that I just discovered my own world, and I remember reading Julius Caesar when I was about 12 and Hamlet and I’d seen Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet. But I wasn't an academic. I wish I had been, but I wasn't. So I tried to get around to reading Beowulf just before I did this movie, and it was a good modern translation. It was Trevor Griffiths, I’m not sure, but I couldn't hack it, and I tend to like to just go with the script if it's a good script, to go with that, because you can do all the research in the world and understanding, but it can sometimes trip you up and get in your way. It can clog the arteries a bit.

MOVIESONLINE: DID YOU FEEL THE MOTION CAPTURE TECHNOLOGY LIMITED YOUR ACTING OR DID YOU FIND IT LIBERATING?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: It is freeing. I haven’t seen the film yet, but isn't there a scene where I jump off the balcony to my death? Is that in there? I don’t know how that looks but all that was, was a little kind of circle of tape on the floor. So I said to Robert Zemeckis, ‘Where do I jump?’ And he said, ‘Well, it's over here. What I want you to do is you come up here and just stop here, and you just do a little jump.’ And he said, ‘What I'd like you to do is we'll put a mattress here, and when you jump, you just roll over so you go out of camera.’ And then they’d go on top and I don’t know how [they did it]. I haven’t seen the film. So you know that you're not limited. You don't have to do great stunts or anything like that.

MOVIESONLINE: WERE THERE ANY SCARY MOMENTS?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: No, it's pretty enjoyable except that in the morning, you have to spend an hour in make-up. They had a team of make-up people who put all these little — you know the principle is those little beads — you've heard about them — they put these beads all over you. And whoever invented the reflecting substance that's on the freeways, the road signs that reflect light, that's what is on these. They're like little pearls in various sizes, small, and they map out the face. So that's what you do. You come in in the morning and sit there, and then if one of them falls off, they take a scan of your face and body. They have a scanner like a big lamp or something and they say, ‘Okay, we need one on X4 43 or something,’ and they come in and they stick one on.

MOVIESONLINE: WAS IT UNUSUAL FOR YOU TO HAVE YOUR WHOLE BODY MAPPED OUT? THE WAY TECHNOLOGY IS, AT SOME POINT —

ANTHONY HOPKINS: I won't have to show up again! [Laughter] Yeah, there's a possibility that they could actually get somebody who’s been dead for many years like Humphrey Bogart or Bette Davis. I think there's a theory that they could actually take in all that information into computers from old movies, like Bogart in The Caine Mutiny, take all his gestures, whatever, Marlon Brando, James Dean, and take in all the voice patterns and maybe reproduce it. I don't know how it would come out, but they could actually — I think they're actually on the verge of reproducing James Dean. That's what I heard.

MOVIESONLINE: WOULD TECHNOLOGY MAKE IT EASIER NOW FOR SOMEBODY PLAYING, SAY QUASIMODO, WHICH IS A ROLE YOU PLAYED.

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Technology? Oh, I don't know. I don't think about things like that. I know that if I'm lucky enough to be around in films for the next few years, I'll be happy to do whatever they ask me to do. I'm at a stage in my life now where I’ve got to roll with the punches. I just don't take any of it too seriously.

MOVIESONLINE: ARE YOU STILL RESISTING THEATRE? YOU'VE SAID YOU DON'T REALLY WANT TO GO BACK TO THEATRE.

ANTHONY HOPKINS: No. [Because of the] repetition. I did talk to Robert Zemeckis during the making of Beowulf and I mentioned it this morning. He said to me, ‘You would like to do a Shakespeare, King Lear or Macbeth or Hamlet.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I had written three treatments of those plays. Macbeth is the shortest one, and it would be interesting. I'd like to do one, but directed in this format.’

MOVIESONLINE: IT WOULD BE KIND OF NEAT IF YOU COULD…

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Be there forever. I’d like that. They could make me look twelve.

MOVIESONLINE: SOME PEOPLE THINK OF MACBETH AS ALMOST AN HALLUCINATORY EXPERIENCE.

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Well it’s a pretty short play. It's just less than two hours so you could have all the special effects, the witches, and all the horror he sees. And it is a great, great play. It's one of his greatest plays, I think.

MOVIESONLINE: DID YOU EVER DO MACBETH ON STAGE?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Yeah. At the National Theatre. And Lear.

MOVIESONLINE: WHO WOULD YOU WANT YOUR LADY MACBETH TO BE IN THE MOVIE. IS THERE SOMEONE IDEAL?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Angelina Jolie. [Laughter]

MOVIESONLINE: YOU AVOIDED BEOWULF IN SCHOOL. WERE YOU SURPISED BY THE SCRIPT THAT ROGER AVARY AND NEIL GAIMAN WROTE?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Oh yes. It was pretty raunchy. Yes, it was really outrageous, and I enjoyed it. It was a good way to treat it. But apparently I heard it was a piece of required reading in many schools in this country. And when I was in school, I don't think they had anything like that. That was a long time ago.

MOVIESONLINE: YOU'VE DONE SEVERAL MOVIES WITH ANGELINA JOLIE INCLUDING ALEXANDER AND THIS ONE. WHAT IS IT LIKE WORKING WITH HER?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: We've never worked together. This morning was the first time I've ever done press with her. She's lovely. I was very honored to be on Good Morning, America with her. She's very nice. She's really kind of shy. But I haven’t worked with her. She's wonderful. I thought the last thing she did about Daniel Pearl (A Mighty Heart) was just terrific. All her work is extraordinary. She's a wonderful actress.

MOVIESONLINE: IN THE PAST YOU’VE DONE MASTER CLASSES WITH THEATER STUDENTS. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO INSPIRE A WHOLE NEW GENERATION?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: I like that a lot. I used to work with UCLA. I've got a deal with them. I'm supposed to do two weeks of single days, because they gave me a doctorate (UCLA Medal) about three years ago and I owe them, but I've been busy. I like working with students, young actors, because they get very intense. So I go in there and I’m very provocative, and I say to them, ‘You know, if you never acted again, nobody would care. That's how important acting is. So relax, it's not important.’ And they say, ‘What!?’ ‘It's not that finally important, is it? I mean your life is more important.’ I said: ‘So you know, you don't have to draw all these big preparations, you know. Just do it now, and you don't have to be good, bad or indifferent. Who cares?’ What I like doing is releasing people — let everything go, relax and let everything go to hell, because it doesn’t have to be perfect. I just did (directed) a film recently called Slipstream which is making a lot of people very angry because I break all the rules. I say, ‘Get a life. What’s your problem? It's only a stupid movie. Why are you getting so upset?’ I like to provoke. I like to prompt people. ‘Come on, lighten (up).’

MOVIESONLINE: WHAT DO YOU GET FROM DIRECTING THAT YOU DON'T GET FROM ACTING? WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT TO YOU TO MAKE YOUR OWN FILMS?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: Well, it wasn't important at all. I don't even use the word ‘important’ about anything I do. That word's so loaded with such heaviness and dark looks of significance. I just did it because I did it for fun. I did it because I wanted to. Somebody said, ‘Why don't you write a script”’ So I wrote a script. Well I’ll really go to town on this and do it back to front and do everything just to annoy people. And I've got a great group of actors -- John Turturro and Christian Slater -- and they all seem to fall into it, and I've had some great reviews and some angry reactions to it. A man met me outside a restaurant today, down there, I was having a coffee and he came up to me and said, ‘I just saw Slipstream.’ He said, ‘It's changed my life.’ I said, ‘What?’ I said he’s just being an intense Los Angelene. He said, ‘It did, it just blew my brains because you've defied all laws of logic and linearity,’ and I said, ‘Okay.’ He said, ‘But it's the whole philosophy in it,’ and I said, ‘We have no control.’ And I like making people irritable, because when you tell people you have no power, they go, ‘What?!’ ‘I have power. Nobody told me I didn’t have anything.’ None of us have any power at all.

MOVIESONLINE: WHO DID YOU LOOK TO IN TERMS OF FILMMAKING INFLUENCES WHEN YOU DID SLIPSTREAM BECAUSE IT'S SO AVANT GARDE?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: No one. Just from my own brain. People could say it’s David Lynch. Let me be honest. I'd say there's a little bit of all of us and a bit of David Lynch, but I just wrote it as a stream of consciousness and I didn't edit it, and of course when I was about to do the film, I changed a couple of scenes. I cut lines. But I just did it for the sheer hell of it and a lot of people — it seems to appeal to young audiences, and they want to go back and see more of it. So. I think that's it.

MOVIESONLINE: HAVE YOU BEEN ON ANY OF YOUR MOTOR TRIPS LATELY DRIVING ACROSS COUNTRY?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: I drove up to Aspen. I had an art show up there. I paint. I had an art exhibition in Aspen so I drove up there. Drove up to Seattle for a film festival recently. So I do a lot of driving. I prefer to. I like flying but I like to go through the desert. But I don't do as much as I used to.

MOVIESONLINE: BY YOURSELF?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: (Smiles) No, with my wife. I used to drive on my own.

"Beowulf” opens in theaters on November 16th.

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