Last week I had the honor of being able to interview Sir Anthony Hopkins for his role as an older man who is going through a life-crisis and marries a young tart in Woody Allen‘s latest film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. It’s days like these that make it all seem worth it. Hopkins, as I had been told beforehand, was quite charming and not only answered our questions but entertained us with a number of great Woody Allen quotes and even his Woody Allen impression.
Check out our interview with Sir Anthony Hopkins below…
Working with Woody Allen:
Did Woody Allen give you the whole script, everyone else says they only got pieces?
Anthony Hopkins: No I got the full script. I was pretty honored. I asked Michael Cane the same question years ago and he told me he got the whole script. A lot of people don’t. I got the script and I got a note from Woody which I’m going to frame.
Had your paths ever crossed before?
AH: 1984 in September. I was going to see him in his office in Park Ave. He was very nice, very easy to be with and I was only there for about 15-minutes. He wanted to see me for a film, but the Woody said, “I don’t think you’re right for this part, but I’m glad we’ve met and maybe someday we’ll do something.” Then last year, I got the call to do this one.
Do you also think the challenges of working with Woody is not being Woody on set since all his characters are some version of him?
AH: I don’t think he comes through in my performance. I had to avoid that. It’s a different thing when you’re working on something. I saw the scene the other night when she comes in and she’s spending all my money. And I thought, “Oh this is borderline Woody Allen.” (Laughs)
As a director yourself, what’s it like working with someone like Woody Allen and taking his direction?
AH: I have directed a few times, but I don’t know if I’m a good director or not. I tend to be very lazy or I’m micromanaging, but I’ve realized that you can’t do that. I think Woody Allen has a pretty simple approach, nothing fancy, no weird angles. Basically he just says “walk from the door to the chair, and okay let’s try it here.” And all he does say is, “Okay, let’s shoot again. Don’t do it as if you’ve just rehearsed it (begins to Imitates Woody Allen) It’s just… Make sure, that it’s not, you know… It looks like you rehearsed it, I know, but just make it look like you haven’t… Ok shoot it.” And then he keeps it fresh and he likes to improvise it. The restaurant scene was the first scene I did with Gemma Jones. It was the very first day of filming. He said, “Okay, that’s good. Let’s do it again” and we can improvise.
Would you have done that expression in front of Woody Allen?
AH: No. You know, when you do the rhythms of his line it’s very difficult not to [imitate him]. I think he’s genius. I know that he doesn’t like people being him. What’s extraordinary about him is that as soon as he walks into a room everyone is unto him. He’s a great star and charismatic. He’s this funny, little guy and he has this powerful mind and philosophy. He’s a philosophical poet, writer and a pessimist. Deeply pessimistic. I don’t have that sort of pessimist.
Things in my life have been so extraordinary. I sometimes think, “There’s something beyond this.” I can’t believe that this is it. The only thing I know and I’m not going into philosophy, but I’m not a total atheist, I’m not that. I respect that if that’s what people believe. But to me it’s like being in a windowless room. I was that, years ago. I played this disillusioned priest in the movie The Trial. This young priest comes to me, who thinks that what I’m doing is rubbish because I’m doing an exorcism. He says, “Are you happy letting people believe in these illusions? What do you believe in?” I said, “I believe in telling people the truth.”
There’s a wonderful book by Graham Greene a short novel, I think it’s called “Don Quixote and the Myth” it’s about a communist, a Marxist man in Spain and his friend is a priest, they’re always having these debates like Mornings With Maury. There always having these talks and they’re great friends, they love each other. And the priest says to his friend, “I had a dream a terrible one. I woke up and there was Jesus standing in the room looking at me. He’s presence was certainty.” He says, “But you, Marx is your certainty, Lenin is your certainty.” That to me would be a nightmare. You look at the whole history of Europe and Marxism became a revolution and a living nightmare. Hitler built something based on certainty.
You character works out non-stop, did you do any training for this film?
AH: Well I train all the time. Ever since my mid life crisis. I came back from Europe two-years ago. I was doing a film and I lost 75 pounds of weight in a very short time, but it was good. I’ve always worked out so I’m very strong, but you know, I get bad eating habits. It’s a common thing — snacking on cookies and all that junk. I don’t do that anymore. It’s amazing what happens when you cut out all that stuff. I feel good. I feel terrific.
So what is your vice now?
AH: Book shops. I’m a book addict. What else do I do? Watching the news on television that’s advice.
Could you talk about working with your co-star Lucy Punch?
AH: She is a powerhouse. She loves to improvise. We get along so well together. It was wonderful because she’s alive. I wish I had more to do with the rest of the cast, my scenes where with Lucy. I had some with Gemma, the brief ones, and Josh Brolin. He’s very funny.
Allen likes to tell stories where intelligent older men are paired with young flaky girls, what do you think is funny about that dynamic?
AH: It’s funny because it’s so pathetic! That is very sad to see that. That’s so pathetic though. The only mid life crisis that I went through, mine was post mid life crisis — a few years ago, my wife suggested we traded in the car. She said, “would be nice for you to buy a Porsche.” I said, “Porsche? That’s a lethal weapon.” I couldn’t even get into it. I said, I’m too old to get into it, so she drove it.
I’m glad I’m not young anymore, I don’t have any illusions about that. Woody is so bleak about it, we had a press conference in Toronto and they asked him and he said, (begins to do his Allen impression again) “well you know, we just get older nothing improves it just gets worse, you just fall apart and you crumble away and you shrivel up and you’ve left gum in your porridge, you sit in your apartment and watch your television which is not on, it’s not even a box office return and then you die” (laughs).
And you’re thankfully more positive?
AH: I don’t know, all I know is that one day, this is it. I think he’s talking from an atheist point of view. I don’t have hope! But I have very few illusions, I’ve come to peace with it. For the last few years, you know, when you’re young you just want to do everything, now I just sit back, I don’t want anything. If work come in, it does! If they still want me I’ll do it. I’ve got no great panicle-rush to do anything at all really.
What is your favorite age?
AH: Now, actually. I don’t know, it’s pointless being bleak about it, I’m getting older, I’m part of the human race. It’s terrible experience living; I mean you’re never get off the planet alive. It’s horrible if you want to make it horrible or have some fun with it. I mean, I don’t want to go skydiving! I work out everyday. I have a good life I enjoy myself. I have a great time.
How exciting was putting on the costume on Thor?
AH: It was exciting, but it was hard. It was carrying 15-pounds of ammo. But Kenneth Branagh is a great director. These young actors are top hitters. They work just wonderful. And Branagh, I call him the general. He’s so self-assured and he knows exactly what he wants. I’ve never worked with him before and I wouldn’t say I know him well, but it was such a pleasant revelation working with him. I don’t know what it is about him. He’s very self-assured. Great actor, brings all his experience to the set and I think he’s terrific.
You’ve played s many historical figures. Is there anybody else you want to play?
AH: Me. I’ve done everything. That’s the nice thing about having through go to, when I was younger. Now I work with young actors. I like that. It makes me think we’ll I’m not young anymore. They’re insecurities and I joke around with them. He’s a little nervous. You have to have that relaxation to work with actors, people being nervous around you is pointless.
You can see Hopkins in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger starting this Friday, September 24th!