Sometimes an actor so dominates a group interview that it’s worth separating him out from the others. Sir Anthony Hopkins is a veteran performer whose stories of coming to Hollywood and his current attitudes toward working consumed a good chunk of the recent press conference for Thor. In his comments, he revealed a man who know longer feels the need to watch his tongue, and that freedom showcased a deft storyteller who’s not afraid to suggest he took this job for the paycheck… though that isn’t the only reason. Check it out.
What drew you to be a part of this, essentially a comic book movie? Was it being given the chance to work with Kenneth Branagh, or was it the material itself?
Anthony Hopkins: Ken Branagh. I took a bunch… if they gave me enough money to read the phone book, I’d do it. I live in a total state of non-expectation and I keep my expectations very low about everything, especially the last few years. I had come back from a movie with Woody Allen, which was a big surprise – I enjoyed that. And then I had an agent and I left them, because I wasn’t very happy. And I got a new agent and within two days they said, “Would you like to meet Ken Branagh?” and I said, “Yeah. What about?” He said, “Odin.” I said, “Oh, that’s a god, isn’t it?” He says, “Yeah.”
Funny thing was, I hadn’t seen Ken for some years, and I wasn’t sure how he would respond to me because I was one of the bad boys who ran away from England many years ago and I came out to Cuckoo Land – out here – because I never fitted into British theater and all that. So I wasn’t sure how he’d receive me. But we met for breakfast and he was very pleasant and friendly, and we had a chat about old times and all that. And he said, “Would you like to play Odin?” I said, “Yeah, okay.” He gave me the script and I read it. And I thought, “Yeah, I’d love to work with him.”
I’ve always been a fan of Ken’s. I’d never read… I’m not a geek, you know. But it turned out that it was the most enjoyable film I’ve been involved in for a long time and I could care less about anything. And then to work with Ken, he just pushed the right buttons to get me to give of my best. And I really value that in him, because I’d gotten lazy. He’s one of the best directors I’ve worked with so that was the principle reason. And I wanted the work. Gotta pay the rent, you know.
I thought this was a nice part. Didn’t have to do too much. The only thing was, I wish I’d gone down to New Mexico, because I had such a good time in the studios. My time was so brief. I think I was only on it about three weeks, on those great sets and everything. And then, you know, no acting required. I wrote in my script, “NAR” – no acting required, let the armor act for me on the sets. So I let the armor do it for it, and the beard, and that was about it. And I showed up and put on my voice and that was about it. But I really enjoyed it.
Did you get to pick which eye you lose in the film?
AH: I can’t remember. They put it on the wrong eye, first of all. And I said, “I think you made this for the wrong eye.” Because it wouldn’t fit in. They said, “Yeah, we did.” But they had another patch put in that eye. The only problem with that was the moments of anxiety, because I had no three dimensional vision. So going to set- I felt like an old – well, I’m not that young anymore; but to be guided onto the set, I felt very embarrassed. “This way” (holds out hands) because I couldn’t see. But the thing would come off very quickly. It was a costume and it helped and all that. And you don’t have to do too much, except speak up, I guess. But you don’t have to act.
It’s like John Wayne said, “When you’re in the desert, he doesn’t have to act; you let the desert do it for you.” But I think those guys, those movie actors of that time, you know, they knew what they were doing. They just got on their horses and they did it and they were wonderful. So I take a page out of their copy book and try not to do too much. But Ken challenges you all the time, in a – in a very nice, gentlemanly, charming way. I like the way he says, “My learned, esteemed colleague, I would like you to stand here.” But it seemed like at the end, he said, “Ah, my esteemed colleague, Mr. Hopkins,” and he’s very cunning. He said, “I’d like you to stand here. And then Chris will come up behind you.” He said, “Do you have any suggestions?” I said, “Yeah, but I’m not gonna tell them to you because you want me to stand here, don’t you?” He said, “Yes.” “So you just tell me where to stand and I’ll do it.” See, and you know with something like that, he knows so much.
That’s the most comforting thing. You don’t have to – you don’t have to work, you just do what he tells you. And I know that sounds pretty wimpy to do that, but – why not? He knows what he wants. A good director knows what he wants, and what it’s gonna look like.
Much has been made of Kenneth Branagh comments about how Shakespearean he saw the mythology -and the story. Your experience with Shakespeare goes back to the RADA days and through Titus. Is that putting too much weight onto what’s essentially a comic book story?
AH: No, I don’t think so. I don’t trouble my little brain with that stuff, because I don’t think about too much anything, anyway, when I go on a film set, because you can analyze and analyze, and I leave that to the guys, you know – the boss, the director. They decide what it’s gonna be like, and you just follow. I’m not trying to demean my role in it, but you follow certain guidelines, and “This is what he wants,” if you’re working with a director – like Spielberg or Clint Eastwood or Ken Branagh or whoever, or Scorsese – you follow the guidelines of what their style is. And he mentioned Shakespeare quite a lot and he – we referred, in the readings beforehand – we had about a week’s readings down in Manhattan Beach.
We talked – not extensively – but a bit about the good old Westerns. Shane, one of my favorite all time Westerns – when the bad guys come in and they have a conference and they try to negotiate. And Jack Palance looks innocent and all that. And to have that sort of feeling of the father, the autocratic father and the troublesome sons. There’s a wonderful film called Lawman - which Ken and I talked about – with Burt Lancaster; a great movie about rival factions. There’s the father, played by Lee J. Cobb, and all these bad sons he’s got. And there’s always one son who’s a little in the middle, not quite sure where he belongs. So we have those points of reference – on the horse when I meet my enemy and I say, “Let’s talk about this. We don’t need any bloodshed.” That was taken from an idea of a Western negotiation. So I love those points of reference because I was a fan of all those early Western movies, Gary Cooper and all those guys. But Shakespeare, you know, yeah.
Mr. Hopkins, I so appreciate your candor. When you were first asked about working with Mr. Branagh, you said, “I was lazy, and Ken pushed my buttons.” What buttons did he push, and did he know you were lazy?
AH: Well, maybe I’m overstating it. But we’d come from the background. I mean, I’m 20 years older than Ken, and I didn’t know him that well. But we had all the same reference points of the theater. We knew about the actors we’d been working with over the years. And we were both pretty rebellious, and I know he was. I was rebellious in the fact that I was a bad boy. I escaped from England and the group theater, and came over to America to Disneyland, you know. And I know I sold out; it’s nice. I’m glad I’ve sold out. So I wasn’t sure how he’d respond to me.
But he’s just as bad as I am. He’s a rebel, and he’s challenged himself over the years. And he did some extraordinary things 30 years ago when he was taking on people like Lawrence Olivier, doing Hamlet and Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing – a colossal background. And his education is pretty profound. So I – I read a lot, but I’m – I hate taxing my mind with analysis. I’m not a good analyst. I cannot talk about acting. I hate talking about it. I hate talking about analyzing. They always say, “Let’s talk about the…” Why? I mean, I’ve sat in conferences where you just fall asleep because it’s so boring. I don’t know, you just get up and do it. You know, the – get up and do the damned thing, instead of talking about it. And Ken is like that. He just says, “Do it.” And I like that.
But I get too much the other way, of being Mr. Cool, you know, not analyzing at all. Just walk blindly on the set. And I think what Ken does is just say, “Come on, you can do more than that,” because I’d like to just be a little restrained. And he said, “No, let’s push it even more.” And it was a welcome invitation. So that’s my story.
I remember my first film was Lion in Winter and we had a couple of sound engineers. And I was a new actor, and there were there of us and we were three new actors on the block. And this guy, Tom Buchanan, he was the sound engineer, he walked behind me once with his sound mixer and said, “I hate actors.” But he did it to tease us, you know. He’d be sitting there with the headphones on, and I’d be doing a scene. And he’d go, “What?” That humor gets you up. Because you have to have humor. Because if you don’t have humor and you take yourself seriously, you’re dead in the water. You have to be jostled. And I love it. It’s better than working for a living.
My one regret was that I didn’t go to New Mexico. And I was about to suggest to Ken that I could play Odin’s twin brother – who actually goes down and is a part of a Fifth Columnist movement. I’m very happy having done Odin. I don’t know, if I come back to another one; I don’t know what the sequel– if there’s a talk of that. But I’d love to another one. It was so unexpected to be in a movie like this. And I like the unexpected. And living in a state of total non-expectation, it’s just a surprise what happens to you, all kinds of things come your way. It’s when you have expectations, that’s when it’s always disappointing. So to be in this was a bonus, it was the gravy train for me because I’ve been around a long, long time now. And so whatever comes along, I’m very happy to do it, if it’s a good script and a good director and good actors. I’m very fortunate to mosey along and do what I do. But I mustn’t get too lazy. I need another Ken Branagh. Because it’s very hard to find a director of that kind of power, you know. And gentleness. He’s a gentleman. And that’s it.
Thor opens Friday May 6.