When you wake up in the morning you never know what the day will hold. I never expected that I would answer my cell phone while I was driving down the freeway and hear my editor say, “Would you like to interview Anthony Hopkins?”
“Of course I would,” I shrieked into the phone. “He’s a legend, an icon.”
“Then you have to be at such-and-such art gallery tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. They’re exhibiting his paintings and he’s making a personal appearance.”
Tomorrow! Excitement and fear flooded my body as I remembered how much the 1991 film, Silence of the Lambs truly terrified me. The coming attractions, as well as the trailers that were played over and over again of the psycho-genius, cannibalistic, serial killer who enjoyed eating his victims’ liver with some “fava beans and a nice Chianti,” were so convincing that on the way to the theater, I started crying and hyperventilating, telling my confused husband that I wanted to turn around and go home.
Eventually I did see Silence of the Lambs, which earned Anthony Hopkins an Academy Award, but not until it came out on DVD so I could watch it, hands over my eyes, on the small screen in the safety of my home.
In 2001 Lecter returned in the film “Hannibal” and then again in 2002 in the “Red Dragon.” I couldn’t bring myself to see either of those films in the theater for at home, not because I didn’t think they were good films, but because I thought they were too believable and I was too scared. Call me a sissy, but I think it is the supreme testament to Anthony Hopkins’ great acting, when the line between actor and character blurs and the audience can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
Once the curtain is raised, the actor is ceases to belong to himself. He belongs to his character, to his author, to his public. He must do the impossible to identify himself with the first, not to betray the second, and not to disappoint the third.”
Anthony Hopkins has done that with all his roles which was why I was nervous about coming face-to-face with Hannibal Lecter himself.
Prior to an interview, I do as much research as possible, but in this case, I only had a few hours to prepare. I was astonished as I read over the long list of diverse roles the Academy Award-winning actor has played since he made his movie debut in 1968.
Anthony Hopkins goes beyond actor. He is also a director, producer, writer and composer; quite impressive achievements for one lifetime. It’s intimidating and challenging enough to make a fictional character appear real on the screen, and even more so to capture the essence of real historical figures. Yet that’s what Anthony Hopkins does so brilliantly. He makes you forget that he is acting.
LIFE LESSON: Anthony Hopkins’ impressive body of work can serve as an inspiration for all of us, each in our own way, to stretch beyond what we think we am capable of doing. To risk stepping out of the confines of the box we’ve created and live a life without self-imposed limitations.
Imagine what courage it took to take on such roles as:
- Richard the Lion-hearted in Lion in Winter with Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole.
- Lt. Colonel John Frost in A Bridge Too Far with Sean Connery, Michael Caine, and Laurence Olivier.
- British physician, Sir Frederick Treves in The Elephant Man with John Hurt.
- Captain Bligh in The Bounty with Laurence Oliver, Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson.
- C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands.
- Richard Nixon in Nixon.
- Pablo Picasso in Surviving Picasso.
- John Quincy Adams in Amistad.
It’s quite an impressive list and his performances in the fictional realm are equally stellar. They include:
- Silence of the Lambs with Jodi Foster.
- Howard’s End with Vanessa Redgrave and Emma Thompson.
- Remains of the Day with Emma Thompson.
- Legends of the Fall and Meet Joe Black with Brad Pitt.
- Hannibal with Julianne Moore.
- Red Dragon with Edward Norton and Ralph Fiennes.
- The Human Stain with Nicole Kidman.
- Proof with Gwyneth Paltrow.
- All the King’s Men with Sean Penn, Jude Law and Kate Winslet.
- Bobby with a star-studded ensemble cast.
Is it any wonder that Anthony Hopkins was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2006. Here is a video clip of him at a press conference.
And then there is his extensive stage work. I mention all of this because at 73 years old, when many people have retired and have lost their passion for life, Anthony Hopkins is fully engaged and shows no signs of slowing down.
He continues to have a number of projects in various stages of development and is in fact expanding his horizons. In addition to being called “the greatest actor of all time” by many of his peers, he has added prolific artist and sculptor to his credits. This is the perfect example of someone who is living consciously and aging wisely.
With a list of credentials like that, perhaps you can understand why I was a little anxious about interviewing him. As I drove over to the art gallery, I thought about how I should address someone who was knighted in 1993 by the Queen of England. I remembered reading that Steven Spielberg, who directed Amistad, couldn’t call him Tony, and referred to him throughout the film as Sir Anthony.
I wondered if I should do the same or call him Mr. Hopkins. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the dilemma would be put to rest as soon as we were introduced.
As I entered the gallery, I was greeted by a profusion of his vivid, jewel-toned acrylic landscapes, florals and abstracts that were on display.
I was nervous as the manager ushered me over to the actor-artist, but I was immediately put at ease as I was greeted with a big smile and twinkling blue eyes. Even more surprising was when he extended his hand and said, “Hi I’m Tony,” with a soft, very familiar British accent that was surprisingly warm and friendly.
I hadn’t expected such down-to-earth geniality from someone regarded as “Hollywood Royalty,” who’d had a reputation in his younger years for being aloof, intense and difficult. There was no need for me to be scared; Hannibal Lecter was as sweet as a lamb. Still, I wondered how I could possibly call this iconic man Tony when Steven Spielberg hadn’t been able to do it.
LIFE LESSON: I thought about how difficult it must be to have people in such awe of you that they can’t even call you by your first name. That’s when I decided that he deserved to have his wishes honored, and his request should take precedence over my awkwardness. After all I wouldn’t have a problem calling Tom Cruise or Will Smith by their first names; why shouldn’t I be able to do the same with Anthony Hopkins. Some people may have more fame or fortune than others, but basically we are all the same.
I also had the chance to meet Mrs. Hopkins, Stella Arroyave, an attractive and smart woman who met the actor when he wandered into her Asian antique shop in Pacific Palisades. After dating for a couple of years, they married in March 2003. The old adage, ‘the third time’s the charm’ seems to be true for the actor, who says that these last years have been the happiest and most content of his life.
Our interview was scheduled for an hour and the manager escorted us to his office where we could talk without interruption. It felt surreal as we settled onto the couch and started chatting like long-lost friends. He was down-to-earth and humble; his voice warm and soothing as he reminisced about the past and talked about the future and his passion for painting.
Every artist dips his brush into his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.”
– Henry Ward Beecher
Before I knew it, it was time to wrap things up and say good-bye. I watched as Tony and Stella left the gallery and disappeared into the mall; the crowd unaware that Hannibal Lecter walked among them. That evening I returned for a gala in his honor. The mood was so different from earlier in the day when we’d had our one-on-one time together. The place was abuzz as local television stations shot footage for the 11:00 p.m. news with Mayor Oscar Goodman introducing Anthony Hopkins to the “Who’s Who” of Las Vegas that were there to purchase his art. As for me, I was just another face in the crowd, happy to have a memory I would always treasure.
LIFE LESSON: Life is short, make the most of it. We all have our own unique way of expressing ourselves. Open yourself up to exploring and discovering what gifts and talents you possess.
Read my full interview with Anthony Hopkins.