“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some java beans and a nice Chianti”
Born on December 31st, 1937, Anthony Hopkins is now 84 years old but he is still going strong and has arguably been the finest actor of the last 50 years.
He is, of course, most well-known for portraying Hannibal Lecter in 3 films but his range and achievements have been far broader than just that one role.
His first film role was as Richard the Lionheart in The Lion In Winter (1968) but the first time I really became aware of him was when he starred in the BBC TV adaption of War And Peace as Pierre Bezukhov in which he was outstanding.
I always recall a documentary about the making of the TV series and the cast were asked about their thoughts about it and, of course, the performers were mostly pretentious in their responses, but not Hopkins. He replied “It paid the rent” – which kind of sums him up in that he has never been one for believing the opinions of an actor were anything more special than anyone else.
During the 1970s most of his film roles were mainly supporting roles but he did have a main lead role in Richard Attenborough’s Magic (1978) where he played a ventriloquist whose foul-mouthed dummy begins to take control of him. For students of film history it’s a variation of the segment The Ventriloquist’s Dummy from Dead Of Night (1945).
Hopkins is superb in the role where he actually performed all the scenes as a ventriloquist himself.
His ability to mimic was also utilised in the restored 1991 version of Spartacus (1960) where he voiced Laurence Olivier’s dialogue in the famous Oysters & Snails scene as Olivier had died a few years previously.
In the 1980s he was a sympathetic doctor in The Elephant Man, a complex Captain Bligh in The Bounty and was also quite appealing in the charming 84 Charing Cross Road (1987). But despite his talents in other movies at the time it appeared he was destined never to hit the heights his abilities aspired too . . . and then came the offer to play Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs (1991).
Incredibly his screen time was just under 25 minutes in a film that ran for just under 2 hours but he was absolutely mesmerising as the chilling, incisive and thoroughly evil Dr. Lecter.
One also should never underestimate the impact Jodie Foster’s superb performance had in contributing immeasurably into elevating the film into an instant classic.
Now the great performances were coming thick and fast . . .
He was terrific in both Howard’s End and Shadowlands but it was his under-stated performance as the butler Stevens in The Remains Of The Day (1993) which still haunts today
As the repressed butler, Hopkins was never better in a role so far removed than that of Dr. Lecter.
In Nixon (1995) he was an unusual choice to play the disgraced former US President but he seemed to pull it off; and in 2005 was very enjoyable as the motorcycle racer Burt Munro in The World’s Fastest Indian.
In 2012 he played Alfred Hitchcock in Hitchcock, where, although the make-up wasn’t totally convincing, he used his mimicry skills to sound very convincing as the Master of Suspense.
And of course last year he won his second Best Actor Oscar for The Father, although I found the film rather ponderous despite his presence.
He’s still making films and maintaining his acting skills at an age where most of us would be in nursing homes – long may it continue !