Dialogue: Anthony Hopkins

Just because he turned 68 on Dec. 31, don't expect Anthony Hopkins to be slowing down any time soon. As the lead in Magnolia Pictures' The World's Fastest Indian, Hopkins plays New Zealand motorcycle legend Burt Munro, who, at age 68, pursued his lifetime goal of setting a land-speed record on motorcycle. It's a role for which Hopkins did his own stunts. As Wolf Schneider for The Hollywood Reporter discovered, such dedication to a role is typical, and Hopkins' adventurous side is still very much in force.

The Hollywood Reporter: I hear you've perfected a process of preparing for a role that involves drawing wagon wheels.

Anthony Hopkins: It's a method I use, nothing mysterious about it. I learn the text cold, read it maybe 100 or 200 times. The wagon wheels are little four-pointed asterisks with circles around them, so four of those represent 20 read-throughs, and they make my script look interesting. It's kind of phobic, I suppose. (Chuckles)

THR: Oh, obsessive--compulsive -- been there.

Hopkins: It's a trick I play on myself just to make sure I really know it. Then I'm at ease, and I can improvise. I just did a movie called "Bobby," about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. I play this retired doorman at the Ambassador Hotel, and I've got a long speech, about a page and a half. So, I read it 250 times, and this gives me a tremendous sense of ease and the power of confidence.

THR: Did you study with a dialogue coach for your southern New Zealand accent in Fastest Indian?

Hopkins: Oh, no. I watched the documentary about Burt Munro -- and I didn't watch that 200 times! I watched it two or three times.

THR: How fast did you personally drive that Indian motorcycle?

Hopkins: About 70 miles per hour at the most. You could do a slide on (Utah's Bonneville) Salt Flats and rip your body to pieces.

THR: Director Roger Donaldson says that after 1984's The Bounty, he thought you might never work with him again. How did he convince you to do Fastest Indian?

Hopkins: We made The Bounty 20 years ago. I was a feisty young actor, and he was a feisty young director. He had his own opinions, and so did I. So, it was like oil and water; it didn't mix too well. We met (again) a couple years ago at some party, and we've become very good friends. He's a terrific director, one of the best I've worked with -- up there with (Steven) Spielberg and Oliver Stone. He still does a lot of takes, but this time I thought, "That's the way he is."

THR: I hear you're a two-take kind of guy.

Hopkins: Yeah. Do it and go home. If the director wants to do five, six takes, OK. When it gets up to about 30 takes, you've got to wonder what the hell they're doing. Let's just get on with it; that's my philosophy about anything, especially movies.

THR: Four of your most intriguing roles are those of a psychotic cannibal, a U.S. president, a Spanish swordsman and a black professor. Which character was the hardest to pull off?

Hopkins: Oh, I think Nixon was the hardest.

THR: You told Oliver Stone, who directed 1995's Nixon, "This is more lines than King Lear!"

Hopkins: Oh, yeah, I did say that. (Laughs) Nixon was tough. I'm not American. Why the hell would they cast me in it? I gave it my best shot. I think that was the trickiest one to pull off: "Tricky Dicky."

THR: You're known for playing uptight Englishmen, but your most famous role is as Hannibal Lecter.

Hopkins: (Jonathan) Demme is a good director. He was very certain about what he wanted (for the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs).

THR: Lecter never blinks. Did you get the idea from studying videotapes of Charles Manson?

Hopkins: No, no. Who wants to see those tapes? I'm an actor. I show up, I do it.

THR: What prompted the shift from drawing-room dramas to action roles such as those in 1997's The Edge and 1998's The Mask of Zorro?

Hopkins: I decided I'd had enough of all that Masterpiece Theatre.

THR: Do you still have that deeply pessimistic Welsh nature?

Hopkins: I'm cured of that. (Laughs) You can make up your mind to either be that way or the other. I broke out of the circle. I have a great life. I'm recently married, and I enjoy myself more now.

THR: Are there any directors with whom you'd like to work and haven't yet?

Hopkins: Maybe (Martin) Scorsese. But I've worked with some pretty good ones.

Published Jan. 13, 2006

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