His latest film is a tour de force, but at 82, the revered Thespian takes it in stride: “I don’t know what I’m doing half the time.
In 1999, Anthony Hopkins was ready to quit acting after playing the demanding title role in Julie Taymor’s “Titus”. “I put it behind me,” the 82-year-old actor said on a recent phone call from his home in Santa Monica. “Most of the time, things went pretty well. When I was younger I had a healthy ego and ambition, and I was not sure of myself. The advantage of aging is that it collapses. I look at myself in the mirror and say, “What’s wrong? Let’s go! Thank you so much!’ I don’t know what I’m doing half the time.
It seems to me that he protests too much. Right now, Hopkins, 82, is on a roll. Last year he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor as Pope Benedict XVI in “The Two Popes”, opposite his fellow Welshman Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis. “I didn’t know Jonathan,” he says. “I was relieved to find that he had a great sense of fun and humor about it. He does what I’m trying to do, which is not to take him too seriously. Keep it simple and laugh and do it!
On September 15, Sony Pictures Classics relaunches the Sundance premiere of “The Father” at the Toronto International Film Festival, in preparation for an awards season release on December 18. And Hopkins is back in the Oscars fray. He won the Best Actor award in 1992 for his first nomination, as the iconic Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” followed by nods for his suppressed butler in “The Remains of the Day” by Merchant / Ivory, the title role in Stone’s Oliver “Nixon” and John Quincy Adams in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad”.
‘The Father’ marks the directorial debut feature of French playwright Florian Zeller, who, after taking his popular Parisian drama to the West End and Broadway (where Frank Langella won the Tony Award), collaborated with Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton (“Dangerous Liaisons”) on a film adaptation. Hopkins delivers a touching tour de force as a grumpy octogenarian battling the Death of Light, chasing a long line of Guardians as he grapples with his frustrated daughter (Oscar winner Olivia Colman, “The Favorite” ).
Over the past five years, Hopkins has said, “I had the luckiest race.” On the set of ‘The Dresser’ by the late great Ronald Harwood, director Richard Eyre suggested, ‘I have another chance at Lear. I was too young when I did it before. I did it with Emma Thompson and then I landed “The Two Popes” which was a wonderful surprise.
Zeller sent Hopkins to “The Father” in 2017. “It was one of those scripts that grabbed you,” Hopkins said, “compact, very moving, and the writing was distinct, clear, and concise. He was one of those who only came from time to time. Florian and Chris went out to California. They waited for me. I had to start “The Two Popes” in Rome, then I went to England.
The actor enjoyed Colman’s improvised approach. “We’re both the same,” he says. “She does not prepare any method. She learns her lines and does it. She finds it easy to act, gets emotional in the scene in the context of the play. She was so easy going, a lot of fun and chatty.
For Hopkins, it’s all on the page. “I see what’s in front of me, what’s there,” he said. “The goal is to clear your brain of all analysis and overthinking, to use your intuitive creative intelligence to prepare and learn the text, and to apply this common sense: make your marks, say your lines, and go home.”
This meant not overdoing it with research. Hopkins didn’t have to deal with dementia with his own parents, but he was inspired by their ways of coping with aging. “The film deals with a universal subject at this very moment in our lives,” he said, “with loneliness, dementia and mental illness, and suicide rates on the rise.”
On the first day, when Colman walks into the apartment and says, “Hello daddy,” “He doesn’t know who she is,” he says. “He doesn’t know who he is, he tries to hang on, he gets right in front. I am the same age. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. You accept it.
The actor understands how to keep audiences on their toes. “I dig under the lines, like sifting through the sand,” he said. “Maybe I don’t need to play that way, as stated. So I play it in the opposite direction, and all of a sudden I’m playing clarity instead of insane, and surprise the audience. One minute I’m lost, and the next I’m bright and airy and I’m wrong.
When her mother was dying, said Hopkins, “She didn’t want any fuss, ‘leave me alone.’ I think it’s an absolute fear. My dad was like that, he was deeply depressed and in tears. He just wanted to be left alone to die. In that case, if you look at someone and think they are a stranger: “Who is this man in my apartment?” Of course, you get angry. My grandmother swore people stole her. It’s usual.”
The film plays with the old man’s perceptions of reality, using a single set in Elstree that is subtly altered from scene to scene, shot by cinematographer Ben Smithard with “a depressing and sultry light of the aftermath. noon in a suburb of London, ”said Hopkins, who admires Michael Haneke’s apartment. “Love” bound. “The Father” “is a French film with English speaking actors,” he said. “No embellishment.”
A few months before filming “The Father,” Hopkins found himself crying in a studio at the Artists’ Forum. “It’s a tough business, you have to prepare for it,” he told the young students. “Be positive. Don’t let anger and resentment embitter you.
Next: Zeller asked him to play the role of the father in his sequel, “The Son.”
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