Interview with Sir Anthony Hopkins provided by and © Universal Pictures.
(Photograph of Hopkins as Sir John Talbot in The Wolfman © Universal Pictures)
Last updated: 10 February 2010
Were you very familiar with the original Wolfman movie?
No. I never saw the original one with Lon Chaney. I don't even think about the genre. I know very little about it. There's been lots of support for werewolf movies, hasn't there, with Abbott and Costello and all those things? They have been around for years. With this film, I was just given the script and I said, 'Yes, I would like to do it.' I can't make any comparisons to the past and to other movies, which is kind of refreshing to me, because I go into it open and empty-minded. I don't stretch my brain around that geographic.
So what did you like about the script?
I like gothic movies. I like the old Hammer Horror movies; in fact I loved old Hammer films when I was a kid. Really, I am just an actor and I show up. If a part is interesting enough and good enough and has a good cast, then I will do it. I don't have to have a whole list of do's and don'ts. If I have a day off and the part is good I just say, "Yes I will have a go at it." I don't overload myself with a lot of imponderable questions about 'Is it good for me?' I just do it. The enjoyment I get is just having a look at the page and the script and then reinventing my interpretation of it and forming some characterization, if you want to call it that, and then it's just a case of showing up and doing it.
What can you tell me about the character of Sir John Talbot?
I play him as a man who lives in this vast house up in the Midlands of England and he is a rather eccentric, isolated man who nobody gets to know. Nobody gets near him. He seems, on the surface, to be quite harmless. He is just a little odd. He lives in this old rambling house with a big dog and servant and that's all. Then other things develop.
What did you like about Joe Johnston as a director?
He is very calm and collected and he knows what he wants to do, and he is efficient. He knows how to set it up. He obviously has great experience as an art director because he won an Oscar for Steven Spielberg's The Raiders Of The Lost Arc. He is a man who understands the storyboard and he is very disciplined. He knows how to set up his shots, and works very simply, but he is very open to ideas from actors and doesn't lock you into his way only. He lets you invent and I invented a lot for myself in the character. I talked to Joe about it and I said, 'Would it be okay if I played it in this way?' and he said, 'Sure.' He seemed to like what I was doing and I liked him very much.
So how did you want to play the part?
I think the American idea is that everyone who lives in a big house must be a knight or a lord. That is a mistake that they make but here it is okay, a fairly understandable misinterpretation that they sometimes have. As a consequence, there was a stage direction that this guy is bombastic, has a big voice and is very grand. But I wanted to do the total opposite and play like a submarine, under the radar, very, very quiet. That is what I think is the best way to do things: not to be bombastic but just to play it very quietly. Then that pulls the audience in towards you. That's what I do. I underplay.
You also wouldn't want him to seem too arch as a villain...
Oh, yes. Especially when you get the idea that he is a lord and living in a great baronial manor house. I thought to go to the opposite tack and play it very quietly. On the surface there's nothing wrong. He is just a bit odd and his son looks at him in an odd way: 'This guy, my father, is a strange man.' He is dirty. He is unkempt. He is absolutely filthy. He has dirty long fingernails.
Does that mean that you invent a lot of back-story?
I have ideas. For example, the location of the house was up in Buxton in Derbyshire and it is a beautiful countryside up there, with lots of cattle, fields and sheep and all those sorts of things. And I had an idea one day. I suggested it to Joe - I am a very wealthy farmer and I am out on the land. There's a scene in the film where I wear a fedora hat indoors and outdoors and I wear these big clumpy boots and old tweed suits that are falling to pieces, and I look like a farmer.
I suppose this is my take on the character. I said. 'What sort of person is he?' And Joe said, 'What do you think he is?' So I replied, 'I think he is a man who very rarely goes into the local village and if he does he rarely talks to anyone. People look at him warily. He goes in and buys his produce and then drives his horse and cart back to his house. He speaks to nobody. Nobody knows him. They probably don't like him because he is so austere and if anyone trespasses onto his land he threatens them with instant death. He carries a shotgun. They know this old man lives there with this Indian Sikh manservant and they don't know anything about him except that there is a strange atmosphere about the house.' So the villagers are very suspicious of anything that is unknown and eccentric. It raised their suspicions. That is the way I play it.
Was it a pleasure to come back and work in Britain?
Yes. I enjoyed The Wolfman very much. It was lovely. I was living in Richmond for a while. I was living in London and it was lovely there. And I did a Woody Allen film here last year. I loved working with Woody Allen. You rarely get the full script. I did have the script, but he is very guarded about that. Various scripts are kept very secret and locked away. Nobody is allowed to see them. I understand that and apparently a lot of the actors don't even know what the story is about. As I was cast early Woody sent me the entire script and I was sworn to secrecy not to tell anyone about it. I can't discuss it but it was certainly a pleasure working with him.
In 2010 you'll start work on Kenneth Branagh's version of Thor. Were you surprised that he chose to direct a big comic-book movie?
Not at all. He is a brilliant man. I have always admired him. He is an extraordinary man. He is adept at doing anything. He has taken on this Marvel comic. He's the brightest guy in the business. He is very sure of himself. Very nice. He is one of the most powerful instigators of his time and an extraordinary man. In regards to the film, it takes place in the modern world, and in the past, in the mythological world, all at the same time. It is a really powerful script and I am really looking forward to working with Ken.
Do you still have an eagerness to do King Lear?
I don't know. If it ever comes up. It's supposed to be going, but I am very practical and realistic about those films. People say, 'Who wants to do King Lear?' I say, 'Okay, fair enough.' But it was an idea that came up through someone I know; they have an idea for it, and I thought, 'If it works, fine, but call me when you get the money!' That's my attitude in later years: 'Okay, when you've got the money and are ready to go, give me a call, and then I'll turn up.' But I don't get involved in all the 'what ifs' and so forth. Life's too short to worry about things like that.
Your music career seems to be thriving at the moment...
I had a concert recently in Italy, Cortona, of three of my pieces. I am going to Australia some time next year and I have been asked to go to Russia as well, so I am working on music all the time. I just write music and then I score it and if somebody is interested and it gets around, that's great. I have got some symphonic pieces to be performed and there are three cities interested next year, Perth, Sydney and Durban. I have been commissioned to write a cello piece, a three-movement piece with orchestra, so I'm looking forward to that.
Would you like to have pursued music instead of acting?
Music is a much harder business. I have been very fortunate to be an actor. Now at this time of my life to actually have music that I have performed is quite a lot of fun. To hear a full orchestra playing my music is 'Wow! My God, I wrote that.' There you go.