You lean in to hear his every word. You want to, of course, as each sentence is being spoken by one of the planet’s greatest living actors in a mesmeric Welsh rhythm and intonation.
But, really, you must lean in: As Sir Anthony Hopkins converses, poolside at his yellow and green country Tudor-style home in Malibu, the Pacific waves pound loudly against the cliffs below and the legendary man speaks very, very softly. But no ocean is a match for Tony (as he instructs one and all to address him). Just about every thought issuing from the innately funny and wise knight’s lips is a gem.
“The shortest prayer is, ‘Fuck it,’ ” he says with a wily grin when asked if he cares about his legacy in film. “Another thing I say to people is, ‘Lighten the fuck up,’ ” he’ll add, expressing his creed of not taking anything with undue gravity: not himself, his acting, his music (though in 2012 he shared a BRIT Award for Best Album of the Year with conductor-violinist André Rieu, for his titular composition on “And the Waltz Goes On”), nor his painting (he will unveil his surrealistic-impressionist paintings this month at Desert Art Collection).
After a long-ago famously drunken “bad boy” youth, Hopkins is at ease with himself and happy in his 13-year marriage to Colombian-born Stella Arroyave. “I’m not very sociable,” he admits. “Stella and I were at Nobu last week and I knew a couple of producers and other people there and Stella said, ‘Why don’t they come over [to the house]?’ I said, ‘I prefer them not to.’ ” Bemused by his confession, he continues, “I’m not interested in parties — I did all my partying over the years. During the day, I just want a normal life. Simple. Peaceful. I like quiet. Don’t watch television much, only a couple of old movies on Turner. The best times of my life are the afternoons. Ah, lovely.”
Hopkins is closing in on his 79th birthday come New Year’s Eve. At this juncture in his life, he knows what makes himself tick. Well aware of his reputation as a genius loner who eschews the Hollywood scene, he explains, “I know what people think. But it’s not that I’m indifferent, it’s more of a detached thing; I don’t regard anything as that important anymore.”
Anthony Hopkins: “During the day, I just want a normal life. Simple. Peaceful. I like quiet. Don’t watch television much, only a couple of old movies on Turner. The best times of my life are the afternoons. Ah, lovely.”
Hopkins was the protégé of, even understudied for, Sir Laurence Olivier when he joined the Royal National Theatre in 1965 after graduating from London’s Royal Academy of Drama. In 1968, his film career exploded with his performance as Richard the Lionheart opposite Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter. Twenty-three years and many films later, he won the 1991 Best Actor Oscar for his delectably chilling turn as The Silence of the Lambs’ Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector, the psycho with a taste for fava beans, a nice Chianti … and, of course, a nice bit of protein.
Twenty-six years on, the impressively fit actor is pleased with having practiced his craft around the globe for the last year. He shot HBO’s brilliant, unsettling sci-fi hit Westworld in Utah, playing the role of a godlike master of an ultra-violent amusement park populated by humanoid robots. It’s earned him raves and Emmy buzz, and Hopkins himself is unusually stoked by it.
Anthony Hopkins’ landscape Malibu and Wanderlust (right).
“The writing is astonishing, the scripts are beautifully constructed. It’s really good, really deep stuff.” In Australia, he shot Thor: Ragnarok, his third outing as that blockbuster franchise’s Odin, due in November 2017. Today, he’s been home only two weeks since wrapping in London as a, thus far, mystery character in this summer’s Transformers: The Last Knight. Could his role be a Transformer-battling knight, perhaps? Tony’s not telling.
No matter. This afternoon, this Renaissance man who was born to a baker and his wife in Margam, Glamargon, a village suburb of Port Talbot, Wales, has invited us to his estate’s pool house art studio to discuss his Southern California gallery debut, Dreamscapes, at Palm Desert’s Desert Art Collection, Jan. 6 through 27. The show is impressive: Three full rooms will feature never-before-seen, vibrantly colorful acrylic-on-canvas paintings and ink-on-paper works, along with limited- edition, signed, and numbered serigraphs.
As always, the grounds at casa Hopkins are festooned with multihued Tibetan prayer flags. It’s an unusually busy afternoon. After all, Palm Springs Life is on the premises with questions and cameras. “Usually, I just do lovely, soothing things here,” Hopkins says. “I play the piano, read a lot, and just have a great life.” Nonetheless, the star grants us an exclusive, freewheeling interview in which he’ll discuss his painting, music, acting career, and life. He also is not shy about revealing what he would do about young stars who get too big for their britches.
PSL: Good God, Tony, with all of your artistic endeavors, you’re like a creative madman. Do you consider yourself a full-on art addict?
Anthony Hopkins: Noooo. Just an ordinary guy who poogles along doing my thing. I don’t make a big deal of anything. Music, painting, acting, I don’t think about it at all. I just do it and if they like it, OK, and if they don’t, fuck `em, I’m not gonna go to jail. I do it for the fun of it.
PSL: Though you’d drawn and painted all your life, it was your wife, Stella, who kicked it into high gear after seeing your doodles on movie scripts, right? For your 2003 wedding, she asked you to paint take-away gifts for the guests and…
AH: … And I said, “How many paintings?” She said 75 (chuckles). So I did, and people seemed to like them. So she said, “Right, then: I want you to get painting.” I said, “I’m not a painter.” She said, “Actually, you are.” You know, we categorize ourselves in life. But I had a friend, [the legendary make-up special effects master] Stan Winston, who was a bona fide artist. We had a barbecue some years ago and my studio was right over there where it still is. Stan said, “Who did all these paintings?” I pulled into self-deprecating-ness and said, “I did. Are they OK?” He said, “They’re terrific. Why do you pull a face like that?” I said, “I’ve never had training.” He said, “Don’t. Just paint as you do.” So I’m like the author Henry Miller, who lived and died up in Big Sur and said, “Paint and die happy.” He painted very primitively, enjoyed it, and his paintings sold. That’s what I do.
PSL: Your Desert Art Collection show is called Dreamscapes. Are your paintings informed by dreams and the unconscious?
AH: No! I don’t plan anything, I just paint as they come and my friend, [Margam Fine Arts’ Creative Director] Aaron Tucker, comes up with the titles. I just go, paint, and give it over to my wife who tells me to mind my own business. I don’t question things and I’m better off that way. It’s in my nature to want to question everything, but Stella’s taught me not to. She says, “Just enjoy it, stop asking questions.” I never get intense about anything anymore.
PSL: Watching you in movies, that’s hard to believe, but OK. Still, can you explain why your paintings are so rife with emotion and color?
AH: I come from a pretty gray place in Wales and when I was in Tlaxcala, Mexico, doing [1998’s] The Mask of Zorro, I noticed all the houses’ doors painted different, bright colors. I thought, “God, they really love color here.” And I do, too. So I paint in bright colors. And I mix garish colors. Vulgar colors.
Anthony Hopkins’s oil, The King, (left) and Malibu Sunset.
PSL: Which brings to mind an Instagram post for one of your wilder paintings: “Discover. Emotion. Chaos. Expression. Be undisciplined. Delight the senses.”
AH: Yes — give into the chaos! We think we do, but we have no control over anything. Life is chaos, everything is chaos. We come into the world in chaos and we leave in chaos. So I think, “Well, be happy, because nothing is certain.” Just chill. My philosophy is, “Today is the tomorrow I was so worried about yesterday.”
PSL: You’ve enjoyed acclaim for your music, as well: The famous Dutch violinist and conductor André Rieu recorded and made a hit of your “And the Waltz Goes On” in 2011, and then your 2012 CD Composer, featuring nine of your compositions, was performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
AH: (smiling and nodding his head enthusiastically) Yeah, those were a lot of fun. [André and I] went to the Belvedere Palace — where Mozart lived! — and André played my waltz there. Then we went to Maastricht [Netherlands] and played outdoors to, I think, 5,000 people. Sitting there watching my music being conducted I thought, “This isn’t possible.” But, yeah, I write music and play the piano every day for four or five hours. When I’m 80 I want to do a concert.
AH: (immediately) Yeah!
“But some [actors] come on now and they can’t talk to people, they’re so fucking grand (makes a fist). And I want to punch them in the nose. Who do you think you are? You’re an actor, you’re not curing disease.”
PSL: Is this a scoop? Amazing. OK, let’s talk movies. Your art exhibition this month coincides with the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Film festivals mean awards and you’ve got a slew of them: An Oscar, three BAFTAs, two Emmys, just for starters. Do you love a nice award, Tony?
AH: Well, I don’t say ‘No’ to them if they offer (chuckles). It’s a bit of fun. But you know, I was asked to go and talk the other day to an acting class and I said to them, “All I can offer you is: Just enjoy yourself. Enjoy it! If you’re passionate about it, be passionate about it. Just do. Be. But thin out your ego, because one day you will die and nobody will care.” Because the universe is indifferent to our tiny little struggles on this planet. It’s, finally, not important. And I was telling the students, “You see young kids who become actors that become rich and famous and they destroy themselves, they become monsters.” I say, “Keep your perspective.” Because ego is the biggest killer of all. You have to have an ego, but it can also be the devil and make you believe you’re really special. None of us are special. [Those “monstrous” young stars], they’re not so hot.
PSL: Preach, Tony.
AH: We’re living in a world of such entitlement. I say, “Respect everyone.” I tell my assistant, “Respect the guys that set up my trailer.” I respect the crew, the lights, the camera people, because they put your stupid face on the screen. Not me. I say, “Be polite, have some fun, ask, ‘How are you doing?’ ” But some [actors] come on now and they can’t talk to people, they’re so fucking grand (makes a fist). And I want to punch them in the nose. Who do you think you are? You’re an actor, you’re not curing disease! Get over yourself! (catching himself) I’m not going to get angry, but I really mean that.
VIDEO: Watch and listen to Anthony Hopkins explain his artwork from his studio.
PSL: I don’t guess you’re going to name any names here, huh?
AH: No, listen, most of the actors I work with are terrific. You get one or two who think the sun shines out of their asses, but … oh, here’s a good story. My father came backstage with my mother after a play I did at the National Theatre. Laurence Olivier was backstage. My father’s, of course, nervous, and my mother was in shock, meeting Laurence Olivier. So I said to Olivier, “This is my father.” Olivier said, “Hello, Mr. Hopkins.” My father said, “How old are you?” Olivier said, “I was born in 1907.” My father said, “Same age as me. Both going down the hill now, aren’t we?” My mother said, whispering frantically, “That’s Laurence Olivier!” My father said, “Well, he breathes oxygen just like me, doesn’t he?” And I always remember that. “Breathes oxygen just like me.” My father had a great attitude of reality.
PSL: Great story. So tell me: What do you think of the word “legend” when it refers to you?
AH: It’s only a word. Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate it. I was shooting in the streets of London with [director] Michael Bay for Transformers and people wanted selfies. Sometimes when they say, “Can we have a photograph?” I do make a joke and say, “… For $75.” No, I take them all the time. And people say, “Oh, you’re so nice!” And I say, “Well, thank you. You’re paying me to be.” They pay my salary, they paid for this house.
PSL: Which is a dream. You’ve come a long way from Port Talbot, the same place where Richard Burton was born. Back in 2002, I interviewed you for Premiere and you told me a great story about how, once, when Burton came to town to visit, you went around the corner, found him, and asked for his autograph. Then, afterwards, his car drove by …
AH: … His gray Jaguar. As I was going back to my father’s shop where we lived, he passed me in that car with his wife, Sybil — not Elizabeth, then — and she waved and he just did this to me (Hopkins does a quick, elegant tip of the hat gesture). I thought, “I want to be like that. I want to get out of the environment of my own mind, really.” Because I was very limited as a kid in school. So I thought, “I’ll become an actor. It beats working for a living.”
PSL: Actually, when we spoke back then, you told me you’d thought at that moment, “I’ve got to get out of this place! I want to be like him. I want to be rich and famous and meet movie stars!”
AH: Well, I was a kid then. See? Be careful what you dream about.
PSL: And now, here you are in Malibu, a movie star, composer, and artist about to celebrate your 79th birthday. Do your success and longevity ever shock you?
AH: Well, I’m very happy to be here. I keep working, which is good — I’m doing a film of King Lear in London next September. So I keep working, keep working. Keeps me sane, keeps me happy. I feel great that I’ve reached this grand old age. It’s good to just be around. To be a survivor. I feel terrific.