Anthony Hopkins at 80 is the same as he was at 70, 60, and even earlier.
I remember when I nominated him for the Cecil B. DeMille awards (at the Golden Globe) for lifetime achievement when I was president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, I was surprised to hear back from his publicist, “Anthony likes you.”
Hopkins has always been an extremely private, almost reclusive person. His personal life is shrouded in secrecy, not that there are any skeletons in the cupboard.
He was married for many years to Jennifer Lynton, they had one daughter, but he is estranged from both.
Late in life he found his soul mate in a Colombian antique dealer; in 2012 they celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary in a special religious ceremony in Wales.
But first and foremost he is an actor.
At his press conference at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, suddenly he’s very much aware of his own mortality.
“I should have died years ago. It should have been over for me, but I’m here, while many of my contemporaries, many great actors that I knew, are dead and gone; it doesn’t make any sense to me.
“There is no rhyme or reason, no justice. A friend of mine died at 61, 10 days ago. You read every day people just die of a sudden heart attack. So you can’t afford to be too serious. And you cannot deny mortality.”
Now he is tackling his most demanding role – Shakespeare’s King Lear, in a television version that is a radical departure from previous productions including the one he played 30 years ago on the London stage.
Has your great success as an actor compensated for the loneliness you felt as a child?
I’m always amazed that I have survived long enough to be what I am. My life is like a remarkable event, a dream. I look back at the child I was, a very scared lonely little kid. I was an only child, very stupid in school, slow and dim-witted – and I look back and say, what happened?
I’m not an academic, I’m not an intellectual giant. But I’m very happy now. I like my own company. I don’t feel lonely.
Was earning a knighthood the icing on the cake?
I don’t know really. It’s very nice, very pleasant, but I’ve gotten use to it. People call me Sir Anthony and I’ve taken it in.
Are there things that make you angry. What makes you mad?
Nothing really much, lately. I don’t get mad anymore.
What used to make me mad was that people have attitudes about how important they are, especially in this business.
I don’t waste time getting mad anymore, I have a good life, I have had a wonderful life, I enjoy my life and it’s all a result of being where I am, but it’s all an accident anyway.
I came into it 60 years ago and I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a pianist, a musician, and I became an actor instead.
By sheer fluke, sheer accident and chance, I pursued a career in this business and it seems that everything has gone way beyond anything I planned.
I look out of my window – I live on the coast here (in Los Angeles) and I go, “How did I get here?” So, I can’t afford to waste time being mad.
I’m restless, that’s all.
You’ve given so many great performances. Which one are you most proud of?
This King Lear that I just did. Because it’s so current, so recent. It was the most passionate heartfelt thing I have done in recent years.
I also enjoyed something like Remains Of The Day or Silence Of The Lambs or Nixon with Oliver Stone.
What is the greatest misconception about you?
That I am serious, that’s a big misconception of me. I am not at all serious.
I was as a boy about nine years of age, and they were all laughing at me standing in the school playground in 1949. And I was like “One day I’ll show you all!” They are all dead now. All gone.
What advice would you give to young actors?
The trick of life is to not care too much. Care a little bit but not too much. Ask nothing and expect nothing.
There was an awards show on last night and I didn’t watch it, but we all have to look like we are happy when the other person wins. That takes a lot of effort, and that takes a lot of courage.
So my detachment helps me through my life, and I have always had that. I think it’s been embedded in me, this sense of detachment all my life.
Silence Of The Lambs won you your only Academy Award. What was the key to playing that role?
Don’t move very much. It’s easy when you get the role and the script. The FBI man warns Clarice Starling don’t get Hannibal Lecter in your mind. Now there is a clue, you don’t want Hannibal Lecter in your mind.
And then she says, “Well what is he like?” He is a monster. There’s a clue. Then you follow her down to the cells.
When I got the script, I knew, I could feel it in my spine, “Oh I know how to play this.”
Not to play a monster, but to play a very quiet man standing in the centre of his cell, waiting, cause he can smell her coming down the corridor.
What invigorates you other than work?
Living life. I know that I have more days behind me than I have ahead.
So, the thing I am most excited about, is being alive.
What has been the highest and lowest points of your life?
I look back at a dark nostalgia of my days in the 50s and the 60s in the theatre in London, they were all like one long dreary wet Wednesday afternoon in Waterloo Road playing small parts. That was the low point in my career.
And then you go through the years and you have highs and lows and nothing is static. So I am amazed to still be around, that I have survived all these years and they still employ me. It’s not a question of having done something right, it’s a question of sheer good fortune.
I am happily married to a lovely wife and I live in Malibu, it doesn’t get better than that.
I go back to England once in awhile so my life is at its high point at the moment.