OSCARS Q&A: Anthony Hopkins
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David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor.
When we think of Anthony Hopkins, psychopaths may spring to mind. After all, the Welsh actor won an Oscar in 1992 for playing Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, a career-defining role. But of course there’s much more to Hopkins than playing brilliant fictional villains. He’s also displayed a knack for portraying complicated historical figures. In addition to playing Hitler (on TV) and William Bligh, the actor has earned Oscar nominations for playing the lead in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) and John Quincy Adams in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad (1997). Now, Hopkins has assumed the role of Alfred Hitchcock in Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, which chronicles the development and making of Psycho.
AwardsLine: What attracted you to playing Alfred Hitchcock?
Anthony Hopkins: The project originally came to me eight years ago. I met the two producers and thought, Yes, it’s interesting. But who wants to see a film about Alfred Hitchcock? Plus, I didn’t want to put on weight, having just gotten fit. So it never happened. But then it came back around. Sacha Gervasi now had it, and he had such passion and blatant enthusiasm for it. He had no experience directing actors, and I thought that would be a challenge. So I decided to just jump in.
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OSCARS Q&A: Anthony Hopkins
AwardsLine: Was it difficult acting in a fat suit?
Hopkins: Hitchcock wasn’t as heavy when he directed Psycho as he was later. We did some tests to get it right. No one wanted me to disappear behind a lot of makeup. They did it from the chin. My jawbone is completely different from his, so it went from my chin to my neck, and then I had the costume. I spent about an hour and half in makeup each day. I also shaved my head, because I’m quite gray and Hitchcock used dye — that awful red dye. And then, once you get into the mask, I’m not Alfred Hitchcock; I’m Anthony Hopkins playing the guy. So I used what I could. I wouldn’t go on the set till I was completely dressed. I wouldn’t go on in jeans, even in rehearsal. If you’re going to rehearse a scene, become the character. I wanted to feel the illusion of what I was trying to do, and that’s what I did.
AwardsLine: You did an enormous amount with your eyes in this role. Was that a conscious choice?
Hopkins: Yes, it was. I have blue eyes, so I wore contact lenses, because Hitchcock had hazel eyes. The camera has to see behind the lens. I can’t really describe it. Acting is about listening to the other person. You get a great actor like Helen Mirren, and they do the work, and you listen. So when Richard Portnow as Barney Balaban talks harshly to me, it’s just glaring back that I do. Acting is about listening and reacting. John Wayne was right: Acting is just reacting. You don’t have to do much – as long as you stay out of the way of others. That’s why it works.