Anthony Hopkins: Animal Instincts

After a series of rather indifferent or underrealized films, such as 84 Charing Cross Road, and dubious TV projects, the nadir of which was "Hollywood Wives," actor Anthony Hopkins has finally sunk his teeth into perhaps his juiciest film role, as the charismatic psychopath Dr. Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, in Jonathan Demme's chilling The Silence of the Lambs.

In a performance of carefully calibrated creepiness and horror, Hopkins spends a crucial portion of the movie toying with FBI agent Jodie Foster's sanity from behind prison bars which, he manages to convince us, barely cage his blood lust. And this touted performance follows on the heels of a series of challenging roles for London's National Theater, including a dazzling performance as a power-mad newspaper baron in David Hare's Pravda--a play he performed in repertory with King Lear--and a run in the London production of M. Butterfly to equally loud applause.

"I guess you eventually find your niche or it finds you," says Hopkins. But finding it, he admits, required "a herculean effort" to overcome a reputation as a volatile and temperamental actor. "I used to be difficult to work with," he says, dropping words like "troublemaker" and "unreliable." But it wasn't until he became "sick and tired of myself," that he made a conscious effort to do battle with his emotional problems--no therapy, but a lot of self-help books--and insecurities (jealousy of other actors among them). The process is ongoing and includes a daily morning ritual of looking into the mirror, laughing, and telling himself to have a great day. He admits it sounds trite and perhaps corny. "But it works," he says, flashing a broad grin. His positive personal attitude has resulted in a certain professional ease too. "I used to sweat over acting. Now I don't. I can't work from tension anymore. I'm at my best when I'm relaxed."

Hopkins says he no longer draws from his own neuroses to court the muse. "Directors like Jonathan Demme have broken the myth for me that to be a genius you have to be a monster, that you have to be tortured to be creative. That's just a big crock." He now looks to the animal kingdom for his inspiration. For example, Hopkins likens the character of Dr. Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs to a praying mantis, "who is still for hours and then suddenly moves in for the kill." He says his performance on stage in Pravda was "in part dinosaur and part great white shark--with some Adolf Hitler and David Susskind thrown in." Hopkins's Captain Bligh in The Bounty was "reptilian," albeit a creature who is "too tightly wrapped."

Even in the unlikely case that The Silence of the Lambs is overlooked, Hopkins refuses to give in to self-pity anymore. He's leaving it all up to serendipity. Sure enough, after being called "out of the blue" by Demme, he received a similar summons from James Ivory to star in E.M. Forster's Howards End opposite Vanessa Redgrave. Makes you want to get up and smile in the mirror every morning too, doesn't it?

Richard Natale