Anthony Hopkins: The Movieline Interview


Anthony Hopkins may be a knighted, Oscar-winning movie star with over 50 years of acting experience, but in conversation, he's disarmingly down-to-earth. When he called up Movieline last week to chat about his new film, James Ivory's The City of Your Final Destination, there were no publicist go-betweens or assistants rolling the call -- just a ring from an unknown number, and that familiar voice warmly saying, "This is Tony Hopkins." You get the feeling that in his later life, Hopkins has no patience for Hollywood artifice, and it's a mien that makes him well suited to play Destination's Adam Gund, who's convinced that his ex-pat life in Uruguay is so casual and relaxed that his younger lover (Hiroyuki Sanada) will surely leave him at some point for something more exciting.

As Hopkins prepared to wrap his role on Marvel's megabudgeted Thor, he took the time to discuss his work on Ivory's film while extinguishing one rumor (that there's been friction between him and his Thor costar Chris Hemsworth) and fanning the flames of another (that his next film with Woody Allen is headed for a Cannes berth).

You shot this film back in 2007, so I appreciate you digging into your memory banks for this interview.

You know, I haven't seen the film yet, because I was away when they were showing it. I was in -- where the hell was this -- oh, I was in England! So I haven't seen it, though I have seen the trailer, and it looks nicely done.

It's interesting that the film is about this deceased artist who seems to haunt every frame, because while I was watching it, I couldn't help but think of James Ivory's longtime producer Ismail Merchant. This is the first film James has directed since Ismail's death. How was it a different experience?

I've done a couple of movies with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant now, and I think we started this one on the anniversary of Ismail's sudden death from a heart attack. [Ed. The production actually started on what would have been Merchant's 70th birthday.] I was in Argentina on Christmas Day, and the cast and I all had dinner with James Ivory and the producer, and he just made a toast to Ismail: "He would have wanted to be here." He was quite a personality, Ismail Merchant. A wonderful, charismatic man, and a lot of fun to work with on a film.

Was that on-set dynamic changed by James continuing without him?

He's different than James Ivory. James and he were the opposite in personality, but the combination worked. My first experience working on an Ismail Merchant film was Howards End, and then shortly after that, we made The Remains of the Day, and I enjoyed them very much. This one, though, I particularly enjoyed. I'm just looking forward to seeing it now.


James has now directed you four times, which is second only to Richard Attenborough, I believe.

Oh yes, that's right, there was also Surviving Picasso.

Is there a shorthand between the two of you now?

No. Well, in a way, I suppose there is. I come on set and like with any director, I rehearse it and he says, "OK, let's shoot it then." There's no talk about it, there's no analysis or introspection about it -- it's very easygoing and calm on the set. I enjoy that. He's very laid-back. I remember there was a scene I did where I asked, "Can I enter the room at this time?" "Yeah, OK." "There's a record there. Can I put on the record?" You can make a suggestion and he'll go along and say, "OK, try it."

Your performance itself is so laid-back, too. I have to wonder, was there anything difficult about it?

Oh, it was easy. I was only on the film for two weeks. I did have a lot of things to do, and I had a lot of speeches and a monologue about family. I also had a long scene with the young Iranian actor...

Omar Metwally?

Yes, in the restaurant. What I do is just go over and over and over my lines and learn the script so well that I can just be easy and relaxed. That's the way I always work. That takes up enough time, and then once I feel confident enough as an actor that I know the text, I can come in and just do it with no stress at all. I know that some actors and directors like to have intensity on set. I don't, particularly. Certainly, if they want that, that's fine, but I can't work like that. I like to take it easy.

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  • Good interview, but you didn't ask Tony Hopkins about his lawsuit against Merchant Ivory. In 2007 he had claimed that they had failed to pay him $750,000 -- his fee for the film. This was around the time that MI Productions and this film ran into financial trouble!