No, Sir There's a New Edge to Anthony Hopkins

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PUT ANTHONY HOPKINS in blue jeans and a jersey and he still carries an air of formality about him. It's not so much that he was made a knight of the British Empire in 1993, and that there may actually be people in this world who call him "Sir Tony." And it's not that he's stuffy or dull, for during the course of an interview he does manage the occasional, well-chosen curse and at least one hand gesture generally known as "flipping the bird."

Hopkins simply has a natural courtliness that transcends even his own feistiness, that fiery undercurrent that powered his Oscar-winning turn as Hannibal Lecter in 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs." With his sharp blue eyes, silver hair and stocky build, he has the demeanor of a mild-mannered gentleman, one who says his favorite moments occur alone on a dusty road in Nowheresville, Mont., during one of his epic car trips through America. Even as the hero of a rugged adventure movie, "The Edge," being chased through the wilderness with co-star Alec Baldwin by a large and vindictive grizzly bear, Hopkins exudes civility.

The 59-year-old actor might not like the observation. He says he's tired of drawing-room movies and has always wanted to make a "tough, rough" movie like "The Edge," which opens today in St. Louis. In the film, which was written by David Mamet and directed by Lee Tamahori, Hopkins plays a bookish billionaire stranded in the wilds of Alaska with a man who may be sleeping with his wife, Elle Macpherson. The two encounter a series of primitive challenges, which has led some critics to compare "The Edge" to "Deliverance." "All those parts I've played, guys who were dead from the kneecaps up, like `The Remains of the Day,' it's about as exciting as watching paint dry to do them," Hopkins says. "I won't ever do those again. I'm glad I did them, they're easy parts to play, they're an excercise in discipline and economy and all that stuff. But I've always wanted to do this sort of movie." After making "The Edge," Hopkins firmed up his commitment to action films by segueing directly into "Zorro," a swashbuckler co-starring Antonio Banderas. While making "The Edge," Hopkins learned that playing Man against Nature and Man against Man is a lot more reckless than serving up toast and tea for 20. Because of a neck injury partly caused by the stooped posture he adopted to play Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone's "Nixon," he was in severe pain during most of physically demanding shoot. It wasn't until months into the production that an operation finally liberated him from what he called the "living hell" of a fractured disc. "All the anger I was feeling toward the bear in the film was toward my own body," he says. Also, on the first day of filming in Canada, after a few hours in cold water, Hopkins was taken to the local hospital to be treated for hypothermia. "I was on muscle relaxants and couldn't feel cold," he says. "My body wasn't responding as it should have, my blood sugar dropped, and I was hallucinating. . . . I was in my dressing room reading, and at the same time I was somewhere else. I was on the road traveling up from Los Angeles to Calgary - I was having flashes of a few days before. "I'll tell you what it was like; it was like being stoned. I've never taken drugs, but I smoked a bit of grass many years ago, and I remember the feeling that this is what drug addiction does. I thought, if this is what drugs do to people, people must be crazy to take them. "To be out of control of your mental faculties is just horrifying." Hopkins has been consistently open about his own sobriety and his attendence at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Twenty-two years ago, a man prone to suppression and rage, he woke up after an alcohol-induced blackout and decided to quit drinking. "I stopped because it was killing me," he says. "Many years ago, somebody broke my anonymity to the press. And they tackled me on this, and I found out who that person was, and never spoke to that (expletive) again. …