Anthony Hopkins: Master of Civility the Actor Reveals the Depth under His Dignified Portrayals

Article excerpt

HAVING a quiet talk with Anthony Hopkins a few weeks before the opening of "Shadowlands," his newest film, I had the same thought that occured to me during our first interview several years ago: This is a gentle, thoughtful man who approaches his life and work with calm, clear-headed sincerity.

True, some aspects of his career have pointed in different directions. In his younger years he was known for a quick temper, a demanding attitude, and excessive habits. And then there's the astounding sense of conviction he gave to the cannibalistic criminal named Hannibal Lector in "The Silence of the Lambs," the most eagerly discussed and professionally lauded horror movie of the past decade.

Yet for all the notoriety of that icily ingenious performance, Mr. Hopkins is still regarded as a richly civilized actor with a gift for dignified portrayals in literate stories. This image comes from his personal manner and also from his superlative recent work in "Howards End" and "The Remains of the Day," both from Merchant Ivory Productions, the most civilized film company in the business.

More evidence is found in "Shadowlands," featuring Hopkins as British author C.S. Lewis and Debra Winger as Joy Gresham, the American poet who sought him out, became his wife, and changed his life forever.

"People ask me why I've played all these repressed characters," says Hopkins with a smile, acknowledging the irony of two notably fastidious characterizations - first the "Remains of the Day" butler and now the "Shadowlands" author and scholar - arriving on screen within a few weeks of each other.

"I'm a bit like that myself," he continues, "although I've played a wide range of parts.... I like order. I like safety. I like comfort. I don't like too many big challenges, or being disturbed too much. I'm a bit selfish in that way. But as I'm getting older, I'm getting more abandoned about that, and I'm getting less fearful. I also think I have spiritual values in my life, as Lewis certainly did - although I sometimes wish mine were a little more developed!"

Lewis is best known as author of "The Chronicles of Narnia," a series of seven highly imaginative novels intended for children but equally enjoyed by many a grownup. Lewis was also a classicist and theologian, however, whose books and lectures range from brightly fanciful to seriously learned and earnestly spiritual in their goals.

Hopkins is not a big believer in researching the parts he plays, but he did do some investigating into Lewis's life when preparing for "Shadowlands," and he was fascinated by what he found. "I haven't really played a role like this - a troubled, romantic man who goes through an emotional catharsis - in a very long time," he says. "I have played men who go through an intellectual development, like Pierre in `War and Peace,' but that's from a different age. In this part I felt there was a great opportunity to go back and tap into my own emotional and spiritual life. …