His Place in the Sun; Sir Anthony Hopkins Traveled a Long Road out of Darkness to Find His Calling, Then His Success. after 50 Years as an Actor, He Remains a Driving Creative Force

Article excerpt

ANTHONY HOPKINS calls his cliff-top Malibu, Calif., home a sanctuary. And in the obvious sense, it is. From the front yard, you stand several hundred feet above Zuma Beach, gazing out at the pristine Pacific. Breathtaking. Then walk to the back of the house--a large white colonial with a steep redtiled roof--and you enter another world submerged in junglelike vegetation. A series of paths winds through small, cozy clearings to several tiny outbuildings and a pool. It is utterly private. A hummingbird buzzes my head. Near the guesthouse, Hopkins pauses to study a spider web drenched in a sunbeam.

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"Sometimes I don't want to leave," he says, but not because he prefers to lounge around his self-made paradise. Quite the opposite, in fact. He uses the word sanctuary to define a place that allows him to do all the things he needs to do. When he's not acting, Hopkins is a voracious reader, painter and composer. His paintings sell well, and he finds it stimulating and creative rather than relaxing. Which makes him want to do it. all the time.

"I have a busy brain," he tells me. "I don't find it that easy to stay still. My wife, Stella, checks me. She'll say, Just relax, sit down, why do you have to go all the time?' There's always something busy in me, something pushing me. I think it's very necessary to have a tension in life that keeps us moving. If we become totally peaceful, we die."

An Overriding Ambition

Sir Anthony--he prefers Tony--will probably always be known for his Oscar-winning role as Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic psychopath from the film adaptations of Thomas Harris's novels Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal That's a small sample. Now 72, he remains fit and driven (one of his outbuildings is a gym) and owner of a resume that keeps expanding. This February, he plays Benicio Del Toro's father in The Wolfman. And he recently worked with Woody Allen for the first time--"That was terrific," he says.

He's been an actor for more than 50 years now. In fact, the day I visit him is the 54th anniversary of his winning a scholarship at a local acting school in Cardiff, Wales. He was 17. At 24, he attended the Royal Academy, and eventually worked in Britain's National Theater with the likes of Laurence Olivier, who directed Hopkins in two plays. He liked how Olivier worked. Once the players had their roles and his direction down, Olivier turned them loose. "He expected you to be daring," Hopkins says. "'Be outrageous,' he'd say. 'Do something that hasn't been done before.' What a gift to give to someone."

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Back then, Hopkins was cons tuned with an overriding ambition to become successful, he says. "I had no pretenses about, 'Oh, I'm just lucky to be an actor.' I was, 'I want to be rich and famous and successful!' I'd never say that to people. But if someone asked, that's the answer I'd give. They'd say, 'Oh, get you.' And I'd say, 'You want to stay here for the rest of your life walking around in wrinkled, tights? Be my guest.'"

Harnessing the Anger

Hopkins doesn't come off as arrogant as he says this. "I speak at all times as a human being. We're not saints. We're frail, fallible creatures." He cops to a lot of anger as a young man--anger he had to learn to let go of--but he knows that anger is what allowed him to eventually rise in his field. You see, Hopkins was a horrible student. He mentions dyslexia and at tent ion-deficit hyperactivity disorder in passing, but back then, there was no diagnosis for those symptoms other than "problem child."

"Oh, I was the source of worry for my parents, the only child," he says. 'There's something in me that's not geared to taking instruction. My brain doesn't take that information in. I wish it did. But it doesn't. So I had no apparent future because schooling and education are important, and I didn't seem to have the ability to grasp what was being taught me. …