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You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger – Why Anthony Hopkins has very few illusions

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You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Anthony Hopkins
Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) © 2010 Mediapro & Gravier

Considered one of the greatest actors of his generation, Anthony Hopkins received the Academy Award for Best Actor for his chilling performance as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. He has just finished filming Thor, produced by Marvel Studios and directed by Kenneth Branagh, which will premiere in 2011.

In Woody Allen’s new movie You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, which opened this week, he portrays Alfie, a man going through a midlife crisis who leaves his wife Helena (Gemma Jones) for a sassy call girl named Charmaine (Lucy Punch).

Had your paths crossed with Woody Allen before?

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Anthony Hopkins
Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) © 2010 Mediapro & Gravier

In 1984, in September. I remember that. I went to see him in his office on Park Avenue, in New York, and he was very nice, very easy to be with. I was only there for 15 minutes. He wanted to see me about a film. He said, ‘I don’t think you’re right for this but I’m glad we met and maybe one day we’ll do something.’ Then last year I got the call to do this one. And I’m glad I did.

As a director yourself, how did you react to the fact that Woody doesn’t give actors feedback?

It was good. I have directed a few times. I don’t know whether I’m a good director or not. I tend to be either lazy and do nothing or I over-micromanage it, and then I realize you can’t do that.

Woody Allen, like Clint Eastwood, they have a simple approach. Basically, you walk from the door to the chair and he says, ‘Let’s shoot it again.’ He’ll say, ‘Don’t do it as though you’ve just rehearsed it.” (In a perfect nebbishy Woody Allen voice) “Make sure that you do it like you haven’t rehearsed it. I know you did but make it look like you haven’t.’

He keeps it fresh. And he likes to improvise if you want to. In the restaurant scene, which was the first scene I did with Gemma Jones, it was the first day of filming, in fact—he said “OK, that’s good. Let’s do it again and improvise and kick it around.” He likes all that.

He likes to tell stories where older, intelligent men are paired with young, flaky girls. What do you think is funny about that?

It’s funny because it’s so pathetic. You see a man with a comb-over with a young girl. It’s sad. I’m glad I’m not young anymore. I don’t have any illusions left. Woody Allen is so funny about mortality. He’s so bleak about it.

We were at a press conference in Toronto. (He goes back into doing a Woody impression) ‘You know, we just get older. Nothing improves. It just gets worse. Everything just falls apart. You shrivel up and you’re gumming your porridge in your apartment, watching the television that’s not on and watching the box office returns, and then you die.’

You don’t share his philosophy about life?

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Anthony Hopkins
Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) © 2010 Mediapro & Gravier

Partly, yeah, I think this is it. But I think he’s talking from an atheist’s point-of- view. I have very few illusions. A kind of peace has descended on me, I think over the past few years. When you’re young you want to do everything and achieve everything but now (I have the attitude) easy does it. Sit back. I don’t want anything. If they still want me I’ll do it.

Do you feel like part of the challenge of working with Woody is not being Woody on set?

I don’t think he comes through in my performance. But the rhythms (of his writing) it’s easy to fall into the trap (of imitating him) so I had to avoid that. I saw the scene the other night where she’s spending all of my money, and thought, this is borderline Woody Allen (he goes into Woody mode again). ‘Spending all this money? I’m going to die.’

Talk about working with Lucy? She’s a powerhouse.

She is a powerhouse. She’s like a machine, in a good sense. She has tremendous energy. She loves to improvise. So we got on so well together. It was wonderful because she’s alive. They all were. I wished I had more to do with them. But my scenes were all with Lucy, Gemma, the brief one with Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin. I wish I’d had more to do with him because he’s very funny. He’s very rude and insults you.

We’re excited to see you in the upcoming Thor. How fun is to wear that mask?

Well, it was hard work. It was carrying 15 pounds of armor on my back or more. 25 pounds I think, but (Kenneth) Branagh’s a great director. These young actors: Tom Hiddleston and Chris (Hemsworth), they were just wonderful. Branagh, I call him the general, he’s so self-assured and so present and he knows exactly what he wants.

I’d never worked with him before and I wouldn’t say I know him well but it was such a pleasant revelation working with him. I don’t know what it is about him. He’s very self-assured and a great actor. He brings all his experience to the set. I think he’s terrific.