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Thor – Anthony Hopkins on how he got back his chops

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Thor - Anthony Hopkins
Odin (Anthony Hopkins) © 2011 MVLFFLLC

Academy Award winning actor Anthony Hopkins has had an amazing career, starring in such memorable movies as Silence of the Lambs, The Remains of the Day, Nixon, Amistad, Shadowlands, Howard’s End and The Bounty.

In his new movie Thor, based on the Marvel comic, directed by Kenneth Branagh, he portrays the god Odin, who resides in the mystic realm of Asgard. When his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) reignites an ancient war, Odin banishes him to Earth to live as a mortal being.

What drew you to be a part of this, essentially a comic book movie?

Thor - Anthony Hopkins
Odin (Anthony Hopkins) © 2011 MVLFFLLC

Ken Branagh. If they gave me enough money to read the phone book, I’d do it. I live in a total state of non-expectation, especially the last few years. I had just come back from a movie with Woody Allen (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), which was a big surprise, I enjoyed that.

I got a new agent, and within two days they said, ‘Would you like to meet Ken Branagh?’ I said, ‘Yeah. What about?’ He said, ‘Odin.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s a god, isn’t it?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’

Funny thing was, I hadn’t seen Ken for some years, and I wasn’t sure how he would respond to me, because I was one of the bad boys who ran away from England many years ago, and I came out to Cuckoo Land, out here, because I never fitted into British theatre and all that. So I wasn’t sure how he’d received me.

We met for breakfast down in Santa Monica, and he was very pleasant and friendly, and we had a chat about old times. He gave me the script and I read it, and I thought, ‘Yeah, I’d love to work with him,’ because I’ve always been a fan of Ken’s. And it turned out that it was the most enjoyable film I’ve ever been involved in for a long time.

I think I’d gone through a patch where I was getting very indifferent to everything, and I could care less about anything. And then to work with Ken, he just pushed the right buttons to get me to give of my best. And I really value that in him, because I’d gotten lazy. He’s one of the best directors I’ve worked with. He gave me back my chops.

What buttons did he push, and did he know you were lazy?

Thor - Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Odin (Anthony Hopkins) © 2011 MVLFFLLC

Maybe I’m overstating it. I’m 20 years older than Ken, and I didn’t know him that well. But we had all the same reference points of the theatre. We were both pretty rebellious. I escaped from England and the group theatre, and came over to America to Disneyland, I sold out. I’m glad I sold out.

So I wasn’t sure how he’d respond to me. But he’s as bad as I am, he’s a rebel, but he’s challenged himself over the years.

I hate taxing my mind with analysis. I cannot talk about acting. They say, ‘Let’s talk about [the scene]?’ Why? I’ve sat in conferences where you just fall asleep because it’s so boring. You just get up and do it.

What Ken does is just say, ‘Come on, you can do more than that,’ because I like to be a little restrained. And he’d say, ‘No, let’s push it even more.’ And that was a welcome invitation.

Did you pick which eye your patch would be on?

I can’t remember. They put it on the wrong eye, first of all. And I said, ‘I think you made this for the wrong eye,’ because it wouldn’t fit. And they said, ‘Yeah, we did.’ But they had another one. The only problem with it was, I had moments of anxiety because I had no three dimensional vision.

So I felt like an old [man], well, I’m not that young anymore, but [I had to be] guided onto the set. I felt embarrassed, because I couldn’t see. But the patch would come off very quickly.

Thor - Anthony Hopkins
Odin (Anthony Hopkins) © 2011 MVLFFLLC

But the costume helped, you don’t have to do too much, except speak up, you don’t have to act. John Wayne said, ‘When you’re in the desert, you don’t have to act, you let the desert do it for you.’ So I took a page out of [his] book, and I tried not to do too much.

Ken challenges you all the time, in a very nice, gentlemanly, charming way. He would say, ‘My learned, esteemed colleague, Mr Hopkins, I would like you to stand here. And then Chris will come up behind you.’ He said, ‘Do you have any suggestions?‘ I said, ‘Yeah, but I’m not gonna tell them to you because you want me to stand here, don’t you?’ He’s very cunning. (he laughs) A good director knows what he wants.

Is putting a Shakespearian spin on this too much weight onto what’s essentially a comic book story?

No, I don’t think so. I don’t trouble my little brain with that stuff. You can analyze and analyze, and I leave it to the boss, the director. They decide what it’s going to be like. Ken mentioned Shakespeare quite a lot when we were doing the readings down in Manhattan Beach.

We also talked about the good old westerns, Shane, one of my favorite all times westerns, when the bad guys come in and they have a conference and they try to negotiate; and to have that sort of feeling of big, the autocratic father and the troublesome sons.