I’ve always known how to scare people,” says Sir Anthony Hopkins, cheerfully. “When I was a young boy, I would tell the girls stories about Dracula and I would end with a…” He makes a sound. That sound. You know the one. Licking his lips and slurping. It’s as though Hannibal Lecter has entered the room and ordered some fava beans and something to wash them down with. It is, genuinely, chilling.
Hopkins grins, aware of the effect. He recalls that the first time he read for The Silence of the Lambs, he literally drew gasps around the room when he spoke. Director Jonathan Demme practically gurgled, while one of the producers simply said: “Wow! That was scary. Don’t change a thing!”
“Scaring people is like a form of controlling them,” suggests Hopkins.
“And I guess I know how to play control-freaks. That’s why they keep casting me in these roles.” Hopkins’ latest role, in the year’s undisputed TV smash Westworld, is arguably the ultimate control freak: the show’s eccentric genius Dr Robert Ford, a man who wants to both invent the world and to own it. Ford is the creator of the robot ‘hosts’ who populate the Wild West theme park and he can’t resist constantly ‘improving’ his creations, tinkering with their emotional responses and memories.
But Hopkins, generally considered one of the finest actors alive today, doesn’t play him as a raging megalomaniac. Instead he imbues the character with an almost lethargic world-weariness, instantly adding layers of melancholy and ambiguity to a story already layered with plenty of both.
Hopkins talks to us about Westworld’s runaway success, although you get the sense he isn’t too comfortable talking about himself. A self-confessed loner (“I’ve never really been close to anyone,” he says, simply), Hopkins began studying acting after encouragement from Richard Burton, was subsequently championed by Laurence Olivier and, to date, has been Oscar-nominated four times (winning, of course, for The Silence of the Lambs). But he’s not keen to take himself, or anything else for that matter, too seriously.
Ask him why he plays Ford the way he does and he’ll just shrug. “I don’t know…” he laughs. “All I can tell you is that it was a lot of lines to learn! And I suppose I always make an attempt to go the opposite way to the one the audience might expect.”
He is equally nonchalant when asked why he decided to do the first TV series of his career. “My agent said, ‘Television is the thing now.’ So I said ‘Okay!’ I mean, if someone offers me work and I think it’s interesting, I’ll do it! It beats hanging around the streets, doesn’t it? Or working for a living…”
Does he believe this is a golden age for TV? He shrugs again. “I’m not one for theories… Is that what they say? I don’t know, tomorrow it’ll be the golden age of something else. All I can tell you is that I enjoyed doing this. I enjoyed getting the next script. Although I wasn’t used to all the secrecy – there has been so much security around everything. They didn’t even want to email them in case something leaked out. But eventually, somehow, it would get to you. You’d always read it and go: ‘Oh! There’s a surprise…’ For the whole series you never knew what was going to happen next. I’m still not sure how it all plays out, in fact.”
He laughs. “The truth is, I’m no spring chicken. I’m very happy just to be working.
I enjoy it and it’s fun. My wife is always trying to get me to slow down, but I just say, ‘Why? I’ll just die if I slow down.’” Westworld is on OSN now.