Anthony Hopkins Discusses Acting

Posted on: 01 July 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Oscar-winning actor Anthony Hopkins discusses acting and his film The World's Fastest Indian.

Anthony Hopkins stars in The World's Fastest Indian as Burt Munro, a man who never let the dreams of youth fade.

After a lifetime of perfecting his classic Indian motorcycle, Burt set off from the bottom of the world to test his bike at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

With all the odds against him, he set a new speed record and captured the spirit of his times. Burt Munro's 1967 world record remains unbroken and his legend lives on today.

We talk to Anthony Hopkins about the film and his life in movies.

Anthony Hopkins - The World's Fastest IndianYou described this film as the best experience you have ever had?

Yeah it was one of the most wonderful, most enjoyable movies I have made.

I enjoyed it because it was such an outdoor, open air movie and he is a character with a sunny disposition and I liked his philosophy of life. It was fun being on a motorbike.

Had you had your own motorbikes?

No I never had one but I rode one when I was in the Army years ago when I did National Service.

So when I got on to this one I had to do a little bit of riding....did the basics like how to get on it and how to start it.

It was a very uncomfortable bike to ride. It was a really tough one. I wore some padding underneath my stomach because I was lying flat on it.

But Burt Munro didn’t have anything like that. He rode it with no protection at all and that must have been tough.

Burt is a bit of an unknown hero isn’t he?

Yeah no-one knew much about him except in Invercargill and then Roger Donaldson, the director, got to know him years ago because Roger is a motorbike fiend and a car fanatic.

He got to know him and did a documentary film on him back in 1970 and then he made this movie.

It is kind of an unlikely feature film to make but Roger put it together. That’s what his dream was and it has taken off.

In New Zealand it is the biggest hit that they have ever had, apparently.

Apart from the bike you had the accent to master?

The Southland.

It was easier than I expected because the New Zealand accent is different from the Australian accent and it can be a tough one to get.

But the Southland one was easier because it sounded a little Irish or Cornish. It is not as twisted as the Northern part of New Zealand. That is such a strange sounding accent.

It was also easier to do Burt Munro’s accent because I listened to the documentary film a lot. I got the patterns of his voice.

The trick, I guess, is not to get too fanatical about getting the accent too accurate because then that becomes a mask. What I tried to do was just painting and sketching some of the sounds that he would use without obliterating my own voice.

Apart from watching the documentary film was there any other research that you felt was necessary?

No that was it. I’m not good at research. But I went with Roger Donaldson to the Los Angeles Motor Museum and we saw lots of cars and a replica of Burt’s bike there and some of the great record breaking bikes and some of the old record breaking cars.

It is a very interesting museum. Bonnie And Clyde’s car is there as well.

Has Burt got any family left who saw the movie?

Yeah they are all in the seventies and it is a big family. The wife is about 90 I believe.

There is a son, John Munro in his seventies and two daughters.

I couldn’t go down to New Zealand for the premiere but Roger went and he said that about 50 of the family turned up.

They were all crying and it was a great gala day because Invercargill has now been put on the map by Burt Munro. It’s a nice place Invercargill but it rains non-stop.

I went to Burt’s grave. He is buried near the motel where I was living. So on the last day of filming I went down there and put some flowers on his grave.

Anthony HopkinsIt’s almost 20 years since you played another high speed hero, Donald Campbell in Across The Lake?

That was 1987.

I had a great time on that. I really got very close to Donald Campbell because I watched a lot of documentary films on him and he was a really feisty, angry guy. I loved his attitude to the Press.

On the last day before he was killed, I think it was Benson from the Times said...’Have you had breakfast, Donald?’ He said yes.

So Benson asked...’What are you having?’ and he said...’Brandy and cornflakes.’

He was a great character, like a kind of Battle Of Britain pilot.

And Burt was also a pioneer, wasn’t he?

Oh yes. He had tremendous courage.

Also the thing about Campbell was when he was asked if he ever got scared he replied...’Of course I am, bloody scared to death. But courage is overcoming your fear and driving through fear.’

I think that Burt was scared but he just thought...to Hell with it, we are going to die one day so I might as well take my chances.

I think that spirit is just great.

As an actor who has made almost 100 films are you scared - especially on the first day on set?

No, never. There is nothing to be scared of in movies.

It’s a bit scarier going on stage. But I had a great time when I did Pravda on stage.

The only thing was that David Hare and I thought we might be lynched because he were such an outrageous character.

But I was not scared, I just went on like a Centurion tank, punching through any doubts I might have had about things.

You have a lot of new movies on the way, like All The King’s Men with Sean Penn?

Yeah, I have not seen that yet.

Then I did Beowulf with Ray Winstone, what a great guy he is.

And I finished the movie about Bobby Kennedy about 10 days ago. I am John Casey in that, a real character.

He was the doorman at the Ambassador. He retired quite wealthy because of the tips he got from people.

Apparently he was also a very good chess player but I am terrible at the game. My chess partner in the film is Harry Belafonte.

Hopkins in HannibalWas there a film you made that was life changing for you?

I hate the word career but I suppose a career changing film was The Silence Of The Lambs.

When The Silence Of The Lambs came along it put me in a new category I guess.

From then on I have enjoyed more doing what I do. I loved The Remains Of The Day, Shadowlands and Nixon. They were all my favourites...and The Bounty was one.

You know that David Lean was originally going to direct that film? Years ago - I think it was 1977 - I was living out in California when I got a call, from Katharine Hepburn of all people, because I had worked with her on The Lion In Winter, and she asked if David Lean could have my number. I said sure he can!

Anyway, Lean phone me. He was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel and I went over to meet him and he said that he wanted me to play Bligh.

So we had dinner and it was all going ahead. David Lean went out to Bora Bora with Robert Bolt and then Bolt had a stroke and Lean phoned me from Bora Bora to say that he thought there was going to be a delay.

At that time the script was going to be four or five hours long and was going to be divided into two films. But I don’t think that that would have stood up, I think it would have been too big.

Then that film vanished but later I was called up about The Bounty again and Dino De Laurentiis was going to produce it any way for David Lean but they were supposed to have had a quarrel - I don’t know what the truth is, it was all so long ago.

I asked who was going to direct it and they replied that they didn’t know and, of course, they got Roger Donaldson, and that’s how we met.

How did you get on with Roger because there were stories of rows?

We fought, we had arguments, but we have become the best of friends.

It is funny the way that life changes. We get on so well together and had such a good time making The World’s Fastest Indian. We had a laugh.

It has been suggested that you are fed up playing psychopaths?

Yeah that’s right.

I have had a good time playing weird guys like Hannibal Lecter and all the others. I enjoyed those but after a while you want to get away from that type.

What about the film Magic?

That was with Richard Attenborough whom I saw about two weeks ago when he was out here in California.

He came out here for lunch, I hadn’t seen him for years.

For the role of the ventriloquist in Magic I got some training from a guy called Denis Allwood. He let me work with his dummy which I would practice with.

I also met a bank manager who happened to be a great magician so I used to go into this guy’s bank and he would teach me magic tricks. That’s how I put it together, it wasn’t that complicated,

I didn’t have to become a magician but I did a lot of my ventriloquism.

Despite saying you aren’t into research it seems you do it in a very thorough way?

Well yeah I do what’s necessary.

I don’t like people to know that I do research. I watched a lot of documentary films on Nixon for example.

I watched every speech he made for his physical mannerisms.

When you watch mannerisms - without being a psycho analyst - you can get a pretty good idea of what’s going on inside.

So with Nixon I began to feel what it must have been like for him. It’s a very physical thing.

The World's Fastest Indian was released on 10th March 2006.

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