A while back, Jill Serjeant did an interview with Anthony Hopkins called: "It's Just A Job." It was a stinger of an interview with a man I consider the best working actor in the English-speaking world. What did he say, this knight of the English acting realm and now an American citizen?
He said this:
"I heard an actor the other day saying with all honesty 'I'm just a story teller' and I thought, give me a break. Come on be honest, it's because you like being famous, you like the work, the money. I don't swallow all that craft stuff."
(Serjeant comments: " Hopkins gave up Method acting—the dig deep into your soul approach—years ago, saying it got him 'all tangled up' and instead concentrates his energies on learning his lines, reading the script over and over again 'to make doubly sure that I know my part perfectly.")
And he said this:
"… acting is hardly brain surgery'' (he has no time for actors who wax lyrical about their craft.) "I show up in the morning, go to the dressing room, sometimes they dab a bit of makeup on my face for god knows what reason, comb my hair, what's left of it, go on set, and they say action, that's it and I go home. I always have a coffee and we have a laugh and a talk, but I don't take it at all seriously. I don't want to ever be seen taking it seriously."
And most pointedly, he said this:
"I don't have one single friend who is an actor." Hopkins unwired!
There's more… in this interview and other recently reluctant conversations that breathe depth into his curious appraisal of 'what is an actor'. Yes, right, you can dismiss his comments with a roll of the eyes glaring at this made man who can now afford the nonchalant luxury of fingering his technique with ease as he tools around the loving California coast in his expensive convertible. He's done it, he's filled his cup, no angst, no sweat. But unlike other "stars" who've become fat and old and transparent, Hopkins still sweats—he remains disciplined, detailed and remarkably surprising in his acting.
A case in point: in the film Meet Joe Black, a beautifully designed under-directed failed remake, there are three valuable pieces of filmmaking art—the brilliant music of Thomas Newman, the valiant, after-the fact but unsuccessful script doctoring of screenwriter Bo Goldman, and the performance of Anthony Hopkins. His portayal of the lead character is a perception of a master actor at work regardless of the circumstances. Where there is no dialogue, there are his eyes and his mouth. Where there is no direction, there is his movement and his timing. It is beautiful to watch.
So there must be something else that has become increasingly clear to him as he journeys through theatre and film, something a few other accomplished actors have only too quietly noted.
The great untrained, unschooled actor, Paul Muni, once said: "…on stage I'm in another place and another time. I don't know how I do what I do, and I don't want to know."
The not great, highly trained, highly schooled actor, Stella Adler, opened up an acting school, made a fortune, and promoted the myth that the gift could be found in the classroom rather than the gene pool. The duumvirate of Sandy Meisner and Lee Strasberg opened up acting schools, made fortunes, and promoted the myth that there was an egalitarian truth of craft that surpassed the elitist truth of talent. One died a bitter old man, the other died bored to death on the screen.
And there is the wonderful talent, Johnny Depp, who is half Hopkins' age with a third of his experience. He said: "…acting is a love affair with the most beautiful part of yourself." Nicely put, nicely believed.
In the glow of this array are thousands upon thousands who act and want to be actors. Few will ever have a career, less will ever make a living. Talent is the bell and the reality of the marketplace is 'Quasimodo'. In film and television, there is no bell! Many do what they do for the joy of it and the enhancement of their personal lives. That's a good thing. But many more parade in front of a soaped mirror, endlessly chatting with each other, desperately believing in faith and the triumph of will. The Hunchback keeps ringing!
What Hopkins points to in this brief interview, as he has expanded in others, is that one gets the instrument training one needs: voice, body, theatrical sensibility. The rest is work, on stage, in front of a camera, rehearsal work, performance work, life's work. Acting studios are for the flock, the stage and screen are for actors.
Thank you Sir Anthony… reminiscent of another great "Sir" before him. And after all, Olivier became a Lord.