Sir Anthony Hopkins on Freud, Don Quixote, & The Devil

Sir Anthony Hopkins on Freud, Don Quixote, & The Devil
Anthony Hopkins, The Rite, Satanic Horror Movies, Exorcism
Updated: 01-24-2011

Staci Layne Wilson reporting

The Rite is the latest in sort of a spate of demonic horror movies -- think: The Exorcism of Emily Rose, House of the Devil, The Last Exorcism -- and it's helmed by Swedish director Mikael Håfström (who brought us a haunted hotel room in 1408)




Q: Do you believe in exorcism?
Q: What was the challenge for you here, then?
It was a good script and a good director, a good young actor to work with, everything that conspires to make an enjoyable movie. Doing some reading, which I'm still doing in order to keep up with the pace of what I've got to do in the next few weeks in interviews, I'm reading everything I can. I've got an iPad which I've become a geek with! I keep reading about 'The Origin of the Species' by Darwin, the sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer which feeds into my belief system because I am now more convinced of something that is mysterious about our very lives and existence than I've ever been before. Of course, I used to be an atheist, I'm not anymore.
Staci: To what do you attribute to that?
Well, it's not that I'm going to go into personal beliefs, I mean Einstein didn't believe in a personal god, he believed that there's a mathematical intelligence behind the cosmos and as Darwin said, you know, we can't believe that god is involved in our personal lives but the whole of creation started 13 billion years ago and that life was put in process and that's the way it is. There is what we would determine imperfection - why are there tsunamis? Why is there death? Why is there catastrophic disease? Why is there warfare? We don't know. This is part of life. This is part of the creative gods of Hinduism, the gods of creation and destruction. Part of the whole universal process of creation and destruction of stars - I don't mean movie stars! Supernova so and so forth, its all part of it and my belief is I don't want to live in certainty. Socrates was told he was the wisest man in Athens and he said 'oh really?' so he went around looking for wiser people than himself and he found that he was the biggest fool of all, he said 'I know nothing!' which made him the wisest man in the world - hence we have Plato and the whole of Western philosophy. So for me to live with certainty would be a nightmare. There's a very short novel by Graham Greene called Don Quixote and the Mayor (*The book he means is called Monsignor Quixote*), it's just basically a little story about Don Quixote this catholic priest who meets with his atheist friend, a Marxist, they have talks and friendly arguments and are very fond of each other and one day the priest says 'I woke up last night and had a terrible dream, terrible nightmare' and the mayor says 'what?' 'I dreamed that Christ came into my room and stood in front of me and he was so real and he was there Jesus in all his glory and I woke up terrified' and the mayor says 'why were you terrified? Wouldn't you be in awe?' and he said 'no because I was so certain that he lived and like you, you are certain of Karl Marx, you are certain of utopia' - that to me would be hell, like the politician that gets up and says the debate is over. Who says the debate is over? What right has any human being to say they know the truth? No one knows the truth. This character that I play in the film, there's a little piece that I asked if I could insert in it, I said umm....
Q: We are always looking for proof? That's your line?
Yes, I take credit for it a little bit when I say 'the trouble is with skeptics and atheists is that we're always looking for the truth' and Colin turns to me and says 'Do you?' and I say 'Every day I struggle with my belief, some days I don't know if I believe in God, Santa Claus or Tinkerbell, I don't know what the hell I believe but I feel gods fingernail scratching around inside helping me from the darkness back into the light'. When I was a little boy we had a doctor in the town and he was a scientist, brilliant doctor, Doctor Phillips, and his epitaph on his tomb was *says words in Latin* you know, from darkness into light. That affected me as a little boy and then gradually as the years went by I lost my atheism and became a believer in some universal intelligence which I do believe because the very mystery of consciousness is enough to knock one[self] out. As I'm getting older I think 'what is consciousness? Why are we here? What is the human mind and the brain all about?' The mechanism that makes a heart go for 73 years, it's impossible to understand why. Darwin they said 'do you believe in a loving God?' and he said 'no, there's no such thing as a loving god' but the whole universe started and it's the survival of the fittest, the adaptation and the struggle for existence that explains so much, but these scientists were in awe of what was at the back of it all.
Q: Where did you put yourself when you were being the devil?
Well, I just learned the lines. We were in Budapest when we did that and I had many days free. Colin was doing a lot of the work, so I had a lot of days free and I'd go for walks, but I'd spend some time in the hotel, 2 to 3 hours in the afternoon, as much time as I could gather without driving myself crazy going through the lines, going over and over. First I had to learn the Latin and then the Italian, and as I was going through the exorcism scene I discovered all of those nuances and that I could have some fun with them. I believe that sexuality is one of the things that the devil gets Colin at where he just lives for the truth, I think sexuality is the thing that snares everyone. This is all intuitive stuff I did. I don't examine it or plan it, it's what happens. Then you get on the film set and you have a combination of the director and the atmosphere in the room and it works for you, if you've done your homework, that's all. You have to do your homework and that's the only method I have....but it does make you wonder. I came away with a much stronger belief. I believe, like C. S. Lewis says, the devil works by pretending he's not there. Does a thief turn on the lights when he's robbing your house? No. The devil wants you to believe he's not there. Now, I don't know if I believe in an anthropomorphic form of the devil. Plotinus said 'be kind to everyone because everyone is fighting a great battle', I think it was Plotinus, I'm not sure. I think when anyone says the debate is over, we know the truth. The politicians, people in your church, whoever they are, that is where the devil resides I believe because that's called certainty. Many people in history were really certain - Hitler, Stalin, go through the whole of human history and those are the ones that knew 'the truth' and it cost millions of lives of horror. So to live with uncertainty is the best that I can do, to be open and to acknowledge that I know nothing
Q: ....and doubt is good?
Doubt is terrific. I say in the film 'cherish your doubts', doubt is good because then you can go anywhere.
Q: You've done so many great things, do you have anything left that you want to do? 
Well, I paint and I write music and I have a concert this year. I don't have structure and I don't have academic background. As for acting, I still enjoy it, it keeps me off the streets, it keeps me out of the bars (laughs) I really love the process. I don't know if it's working with young actors, it's always quite fun working with someone like Colin. Colin said to me the first day of filming 'I'm nervous' I said 'well don't be nervous, enjoy it' and the only thing I could do was to humour him and say 'is that the way you're going to play that part?' he said 'what do you mean?' I said 'no, it's your career, don't worry!' because you have to have humour and you have to have fun. I'll go on working. People ask me 'why do you work?' well, if they offer me work I'd be foolish to turn it down. I don't do everything, I mean there are certain parts I won't do and I'm not one for the red carpet or awards shows or anything like that. This is part of my job, I enjoy it but I try not to take it seriously. I'm a bit of a recluse in a way as far as the acting business is concerned, I have very few friends that are actors but I enjoy watching them, I admire them and I'll write fan letters to the ones I really admire. That's what I do, I keep life simple
Q: Did you keep in touch with Jodie Foster?
No, I never get friendly with the actors. She's a very nice woman and we worked well together, she's probably the nicest woman I've ever worked with I think. No I think I've met her occasionally, once I was walking on the beach one day and she was on the beach with her baby. But no, I never keep up with anyone really.
Q: Will there be any opportunity to work together again?
No, no. She was very nice to work with but, you know, it's a job. Ships pass in the night. You do your job, you say 'oh we'll get together, yeah, yeah, yeah' but no it never works out like that. It's not a romantic business, it's a practical business, it's a realistic business, you do your job, you show up and if you've enjoyed working with someone you may be lucky enough to work with them again but you don't go out looking for it. I know I don't. I'm just grateful to still be working. I'm 73 now, I feel like 45, as long as they keep on giving me the parts until I lose my memory which I'm not likely to do because I keep it fresh and I keep it going. Learning Latin and Italian (for the film) is quite a feat, you know? Playing the piano keeps my brain cells active
[Notices wife is behind him - 'oh hello! This is Stella my wife']
Staci: What aspects of creativity do you get fulfillment from in painting and music, that you don't from acting?
Well, Stella started me painting. I had these scripts and I did sketches in marker pen, she said 'you ought to do some paintings' so for our wedding day she made me paint 75 paintings which we gave out to the guests which was kind of fun. Then she said 'well, I think you're going to have a gallery' so she got me to really paint and then to write music. I've always composed, I've always played the piano ever since I was about 6 years of age. I play every day, not because I'm a concert pianist but because I like to keep my brain and coordination and everything active because I think it just enriches the brain. I read a lot and I paint when I can but I don't have an academic background so I'm pretty free. My music is not in the mathematical strain of Bach or Mozart, its pretty free ranging stuff like Satie and people like that. I enjoy the sounds, the peculiar harmonies, one of my regrets is that I don't understand math because I'd love to be able to understand mathematics but I don't. I was hopeless at school, I didn't have much of a left brain, I've a mostly creative brain. I'm fascinated by mathematics if I could only understand it, I'm fascinated by reading about people like Godel and Einstein, I'm reading a very good biography of Einstein at the moment which is all part and parcel of this research because they were spiritual men. Science and religion there, they clashed but Galileo he got into trouble with the church but he was a devout believer as indeed Darwin was, as in fact was Carl Jung. Freud was an atheist, he died in misery a sad man. Jung was a full blown believer in everything, spirituality, in numbers, in everything, but he was a scientist. So it's interesting where you read science like Darwin's Origins of the Species, these were devout believers but they were dealing with something that was going to so upset the apple cart in Victorian England. To say we're descended from monkeys? It's outrageous. These men were great revolutionaries. As indeed you might say Bonhoeffer did, who actually went to the firing squad in defense of their church. He was executed by the Nazis, as indeed was Niemöller, these are extraordinary giants of the world and they all lived uncertainty because they had that humility in them.
Q: As an actor, do you enjoy exploring the dark side of the human soul?
I know how to reach those, it's only a trick of acting but I don't glorify those because the dark side is not to be glorified. The dark side is something to get to know because we all have it, we all flirt with destruction, we all flirt with chaos whether it's through drugs or alcoholism, whatever ones quirk is, addiction or power, people flirt with the addiction of power. We all do that but at some point we pull ourselves back from the brink because if we don't life is hard. Jung said 'if we don't confront and make friends with a shadow we are torn apart' so we have to come to terms and at a certain age we recognize our mortality. Once we see that we are free, that's the grace of growing old. But to say I relish the dark side, no I don't relish it at all. It was a part that was offered to me like Silence of the Lambs, and in fact this man is a good man. He's a priest that just happens to slip over the edge into, I believe, not possession but into a mental breakdown because he's so obsessed with what he does. I believe he finally has a crack up. He's almost like an instrument to convert and change the young priests from his belief of doubt.
Q: The devil seems so reasonable....
Yeah? Well you read Goethe's Faust and the devil is a very nice guy. The devil is a very sexy man, that's what's fascinating. Life is funny, as John Osborne said when he was confronted by someone who said 'your plays are so offensive' 'well life is offensive' and its true life is offensive and its brutal but once you face the reality you're free. We live in such a cloud kuku land of New Age 'everything is fine' 'meditation is going to get us everywhere' and it doesn't get you anywhere. The reality is reality.
Q: Do a lot of young actors ask for your advice? Do you like to give it or do you like to see people make their own way?
Oh, no I don't advise people. They ask me 'what do you think I should do?' and I joke and I say 'do it better!' No I just say do less, do less. Katherine Hepburn said to me when I was a young actor in The Lion in Winter she said 'don't act,' she said 'just use your voice you've got a good voice, a good head, good face, watch Spencer Tracy and people like that' and so I watch old movies because they had some great actors in those. Young actors, the thing that drives me mad now is I can't understand what anyone's saying, maybe I'm going deaf! I watch films and I think 'what are they saying?' and so I switch off. I can't even follow the I Love Lucy Show so my attention span is pretty bad, but when I can't hear an actor speak I might as well go home. Laurence Olivier said 'if I can't hear you speak I'll go to the pub next door' now it's become the fashion (mumbles under his breath) what the hell? I've paid $10 to go into a cinema for (mumbles under his breath) what the hell am I wasting my money for? It's a storyline, watch all those post-war films you can understand what they're saying, Bette Davis, James Cagney, they're all perfectly clear. Now we're living in a world of gobbledygook and mumbling into your boots so I don't know what the hell's going on.
Staci: That's because they're all texting!
[misunderstands word] Yes, they all think they're sexy! (Mumbles under his breath)






check out our interviews with...

Mikael Håfström  

Colin O'Donoghue & Alice Braga

Michael Petroni, screenwriter





THE RITE Interview: Sir Anthony Hopkins



check out our interviews with...

Sir Anthony Hopkins and Colin O'Donoghue & Alice Braga

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