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Learning his lines
September 25, 2008 - Rick Chatenever
It’s a voice that can inspire terror, just talking about what’s for dinner. But at the other end of the phone line, it sounds cheery, downright friendly.
“Rick? Tony Hopkins.”
That’s right —I’ve got Anthony Hopkins on the line. Actor’s actor, Oscar winner, knight of the realm —but on Maui last week, he wanted to talk about a different kind of art.
The classically trained Welsh-born player whose film roles range from Pablo Picasso to Richard Nixon, from the motorcycle-driving maverick of “The World’s Fastest Indian” to the American Film Institute’s top villain of all times, Hannibal Lecter, was here to attend a reception for his paintings last Friday at Higgins Harte International Gallery in Lahaina.
“I have never appeared at a gallery at an official opening before,” he confided, adding that the gallery owners “are very enthusiastic about it.”
The 71-year-old actor said he had begun painting about four years ago after his wife, Stella, found some sketches he had done 30 years earlier.
“She believes in doing the whole potential of everything. I’m more conservative. She said, ‘Just do it!’
So he did. With bold strokes and globbed-on textures, many of the vibrant, impressionistic works convey Southwestern motifs.
To some extent, he says he’s influenced by his wife’s Spanish-Colombian heritage.
“I’ve always had a passion for bright colors,” he adds, describing himself as “an old beach bum, an aging hippie.”
Yeah, right. Try telling that to the rulers and royals — not to mention all the icons of literature — in the more than 100 movies in his filmography. His King Hrothgar was part epic icon, part computer magic in Robert Zemeckis’ recent “Beowulf.” Upcoming are the title roles in “King Lear” and “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.”
With no formal training in art, he explains, “I just go in the studio and paint. I’m pretty simple minded, I don’t analyze anything. I do a lot faces, on canvas and photographic paper. I just experiment. If I do something wrong, what are they going to do to me?”
As an actor, an early influence was fellow Welshman Richard Burton. Laurence Olivier brought Hopkins into London’s National Theatre before he found his way to the screen in the 1960s.
“One compliments the other,” he says of painting and acting. “I’m a composer as well.”
Seriously. On Oct. 17, The Dallas Symphony Orchestra will be performing “An Evening of Music with Anthony Hopkins,” including world premieres of new compositions.
“I wrote the music for two films. “One of my dreams is to conduct one of the pieces for orchestra.
“I would be a little nervous,” he admits, “but I just jump into the deep end of the pool.”
Fearless? Not necessarily. On one hand, he describes his “natural, conservative, reticent nature.” On the other, “I’m a pretty restless kind of guy. I have always been that way.”
He would never go so far as to describe himself as a Renaissance man, but will acknowledge, “I have had a wonderful life. Acting is like a sidelight for me. I have something else in my life.”
Looking at the risks and hazards of his profession, he jokes, “It beats being a politician.”
When reminded that he has played politicians — and at least one painter — on screen, he answers, “Oh, yeah, but that’s just acting. You learn your lines, you don’t bump into the furniture. They pay you well in Hollywood, enough to pay the bills.”
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Anthony Hopkins and his wife, Stella, at last Friday's reception for his paintings at Higgins Harte International Gallery on Lahaina's Front Street, representative of his work on Maui. Photo courtesy of Higgins Harte International Gallery