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Well, boys and girls, Our Shrine was recently blessed with a visit from Oscar-winner, Peer of the Realm, accomplished painter, composer, and all around groovy cat, Sir Anthony Hopkins. The Wonderful Welshman stopped by to gift us with some words about his newest endeavour, writing and directing his opus, Slipstream, one of the most original and conversation-provoking films youíll see outside of a David Lynch festival. Slipstream remarkable cast includes Sir Anthony himself, Fionnula Flanagan, Michael Clarke Duncan, Christian Slater, John Turturro and Hopkins’ wife, the lovely Stella Arroyave. Along the way, we’ll discuss ego (- and how to live without it), autograph-hunting with Richard Burton, the future of high-definition filmmaking, how to successfully defang a bully, and successfully directing a loved one. Something for everyone. It’s a grand chat with a great man.

Dig it!

 

Q: What were you expecting in terms of reactions to Slipstream, or did you have any expectations? 

 

AH: No, no expectation at all, maybe irritation at the best. I didn’t write it for any major purpose to make a statement, or even write a good script. I’m not a writer. It came at a time four years ago my mother just died, she was 89; she died while I was in California… Made me think about life a little and I’m going to be 70 at the end of the year. My wife said, “Why don’t you just write a screenplay?” I wasn’t in any mood to work much as an actor. I got to the point with acting where I’m doing the same old thing, I’ve had a great life doing it, and I’ve enjoyed myself, but I thought, “Why would I want to write a script?” She went “Well go on, you can write one, just for the fun of it.”, and that’s why I did it. I wrote it just as an experiment. Not having anything to win or lose, I thought “Well, will they arrest me if I don’t write a good script?”  

And I started on scene one, then scene two, then scene three, and I thought, “Where’s this going?” - with no design in it. I wanted to go off on tangents. I wanted to make it without construction. I had some itch to do something some years ago with ideas about films, just to put odd little flash cuts in the middle of the scene with no explanation to anyone  - everyone wants an explanation today about everything – ‘how did you arrive at that choice’, ‘can you explain this?’ Why does everyone have to explain anything? I thought, I’ll do things without explanation because it’s all illogical. I think the only deliberate, conscious theme was it suits my philosophy because I believe everything is an illusion, anyway. I’ve had that feeling for years and years and years in my own life that I can’t explain why I’m here or why any of us are here. My life has in a way unfolded of itself, in the oddest way – the most illogical way. Nothing linear about any of my life. From my childhood to the point sitting here right now, none of it makes any sense to me at all. At school, I didn’t know what they were talking about. I grew into my adulthood, I had no idea what people were talking about, I didn’t know what the world was. I really felt like an outsider, not in any negative way, because I look back on it all as a great, wonderful gift, actually, because it made me angry enough or discontent enough to become an actor. So, the character you see in this film is me. 

I got to about page 25 maybe 30 and thought, oh this is interesting - didn’t show it to anyone. It was a fantasy that I’d make the film and as I was reading it, I wonder if it’s possible to film this? Then I showed it to Emilio Estevez, and he said to me, “Yeah, but it’s gonna cost a lot of money all the special effects…” I said, “What special effects? That would be in the editing.” The scene with Kevin McCarthy popped into my head and I wondered if Kevin’s still around, so I sent him the script, and he said “I’d love to do it”. Some of the actors like Michael Clarke (Duncan) said, “Tony, I don’t know what this is about.”  I said, “Well, don’t worry about it.” Christian Slater seemed to get the hang of it very quickly. How on earth I got these great actors together I don’t know. I sent them the script they seemed to want to do it and have some fun with it. 

Q: Some of the films you’ve chosen recently deal with questions of reality and identity, things not being what they seem, do you see that? 

AH: None of this is conscious, but I have been aware for many years – ever since I was a little kid – things have happened in my life that are so strange and brought me here, odd things. I won’t go into the details of it, but I was born in the same town as Richard Burton, and I met him once for his autograph. Here I was, this schoolboy standing with this movie star. He gave me his autograph and as I was going down the hill to my father’s baker shop, Richard and his wife Sybil passed me in the car and Sybil waved. 22 years later, almost to the month, I came to New York and Richard Burton took over for me in Equus. I’m sitting in the same dressing room - and I never told him - and he said, “Why haven’t we worked together before?” and I’m sitting here thinking, this is all so peculiar. 

I remember being a great fan of Bogart and Bacall, I saw To Have and Have Not in 1944 or 1945, it had just been released in England. My first night here in New York in Equus, who should come to my dressing room but Lauren Bacall and Sybil Burton? I thought life is so strange, it’s an illusion, all of it. And that’s been the story of my life and in a lighthearted way I put it into this {Slipstream}.  

It’s not really meant to be a joke against actors, but I do have a philosophy that I think we, all of us actors, we take ourselves a bit too seriously. I know some wonderful actors who take themselves very seriously, but I’m tempted sometimes to say “Oh come on, it’s not that important.” And I do say to students in UCLA when I do the teaching class there, when they get tangled up in the agony of it all, I say, “You know, it’s really interesting; if you never acted again the world would not stop. If I never act again, it will not stop, it will go on, inexorably on for millions of years, it would not stop.” That’s how important acting is. My little thing is that Christian Slater dies {in the film} from overacting. That the film is, to use that overused film school word, metaphor, that the film is the metaphor for life. 

MG: Will you tell us a little about directing Stella (Arroyave)? She’s a great revelation in Slipstream, and she has a wonderful presence in the film.  

AH: Well, I tell you, she was supposed to be here but she didn’t feel well and she’s very of having publicity nervous about publicity. But I’ll tell her. 

MG: I thought she was wonderful.

AH:  I can’t wait to tell her that. I wish she were here now. 

MG: Did you have any hesitation about directing your wife?

AH: Absolutely not.  

MG: You and Stella have a great chemistry onscreen; and that doesn’t always happen with actors. 

AH: Well, I wrote it and she’d never acted before except for a small part in Dallas, so she was a screen actor’s guild member. I said “D’ya wanna act?” and she said, “No!” She read the script and she said, “Oh this is great, it’s is very interesting.” “Well, what d’ya think?” “Gina looks like a nice part” My wife is Columbian, and I said Gina sounds Spanish. I said “Well if you want it, you can, if you don’t, fine,” and she said “Well, I would like to have a go at it. I’d be scared stiff” Then I said, “There’s nothing to be scared of, I’ll be directing you.” She’d go over her lines and I remember we were doing a reading and we were about to go and she said, “I don’t think I ought to do this. I think you need a star actor to do this.” I said “Why? You know you’re just frightened. I don’t care, it doesn’t matter. I’m nervous, we’re all nervous, so what?” The first thing we did was the morgue scene where she identifies the body. And I could see the pulse right here {in her throat}. Bill Lucking was with her, he said, “You’re going to do fine.” She was very nervous. I said, “Just relax, don’t act. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything, when you see the body, you don’t even have to cry if you don’t want to.” And she did one where she did cry and I said “Well, that’s great, but actually be just shocked - you can hardly speak.” She did question me a lot, “Well, why do I have to do it this way?” “Because I want you to.” She was in the deep end with these heavyweights, like Fionnula Flanagan. I was really thrilled. She doesn’t like compliments; I would say that was terrific and she’d say, “No it wasn’t.” “Stop it! It was terrific.” “Well, was it?’ “Yes! Accept it!” People have said she was really good. I’m glad you said that.  

Q: Can you talk about your collaboration with your Director of Photography, Dante Spinotti?

AH: My wife suggested I send the script to Dante. I’d worked with him on Red Dragon with Brett Ratner. He phoned back and said, “Tony I wanna do it. It’s fantastic; I want to do something new.” He asked me if I wanted a lot of reds and yellows… He said “I want to do it in high-definition. I believe that high-def is now the future.” He got this Genesis camera, which is the first time I think a feature’s been made on the Genesis. Which is slightly heavier, but the great advantage is you can light anywhere, you can light at night, it’s speedy, and the magazines, you don’t have to change them, you have a 55 minute film time. The definition is so clear and you can see the playback, you see what you get. And the editing and the colour correction – it’s very easy for the color-correction labs, too. There’s a scene of me at the end before I jump out of the car when the skin goes very grainy, as if I’m already dying, as if I’m already decaying, and you can create that there onscreen in front of you. Dante wasn’t too pleased with some of my effects. 

Q: This film might be interpreted as a very negative view of the movie business or people within the movie business. Do any of the negative characters or situations reflect your own experiences? 

AH: Well, I’ve never been that unfortunate. I’ve had pretty good experiences. I’ve been with one or two directors who didn’t seem to have a clue – I don’t know where they are now – overshooting, doing too much shooting. It’s not really, because I’ve had a wonderful life in the movie business. It’s just that, when it gets out of hand and people start taking it too seriously, people start shouting and screaming on set at people – that’s when it’s negative for me. When people hurl abuse at people who cannot fight back like the props guys, or wardrobe, and actors do this when they give hell to people; no, I’ve worked with many actors and most of them have been terrific. You get one or two - and directors – who scream and shout and bully people and destroy people’s lives, really. Some notable directors, I’ve worked with one or two of those and they’re savages. And I think, ‘Enough, I don’t need that in my life’. And I’ve sometimes provoked actors to rebel. I’ve seen women crying; I’ve said ‘You don’t have to put up with this, you can walk off anytime, in the theatre especially, just walk out.” She said “I can’t!” I said “You can, it’s your own value” “Gee, I’ll never work again” “So what, do you want to be a slave?” And she walked out of the rehearsal, this was many years ago, she was working with a real monster. She walked and the director couldn’t believe it, he followed her, he said “Where are you going?” She saw me outside and said “I’ve just walked out,” and I said “Good for you, stick to it!” She phoned me later - she‘s quite a well known actress – she said, “You know, he’s all over me. Cannot be nicer.” {I said} “There you go, you see, you’ve called their bluff. Bullies are cowards.” And that’s what I wanted to do on this. Harvey the producer, he’s based – he’s not based on Harvey you-know-who – I based him on Joe Levine. Joe Levine was very charming. He was like PT Barnum, he was a showman. He could shout and scream, but he had also a very attractive side to him, so that’s who I based John Turturro {who plays Harvey} on. 

Q: You’ve played characters who demonstrate tremendous ego, being someone who’s so well known for exhibiting so little ego, how do you relate some of these characters?

AH: Like Nixon! They’re fascinating because we all have that in us. I remember when I was playing Hitler - we were in Paris - a producer said, “Uh, Tony, it’s a really terrific performance … can you make him less human?” But he was human, that’s the problem. And Nixon is a particular case in point, a man who was a brilliant, brilliant man, an extraordinary brain. And yet the power that got him into the power, the obsession to get there undid him. It’s interesting the ego, because we all have it, and I do have an ego, of course, but I try to push it aside, I try to guard it. I discovered something about myself, it’s ego that stops us. As Nelson Mandela said, “We’re not afraid of the dark, we’re afraid of the light in ourselves.” The ego is the thing that says, “What’ll they think? What if they laugh at you?” Then you say, to hell with it. Have no fear, then you’ve gotten rid of the ego. It’ll always be there, it’s the burr under the saddle that keeps you moving, you have to have an ego; but if it dominates you, it can destroy you. We can do what we want if we have no fear and anxiety. And if it doesn’t turn out well, it’s okay, who’s to say?

Q: Talking about doing what you want to, would you tell us what you’re doing next?

AH: I’m doing Wolfman with Benecio Del Toro, playing his dad, Wolfman, Sr. I’ll be playing Alfred Hitchcock in the making of Psycho, with Ryan Murphy, who’s directing. It’s a really interesting script about the making of Psycho. The first scene starts in a field in Wisconsin. It’s based on a true story, Psycho, it’s based on a book written about a man who did actually keep his dead mother in the closet, and killed his own brother cos he’s very disturbed. The actual film opens with this man digging and he smashes his brother over the head, the camera pans around and I say, “Good Evening”, and then we go into Psycho, so it’s creepy, but it’s funny, as well.

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

Oct. 18th 2007

 

 

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