Sir Anthony Hopkins (born 1937) acted on stage and in film for over 30 years before receiving his first Academy Award, which he won for his portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the 1991 film Silence of the Lambs. Since that time, Hopkins has become a true Hollywood superstar.
Over the course of his acting career, Hopkins has added extensive acting credits to his name. From his early career in the British theatre to his long list of movie parts, Hopkins has had his share of critical and box office failures and successes.
Anthony Hopkins was born in the small working-class town of Port Talbot, Wales, on December 31, 1937, the only child of Richard Hopkins, a baker, and his wife Muriel. Hopkins had an emotionally tumultuous childhood during which time he often felt isolated and lonely. He admitted to People, that he was "hopeless, pathetic, an idiot. I thought I was nuts. I felt so weird." Although he studied piano and could draw well, Hopkins did not excel in the classroom at Cowbridge Grammar School.
An early turning point in Hopkins' life came when he met the famous actor Richard Burton, also a Port Talbot native. Hopkins, then 15, went to Burton's home to get his autograph. As he recalled, in an interview with US magazine, he thought, "I've got to get out of this place. I've got to become what he is. And I think something deep in my subconscious mind, or whatever it was, set the target. I thought, I'm going to be famous."
Despite his newfound commitment to making his way out of Port Talbot, Hopkins continued to struggle socially and academically. At age 17 he dropped out of school, and, at the urging of his father, he enrolled in a drama class held at a local YMCA. Well skilled at the piano, Hopkins then earned a scholarship to the nearby Cardiff College of Music and Drama, where he studied for two years. After two years of military service, Hopkins worked in the Manchester Library Theatre and the Nottingham Repertory Company. In 1961, he decided to pursue formal training as an actor. He received a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, in London. He graduated in 1963.
Over the span of the next two years, he worked with the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester, the Liverpool Playhouse, and the Hornchurch Repertory Company. In 1965, he applied for membership in the National Theatre under the direction of Laurence Olivier. Hopkins was invited to join the company where he remained a member for seven years, until 1973. He began with understudy work and supporting roles, but soon moved into the role of leading man. Hopkins's stage work earned him critical acclaim, and he was compared to both Burton and Olivier.
In 1968, Hopkins began his film career, playing Richard in the movie The Lion in Winter. Over the next 30 years, Hopkins would make at least one movie almost every year, and some years as many as six. As his stage and film career began to evolve in the 1960s, Hopkins's personal life was falling more and more into turmoil. He quickly earned a reputation for his temper and his excessive drinking. He gained notoriety for walking out in the middle of a performance of Macbeth while he was a member of the National Theatre.
Hopkins married actress Petronella Barker, in 1967, but the marriage was brief. By the time Hopkins's only child, a daughter named Abigail, was 18 months old, the couple had split. Hopkins married again, in 1973, this time to Jennifer Lynton, a film production assistant.
In 1974, Hopkins and his wife moved to New York City where Hopkins earned critical acclaim for his portrayal of the psychiatrist in the Broadway production of Equus. He quickly gained fame for his temper in the United States, when he stopped a performance to berate latecomers. After Equus, Hopkins moved to Hollywood, hoping to find the fulfillment to his childhood dream of becoming truly famous. However, at this time, Hopkins was drinking heavily, even suffering blackouts. "I went around for years thinking I was some kind of fiery, Celtic soul," Hopkins told MSNBC's Joe Leydon. "But I wasn't—I was just drinking too much." After waking up in a Phoenix hotel room with no recollection of how he got there, Hopkins realized that his destructive lifestyle would eventually cost him his career and his wife. In 1975, Hopkins quit drinking.
Ten Years in Hollywood
At the same time, Hopkins was accepting acting jobs with little regard to the quality of the script. Hopkins admitted to People that he made little attempt to save his career, and in fact accepted less desirable roles in an attempt to reject his formal Shakespearean upbringing in the British theatre. He acted, he says, "out of perverseness and sheer rebellion toward the English Establishment. I was saying, 'That's all crap over there.' That was my cynical way of protesting too much." For ten years, from 1975 to 1985, Hopkins undertook over 25 movies made for either television or theatrical release. During this time, he earned an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Bruno Hauptmann, in the 1976 television movie The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case and for his portrayal of Hitler in the 1981 television movie The Bunker. While he received recognition for these two projects, the majority of the movies Hopkins made during this time period were less than memorable. These movies included The Girl from Petrovka, (1974), Audrey Rose, (1977), International Velvet, (1978), and A Change of Seasons, (1980). In 1985 Hopkins played Neil Gray in the much criticized television miniseries Hollywood Wives.
In 1985, at the urging of his wife, Hopkins reluctantly moved back to London, and he returned to the stage. A self-proclaimed workaholic, Hopkins attacked the British theatre, playing Shakespeare's Lear and Anthony on two different stages for a total of 200 performances over a 17-month period. In 1987, Hopkins became a Commander of the British Empire (CBE). In 1988, he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters, from the University of Wales. In 1993, he was knighted.
Silence of the Lambs
His desire for international critical acclaim and recognition came in 1991, when he earned an Academy Award for best actor in the box office hit Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins played Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, a demonic, but brilliant serial killer known for eating his victims. Jodie Foster played a Federal Bureau of Investigations agent looking to Lecter for clues to catch another serial killer still at large. Hopkins's portrayal of Lecter was decidedly dark, menacing, and evil. Although Hopkins only appeared in 27 minutes of the movie, this role finally made him an actor of Hollywood superstar status.
After Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins did not slow his movie-making pace, acting in four films released in 1992, and five in 1993, plus a television movie in both 1992 and 1993. His body of work during these two years included Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Freejack (1992), Howards End (1992), Shadowlands (1993), and The Trial, (1993). His most noticed film was The Remains of the Day, (1993) for which he received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of the reserved butler, Stevens. In 1994, Hopkins appeared in Legends of the Fall and The Road to Wellville.
In 1995, Hopkins played the part of United States president Richard M. Nixon in controversial director Oliver Stone's movie Nixon. The casting of Hopkins, a British actor, as Nixon was questioned by much of the entertainment media. In fact, Hopkins himself was skeptical. However, he took the part and, for his performance, earned both an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination.
Fame and Fortune
Although not all Hopkins's movies, in the first half of the 1990s, were box office hits, Hopkins found himself working with high profile actors, such as Brad Pitt, Debra Winger, Emma Thompson, and Foster. The roles had become more challenging, and Hopkins earned respect in the acting community for his ability to play any part, from Hannibal the Cannibal to Richard Nixon. Hopkins also played the title role in Surviving Picasso, which was released in 1996.
After starring in The Edge, which was released in 1997 and co-starred Alec Baldwin, Hopkins found his next major role. He was cast as another United States president, John Quincy Adams, in director Steven Spielberg's historical drama Amistad. In the movie, former president Adams defended a group of Africans charged with murdering the crew of a slave ship. For his performance, Hopkins received an Academy Award nomination for best actor.
Hopkins turned 60 in 1997 and commanded over five million dollars per movie and he has not slowed his pace. He has two movies opening in 1998 with yet another in production. In 1998, Hopkins appeared in the remake of the classic The Mask of Zorro, co-starring Spanish actor Antonio Banderas. He also starred in 1998's Meet Joe Black. In Instinct (formerly called Ishmael), he played an anthropologist working in Africa who was convicted of murdering a group of white men who had killed a family of gorillas.
In some ways Hopkins has changed little since his time in Port Talbot. He was still a loner, choosing to take long road trips in his car, by himself, to relax. He has maintained his intense, driven personality that pushes him to continue to take on movie projects at an exceptional pace. However, he has also learned to not push too hard. Finally, after more than 30 years, he found what he knew he wanted at age 15: fame and fortune. He told Vanity Fair, "It can't get better than this. Years ago I wanted to be rich and famous, and it all happened to me…. They pay me a lot of money, more money than I ever dreamed of. It just cannot get better than this."
Further Reading on Sir Anthony Hopkins
Callan, Michael Feeney, Anthony Hopkins: The Unauthorized Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.
Falk, Quentin, Anthony Hopkins, The Authorized Biography, Interlink Books, 1993.
Moser, James D., editor, International Motion Picture Almanac, 68th edition, Quigley, 1997.
Vincendeau, Ginette, editor, Encyclopedia of European Cinema, Facts on File, 1995.
Hola!, December 1997.
US, February 1998.
Vanity Fair, October 1996.
Jerome, Jim, "Anthony Hopkins is the Scariest Film Killer Since Bruce, the Jaws Shark," People Online, http://www.people.com (March 4, 1998).
Leydon, Joe, "Anthony Hopkins' Supreme Confidence," MSNBC Living, http://www.msnbc.com (March 4, 1998).
"Nominated for Best Actor," People Online, http://www.people.com (March 4, 1998).