Tuesday 21 August 2018

Refusing to play nice

Anthony Hopkins shocked fans this week by claiming he 'doesn't care' whether he has grandchildren, but he has always been an enigmatic talent, writes Alice Vincent

Cold: Anthony Hopkins said he “doesn’t care one way or the other” if he has grandchildren. (Photo by Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)
Cold: Anthony Hopkins said he “doesn’t care one way or the other” if he has grandchildren. (Photo by Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

Alice Vincent

'Well, it is cold. Because life is cold." Such were the words, in an interview this week, of Oscar-winning actor Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins, now 80, made his way into the headlines again after admitting that he has no contact with his estranged daughter and only child, nor does he desire any. "I don't have any idea," he told Radio Times when asked about Abigail Hopkins, now 48. "People break up. Families split and, you know, 'Get on with your life.' People make choices. I don't care one way or the other."

It is a startling admission, but Hopkins has always been a mercurial figure. His most acclaimed role is that of Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic psychotherapist that won him an Academy Award and escalated his career from meandering to magnificent.

But much as Lecter's appeal lay in his compelling mystery, so does Hopkins'. Unlike his contemporaries Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, who moved between Hollywood and the West End, Hopkins left the UK and has hardly returned.

Hopkins fled out of a combined hatred of London's theatre scene and a working class boy's ambition to do good. He has stayed in California because, he said, its relaxed, coastal lifestyle helped him overcome "a psychological state of self-destructive mayhem" that had dogged his whole life. For Hopkins, one of Los Angeles's greatest appeals is that "the desert burns off your memories".

Hopkins has traced his intensity - which fuels his talent - back generations. In 1998, he told the Guardian that his great grandfather was an alcoholic, his grandfather lifted himself out of poverty and his own father, a baker, was "killed" by his own "violent energy". This didn't, however, manifest itself in Hopkins as a child; he was a self-confessed dunce, skilled only in the classroom stunt of drinking ink, and a loner.

Raised in Port Talbot, Wales, Hopkins was encouraged to join the local YMCA theatre group, mostly to find some friends. This, combined with witnessing the affluence of that Welsh Hollywood export, Richard Burton, spurred him on to use his talent to escape his hometown.

Anthony with his daughter Abigail Hopkins at a film premiere in 1991
Anthony with his daughter Abigail Hopkins at a film premiere in 1991

Hopkins started out in the West End. Picked up by Laurence Olivier in 1965 for the newly formed National Theatre, Hopkins' talent was swiftly recognised: when he understudied for Olivier two years later in a production of The Dance of Death, the great actor said he "walked away with the part of Edgar like a cat with a mouse between its teeth".

Hopkins had little time for the stage, however. He felt insecure, which led to an increasing dependency on alcohol and "blazing rows" with directors. "It was madness," he later told People magazine. "Booze cuts off your feet, and I was just a drunken bore."

Theatre's middle-class trappings alienated the baker's son from Wales. "I never felt at ease in a theatre company," Hopkins said. "I just reacted as a bad schoolboy brat."

In 1973, Hopkins put his West End career on hiatus by walking out on a National Theatre production of Macbeth half-way through the run. After a brief foray on Broadway, he moved to Hollywood in 1975, now with his second wife, Jennifer Lynton, whom he'd married in 1973. The previous years had been turbulent: he married Petronella Barker in 1966, and left her and their infant daughter three years later. Hopkins rarely speaks of the relationship, which was doused by his drinking.

California didn't, however, provide an instant balm. Hopkins continued to drink, famously only stopping after a bender two days before his 38th birthday that saw him wake up in a Phoenix hotel room with no memory of driving from Los Angeles. He reportedly heard a voice saying, "It's all over, you can start living."

Hopkins found stability in Lynton. She admitted, in 1981: "He was what I was looking for in a man, someone I could prop up." For the next three decades she kept the actor in AA classes and even got him back on stage in London, before he was cast as Hannibal Lecter, and catapulted to success. Even then, the former Pinewood Studios production assistant would make sure Hopkins never left the house without cash, credit card or keys.

Hopkins delighted in America as a place where his lone ranger spirit could roam free. From the beginning, he shunned Hollywood parties. When he and Lynton did host a dinner party, Hopkins would be prone to turning off the lights and going to bed in the middle of it.

But by 1996, Lynton was living in London while Hopkins stayed in Hollywood. He maintained that their marriage was "great", perhaps because he was allowed the freedom he always craved. "She lets me do my thing," he told the Guardian. "I live in hotels, and when I have time off now I get in my car and drive thousands of miles. It's a solitary life, but I love it."

Lynton and Hopkins divorced in 2002, with him explaining: "I am not very good with relationships. With anyone. I can't be locked up with anyone for too long." Nevertheless, he had already met his third wife, Stella Arroyave, an antiques dealer.

Five years ago, Hopkins described their marriage in allowing him the loose reins he had become accustomed to: walks on the beach, painting, music and abandoning dinner parties when he gets bored. "At the end of the meal, when you've said all you have to say, what do you do with them then?" he asked in 2013. "You sit around and you sit around and at the end of it, you think: "'What the hell are we doing?'"

Such statements may get to the nub of why Hopkins, a man who can fascinate on screen, remains far more elusive off it.

Irish Independent

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