Over the weekend, Universal Pictures held a huge Wolfman press junket for journalists from around the world. In attendance was the cast, as well as director Joe Johnston and make-up artist Rick Baker. Over the next few days I’ll be posting a number of Wolfman interviews, as the movie arrives in theaters this Friday. While I debated who to post first…I decided to go with one of the best actors working in the business, Sir Anthony Hopkins.
During the press conference, the Academy Award Winning actor talked about why he wanted to be involved with The Wolfman and a lot more. As usual, you can either the transcript of what he said or listen to the audio of the press conference after the jump:
If you’d like to watch some movie clips from The Wolfman, click here. And if you’d like to listen to the audio of the press conference, click here. This is one of those interviews I really recommend listening to as Sir Anthony Hopkins was a lot funnier than I expected him to be…and the transcript doesn’t catch that humor.
Question: Well, The Wolfman is a very British horror story because of where it’s set and because of who’s in it, like folks like yourself and Miss Blunt. How important is the Britishness of it to you?
Anthony Hopkins: Well, it’s an American movie and it’s an American subject. Didn’t it start in America? So it’s an American movie, really, it’s not a British subject. What’s interesting about it is that it’s an American gothic movie filmed in Britain, in real locations, which makes it, gives it another dimension, gives it another reality.
But making this version more British, like setting it in London-was that an important aspect of the story to you?
Anthony Hopkins: I don’t know, because I’ve never, you know, I don’t think about things like that. It’s an American movie made in Britain. That to me was a big gothic movie. It’s like a western set in an English setting. I said it on the first day when I was on the set in the big house. With all the American machinery and sets and everything. There was a sort of real location, and I said to Joe Johnson, I said this is a big American gothic, he said yeah. So that’s it. No, actually no, the Claude Rains one was set in Britain wasn’t it? But it was filmed in Hollywood, so the sets all looked all wrong. They were terrible sets, I remember. My favorite was the Abbott and Costello Meet the Wolfman. That was the best, and you know, meet Frankenstein. I loved those because they were funny. But the Claude Rains, Lon Chaney one was set in England. But in those days the Americans didn’t pay much attention to real architecture so the sets in the villages were terrible when they built them. Like How Green Was My Valley was supposed to be set in Wales, everyone had Irish accents. And this coal mining valley full of thatched cottages, which, the audiences laugh because they’re not like that at all. But this is actually more authentic because it was set in English villages and on an English set but they were, the interiors were American sets, so it gave that extra largeness. Anyway.
Were there any concerns for you when you heard they were remaking, doing the monster movie, Universal? Was there any concerns or were you-
Hopkins: Why would I be concerned? Why would there be concerns?
Well just, you know.
Hopkins: They offered me the part.
Hopkins: That’s the reason I did it. The, I see what you’re trying to get at. The only slight edge I found was being written by an American writer, which is fine, he’s a fine writer, but he tended to overstate the part that I was playing. He’s an English guy who talks like this all the time. I can’t play that, I don’t want to play that-that’s alien to me. No, I can’t do that, I hate that sound. So I thought well I’ll play it like an, a quite, a much quieter man, based on someone that I knew when I was a little boy. He was an old farmer who was kind of eccentric and he used to come to my father’s bake house. My father would give him stale bread to feed his pigs, you know. And I used to follow him, he was fascinating. We, all the kids, built up this fantasy about him that he was a demon or something. He was just a harmless old man, he didn’t speak very much. So I based my character on him, and on the coldness-there’s one line in the script when I say to Benicio Del Toro, I say ‘by the way, I’m sorry to-your brother’s body was found in a ditch, on the priory road. Do you have the right clothes for the funeral?’ So cold. And I liked that about him. So I pulled that coldness right through the character. But he’s not particularly crazy or bad or anything, he’s just eccentric and distant and ice cold. And he says at one point, he says ‘look into my eyes, I’m quite dead.’ Because he is already dead, he’s the walking dead, the living dead.
So the fact that you had to be-have action-weren’t any concerns for you? You didn’t have some action scenes with Benicio?
Hopkins: No. Did all my own stunts.
We think about the trifecta of monster movies in Hollywood, you know you already came out in a movie with Dracula. Now with the wolfman. Would you be interested in working a movie about Frankenstein?
Hopkins: I don’t know. If it’s a good script. I suppose. It depends what the script is life, I don’t know. I’m not sure.
Without revealing too much about your character in the story, it strikes me that one of the things that he has in common with another iconic aggressor you’ve played, Hannibal Lector, is this sense of confidence that he projects. For you, does that sort of, is that where aggression begins? Is that a foundation, that confidence? And do you find that that’s something that you build on when you’re sculpting this kind of character?
Hopkins: No, it comes out of expediency. I think a certain coldness. I mean my, the relationship between fathers and sons for example. I know you’re talking about Hannibal Lector, that’s a long time ago, but um, fathers and sons is very interesting because from the whole of literature-Willy Lohman and Death of a Salesman, D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, and Fathers and Sons, Turgenev, and Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov-that coldness, that harsh, brutal business of being a father and a son. And we all, most men, know about that. The pain of that, the wound as they call it. Um, the Oedipal wound. But I think in this case, and my own father was a tough man. He was a pretty red hot guy but he was also cold. He was also slightly disappointed in me because I was not a good kid as a school boy, you know. But I learned from it, I liked that coldness, because it was harsh. And he taught me to be tough. So I know how to be tough. I know how to be strong. I know how to be ruthless. It’s part of my nature. I wouldn’t be an actor if I wasn’t. You have to be pretty tough to be an actor, and you have to be pretty certain what you want. You can’t waffle through this business. So I use all that power in me as an actor. So it’s easy, it comes to me easy, but I’m not evil, and I’m not a cruel person. But I don’t have much time for wimps, and people who just say oh, I can’t do it. Forget it. The yes-but merchants of the world. Yes, but-oh, shut up. And you know, there are people who have a sense of ‘yes, but it’s all very well for you.’ You know. I don’t have any time for that, no time. Life’s too short to screw around like that. So I understand that personality trait, when he says oh, your brother’s body was found in the ditch, have you got the right clothes-he doesn’t waste time saying I’m sorry about that, I’m sorry your brother is dead. He’s dead. Dead is dead. So it’s an interesting foundation to build from. And I am drawn to those kinds of characters, those hard characters. Dostoyevsky-like characters. I’ve played a few of those. Not Hannibal Lectors but people who are like that. And in a way, I admire it. Because we’re living in such a nanny age now, of, everyone’s so coddled and we’ve lost strength. I come from-I came from Wales, and it’s a strong, butch society. We were in the war and all that. People didn’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves. You had to get on with it. So my credo is get on with it. I don’t waste time being soft. I’m not cold, but I don’t like being, wasting my time with-life’s too short.
In real life too, you’re not just talking about the character now?
Hopkins: Yeah, I’m talking about the character, how I based, on how I find it easy to play those sort of parts.
You’ve had an amazing career as an actor and I’m wondering if you have any advice for a younger generation of students and people who are coming up through the ranks that aspire to do what you’ve done?
Hopkins: Well I do sometimes, I’ve taught at, I’ve taken classes at UCLA and various other places, and I say to young actors, I get a camera in front of them, I say okay, just get up and do it. Don’t do all this preparation. I joke with them, I do it with humor. I say don’t waste time, just get up and do it. You know, they audition pieces from Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, or Arthur Miller, whatever. I say just do it. And they do it. I say there you are, you can do it. Don’t waste time worrying about it, looking over your shoulder. But when you’re young, I say, it’s not easy to do that, because you always want to analyze, because when you’re young, you’re very insecure. And if I could learn, if I could revisit my own past I could say to myself, don’t think too much, just get on and do it. So that’s what I tell young actors. Do it. Have the courage to do it. If you’re going to make mistakes, who cares? Don’t worry so much. You know, we’re always looking over our shoulders, what they will think, what the press will think, what will this one-am I making the right career move? When you’re young you have to do all that to survive I suppose. You get to a certain point, you think to hell with it. Just work and be lucky that you’re in work. That’s my general philosophy about everything. And I’m a lucky guy to be around, you know, still, 72 years of age, still there, fighting [something.] Power, power of personality. Give out the energy and it’ll come back to you in abundance. But if you go [makes whiny sound] it’ll all fold, you may as well die. You know, I knew an actor who was [calling?] for every, for years and years, he was absolutely eaten up because another actor wouldn’t do his off lines in a famous movie called On the Waterfront. Fifty years ago. I said you’re still going on about it? Well you know. It’s over, it’s done, it’s over. My life is over, I’ve done that. I don’t go back to Hannibal Lector or any of that stuff. I’m here. And that’s a tremendous power.
You mentioned not having time for wimps. Is that a measuring stick for directors and how did Joe Johnson sort of survive?
Hopkins: Oh, he’s great. Joe Johnson just gets on with it. He’s another one. But he’s very calm. I mean, he had a lot of pressure on the film because he didn’t have much preparation. He came in to replace another director, I don’t know what that was about, but anyway, that’s the situation-and he’s very um, very focused, very amenable. He’s got the double-edged thing where he’s concentrated, he’s, uh, knows what he wants. But you can go to him and say can I try this? Yeah, do it. That’s the best director you can work with and he’s sure of himself. And there was a lot of pressure on him. He kept his patience. I saw him blow up once on set, and he just said can we have more quiet. That was all. All that patience, I said god, I don’t know how you have such patience, control is-because he had a lot of pressure on him. So he’s one of the best I’ve worked with.
One of the really great things in this film is watching you and Benicio come at the same dilemma from such different angles. He’s very internal and he’s struggling with the beast. Your character relishes the beast, especially toward the end. Can you talk about the-
Hopkins: He relishes the beast.
He really gets into it. So can you talk about you and Benicio and the process of you guys creating these characters and that relationship?
Hopkins: What was the process?
With you and Benicio, yes sir.
Hopkins: Well I just learned my lines, he learned his, and then we showed up on set. There’s nothing more to it than that. Oh, you can talk about it a bit, but I’m not even aware of-what you said is a nice observation. I wasn’t aware of that at the-but relishing the beast. I think the healthy way to live is to make friends with the beast inside oneself, and that means not the beast but the shadow. The dark side of one’s nature. Have fun with it and you know, is to accept everything about ourselves. And in this case it’s a highly fantasized version of the shadow, of the imperfections. This is a monster growing inside of him like the alien, you know, Ridley Scott’s the Alien, the monster that jumps out of John Hurt’s stomach [munching sounds]. It’s the same thing but it’s more fantasized, scientific, science fiction thing. It’s more of a fantasy, a fairy tale of you want to-Grimm’s Fairy Tale. But relishing the beast? It’s a part of psychologist. Relish everything that’s inside of you, the imperfections, the darkness, the richness and light and everything. And that makes for a full life. It’s what Nietzsche and Jung used to say, enjoy it all. But of course I mean Sir John is completely bonkers, I mean he’s-he’s not playing with a full deck. Minus sandwich in the picnic.
We are in the middle of the awards season and talking about transformation, I was wondering how much did it transform your own life and your career, something like the Oscar, and the title, Sir Anthony Hopkins? How much did it transform your life and your career?
Hopkins: Well, I still have to look in the shaving mirror in the morning, see the same old face there, so it doesn’t change your life that much. But no, it’s fun to get the Oscar, it was fun to get a knighthood. But you know, you wake up in the morning, the reality’s still there. You’re still mortal. And it’s fun to have an Oscar. I remember getting up on the podium and thanking people, saying thank you very much, I thought I could make some bad movies now and it doesn’t matter. I’ve reached the top. But they you go on making more movies, you wake up a few days later, the Oscar’s there, I’ve got it at home in Malibu and it’s there. I don’t look at it every day and worship it. I, sometimes, oh there it is. I mean people come to say there’s his Oscar, I say-no, it’s a great symbol of success or whatever you want to call it. But you can’t get, you can’t become the Oscar, you can’t become what you think you have to become when you get the Oscar. If you do that, that’s the road to madness. And the movie industry is full of crazy people who think that they are god. You know, you look around, you go oohhh. Keep, hide them from sharp objects, you know? There’s some lunatic people in this business, and I’ve witnessed them, you know. You go to the Oscars, you see some of them there. Hello, you think these people are nuts. So you have to take it with a sense of humor, and stay sane.
And what about the Sir title, being named Sir Anthony Hopkins. How much did it transform your own life?
Hopkins: Well I get a good table in the restaurant. I don’t use it over here, I’m an American citizen now. It was a great honor. It really was a true honor. And I’ve forgotten it. When people call me Sir Anthony I just think oh, that’s a bit odd. But I’m not cynical about it. Um, I just feel more comfortable being called Tony or Mr. Hopkins, whatever name I’m called. Somehow coming into a restaurant, Sir Anthony, I say okay, I don’t-but they say Sir Hopkins, I say no, no. Because that’s wrong. Americans tend to get it wrong. But they, Americans are funny, they always say well, I want to call you Sir Anthony. I say okay, be my guest. But it doesn’t transform your life, you know. Yeah.
Sir Anthony. You talked a little bit about relishing the beast in life. When you-
Hopkins: Let me correct that. Relishing the imperfect side of our lives. Darkness. The thing that’s in us all.
Well you’ve played characters like Sir John and like Lector, who really embrace their darker primal urges. You’ve also played very repressed characters, as in The Remains of the Day.
Hopkins: That’s what happens if you don’t address the darkness in you. You become repressed and depressed and suicidal.
What’s more challenging to play? Because with the guys who embrace it, you can really go over the top, and with the repressed guys you can pull back-
Hopkins: They’re all pretty easy. I mean, I played Remains of the Day, all I did was don’t move much. See, if you’re playing a butler you can’t bang doors and say yeah my lord, you want a cup of tea? People say how the hell did you stay so still? I don’t move. Michael [Werner?]‘s directing-you don’t remember that from the Charles Bronson called uh-oh, he plays the guy who plays, a guy who takes out the killers?
Hopkins: Deathwish. And uh, when the studio-Michael Werner directed it, and he’s one of those very outrageous British directors, and they said Michael, you can’t give it to Charles Bronson, he doesn’t look like a lawyer, because he’s supposed to be playing-so I said well, you stick a pencil in his hand and he’s a lawyer isn’t he? And a gun in his pocket. And he said everyone has stereotypes about it all. But how do you play a butler? Just don’t move to much. You know, move gently and quietly. How do you play Hannibal Lector? Well just don’t move. Scare people by being still. How’d you play the wolfman? Well, learn your lines, show up, and do it and snarl a bit. Acting is very easy. If you ask John Wayne well, how did you play? He said well you go to Monument Valley and get on the horse and you become John Wayne. Acting is very, very simple. When you’ve been doing it a long time, anyway. So, no acting required.
Benicio lobbied for the makeup versus CGI and Hugo Weaving said he would prefer not to work on a green screen. Do you have a preference or does it matter?
Hopkins: I don’t mind.
You don’t mind?
Hopkins: No. It’s more interesting if you’re on set, but CGI, if they’re going to get the effect that they need. We did some CGI out here at the studios. I don’t mind. Whatever they-they know what they’re doing, so I don’t argue with it.
I believe you’re playing Odin in Thor and I wanted to know could you talk a little bit about-have you already started filming? Are you-could you talk a little bit about the film and also-
Hopkins: I’m supposed to be talking about Wolfman, not-Well just a little side. Yeah, I’m enjoying working with Ken Branagh very much. Terrific young director. Well, he’s not that young. He’s younger than me-anyone’s younger than me. But he’s terrific and I’m really enjoying it.
I just wanted to know if you’d read any of the comic books or gotten into it or if you’re just–?
Hopkins: No. I’m not a great researcher. Although I’ve got the whole Marvel comics book, but I haven’t read it yet. It’s very dense. I’m not into that culture. Like Wolfman, this is a big cultural thing isn’t it, these monster movies. I’ve never been caught up in that.
What about Norse myths though? It goes back to Norse mythology.
Hopkins: Yeah, I know a little bit about it. Not much though, I’m not well read in Norse mythology. More in Greek mythology and Roman mythology, but not in-but I’m learning a bit through comic strips now, about Odin. And I know that Thursday’s named after Thor and Wednesday’s named after Odin. And uh, yeah, interesting stuff. History of the Vikings is very interesting, the Viking invasions of Europe.
Emily Blunt was telling us that some part of the script they were retooling it to give some different depth to the characters. Do you have a say in about when you read a script, do you make changes? Often?
Hopkins: Yeah. Well, with all appreciation and respect for the writer, there are certain things they may miss because they-you know, they’re on schedule, they’ve got to rewrite this stuff, they’ve got to-I’m not taking the shine from them. But there was a scene, I’m in the asylum with my son and there were lines that were sort of up in the air and I thought well, what is the background to this? So I said to Joe, I said I’d like to just rewrite something in there, so when I knock out the-I describe to my son how I knocked out my man servant because he’d locked, forced me to-I don’t remember this. I said I’d like to just build a history into it that Sir John Talbot has been all over the world. He’s like the Walter Huston character in Treasure of Sierra Madre, he’s been everywhere. Australia, New Zealand, he’s been up in the mountains of the Andes, he’s fought in the waterfronts of Boston Harbor and in San Francisco, as a pugilist, a bear boxer. So he’s a man who is scarred by life and he’s been everywhere. He’s a killer, he’s a tough, tough man. Like those Victorians were. Those great pioneers who pioneered the west, they were tough. And the killings in the saloons of the great mid-you know, like bear, like Bob Fitzsimmons and all those guys. They were tough people. So I built that into the script, I said that’s what I want to do is to build this raucous, vicious man, who just survived through sheer will and muscle. My grandfather was like that, my father’s father, was like that, muscle man, you know, just sheer muscle and tenacity. And so I based some of this on my grandfather as well. And there’s a scene I think in my, I did that in the scene. I don’t know if it’s been cut, they may have cut some of the lines. But so I built up a historical biography for myself, just to give it a bit of dimension.