Anthony Hopkins on Woody Allen, Bill Clinton and Drinking With Peter O’Toole

“I find most things absurd and ridiculous,” says the star of Allen’s new “Tall Dark Stranger”

Sir Anthony Hopkins is one of the acting greats, working with the best directors of his time from Laurence Olivier to Woody Allen, who directed his latest film, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” Just don’t ask him about Hannibal Lecter: “I’ve said all there is to say about him,” Hopkins told TheWrap. And no, he will never play him again.

Here, Hopkins talks about drinking with Peter O’Toole, arguing with David Lynch, getting old, falling out with friends and playing cards with Bill Clinton.

This is your first time working with Woody Allen …
He was communicative, friendly, constructive in any suggestions. But what I liked about it is that there’s no fuss, there’s no big deal. He does his setups from the rehearsal in the morning and keeps it very simple. There’s no fancy shooting. I like that.

You’ve worked with legendary directors. What do the best have in common?
They’re the boss, they’re the guvner, they’re the ones who are driving the ship, they’re the ones who are driving the bus. So I take them at their word. Sometimes you get an inexperienced director who’s arrogant and starts pushing you around. He’ll say, “I want you to do it this way.” And I’ll say, “No.” Someone who micromanages you and does take after take, I’ll say, “No, I’m sorry. I can’t do anymore. That’s it.”

Is that right? You just put your foot down.
Oh, yeah, I’m not going to do 15 takes for anyone. But a really good director like Branagh or Woody Allen will just let you do the performance, that’s what you’re paid for, and they select.

They may say, “Well, maybe you could do it a little faster, don’t rush, don’t do that too fast.” Or maybe they say, “The scene is too slow. Maybe you can pick up the rhythm a bit.” Whatever they want.

You’re rumored to read the script aloud over 200 times. Is that true?
No, no. I say that just to be mischievous.

What’s the story between you and David Lynch on the set of “The Elephant Man”?
In those days I was younger and I was impatient because he liked to do a lot of takes. I said, “I don’t want to do all that.” Many years later I wrote him a letter apologizing for my behavior ‘cause I saw “Elephant Man” and it was really a terrific movie.

“Mulholland Drive” and all the films that he’s done since then are the proof of it.

You don’t seem to play it for laughs in “Tall Dark Stranger,” but you get a lot of laughs.
I do have a wry sense of humor and sense or irony, coming from Britain … self-mockery. And I’ve got a wicked sense of humor. I find most things absurd and ridiculous, but I keep my comments to myself. Just play it straight and the audience does the work for you, really. They know the situation is odd or strange. So you just play the situation.

In “Thor” you play …
God. I didn’t have to act. They put the armor on, made me this great helmet and I looked pretty good, I guess, big beard and all that.

Is that the role, to stand there and be officious?
Yeah, it’s just these amazing sets, this huge throne and these staffs and swords and all that. It’s a lot of fun to do. The armor was heavy. Lots of armor, but that was OK. As I say, “Beats working for a living.”

You seem very at ease with yourself.
There was a time, about 10 years ago, I was in a situation with a director who was pretty difficult, and I fought. And I thought of getting out of this business. And then the years went by … I’m going to be 73 at the end of this year, I’ve got no burning ambition to do anything.

I don’t worry about the box office or what’s going to work or fail because one day we’ll all be dead. Finally we all end up in the same box. It’s like this film with Woody, it’s all about angst and mortality. Somebody recently was complaining about getting older. I said, “What’s the problem? You’re going to get old! This is a terminal condition, life.”

You must have had ambition when you were younger. When did you first think you could make it as an actor?
It was in the ‘60s — I got into National Theater and I was working with Laurence Olivier and people like that. I began to feel that I had something going for me. But I think it’s all luck of the draw, really. I knew actors who were far superior to me in the theater and technically superb, but I don’t know where they are now. So go figure.

On your first movie, “The Lion in Winter,” you worked with Katharine Hepburn—
She was a pretty formidable star, and she was perfectly pleasant to work with, very direct, honest, straight-forward. She said, “Don’t act. Just speak the lines. Like Spencer Tracy. Do that, darling. Let the camera do the work.” Best piece of advice I ever had.

On the same film you worked with Peter O’Toole — and you were both in your drinking days. What do you remember about that?
We weren’t close friends but we had a few drinks together. Peter in those days — he could start a fight. There’d always be a bit of trouble around him, like Oliver Reed and people like that. Big drinkers but they were great talents and they burnt the candle at both ends and some of them didn’t make it through.

They died, like Burton died relatively young, but that’s the way he decided to live. And I think, “Good for you, if that’s what you wanted.” But it changed my life when I did stop. I’m one of the fortunate ones.

Bill Clinton invited you to go to Brazil with him.
It was after he left the White House. He was making a speech up there, about communications and so on. I’d been to the White House and he entertained us and he says, “Would you like to come to Brazil with me?” I said, “Yeah, OK.”

So we went down to Brazil. He plays cards all the time. I can’t do it.

Is he any good? Did you win?
Yeah, but he’s obsessive. I said, “I can’t play anymore.” He said, “What’s the matter with you, you stupid?” I said, “Yes.” He’s a very bright guy.