Personal detailsName: Anthony Hopkins
Born: 31 December 1937 (Age: 75)
Where: Port Talbot, Wales
Height: 5' 7"
Awards: Won 1 Oscar, 3 BAFTAs, 2 Emmys, 1 Golden Globe
All about this star
Most actors are pleased to have just one role acclaimed worldwide. But with Anthony Hopkins, over the last 40 years, there've been so many memorable moments, so many extraordinary performances. Remember him as the schizophrenic ventriloquist, losing his mind in Magic? As kindly Dr Frederick Treves, befriending the hideously deformed John Hurt in The Elephant Man? As a fusty old CS Lewis, weeping before the wardrobe in Shadowlands, knowing there's no magic to bring Debra Winger back? Then there were the Oscar-nominated roles, as US presidents in both Amistad and Nixon, and as a destructively repressed butler in The Remains Of The Day. And there were the heavyweight stage appearances as Macbeth and Lear, and the tortured Dr Dysart in Equus. And more, so many more.
There can be no doubt that Hopkins is one of the finest screen actors ever, with an incredible emotional range. Sod's Law dictates, then, that he should be best-known as the quiet, watchful, ultra-controlled Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter from Thomas Harris's notorious trilogy, eating people's liver with a fine Chianti. Incredibly, it was soon after he played this calculating and manipulative beast that he was knighted by the Queen. Strange world, indeed.
Philip Anthony Hopkins was born on New Year's Eve, 1937, at 77, Wern Road, Margam, near Port Talbot, South Wales. His mother was Muriel (nee Phillips, a relative of the poet William Butler Yeats) and his father Richard Arthur, a man of immense, sometimes violent energy, whose eyes would change colour when he was excited and who, Hopkins believes, eventually died from being wound too tight. Richard's father was a self-educated man who, having trained at a bakery in Piccadilly, built a bakery business after his own father had drunk away what fortune the family had. Strong-willed and free-thinking, he was a vegetarian and a militant trades unionist. He was also very close to young Anthony, nicknaming him George (oddly, father Richard would know him as Charlie).
Richard continued the family bakery, eventually moving Muriel and only child Anthony into Port Talbot to live above the shop. Young Anthony was a sensitive kid, happier drawing, painting and playing the piano (he's now a virtuoso) than hanging with the other kids. A dyslexic, he was poor academically, once saying of himself "I was lousy in school. Real screwed-up. A moron. I was anti-social and didn't bother with the other kids. A really bad student. I didn't have any brains. I didn't know what I was doing there. That's why I became an actor". To separate him from the many other Hopkins at school, he became known as Mad Hopkins.
Failing badly at Port Talbot's Central School, in 1949 his parents sent him to West Monmouth boarding school in Pontypool, hoping he'd learn some discipline and begin to fit in. After five wretched terms, they brought him out again, placing him at Cowbridge Grammar, a lot closer to home. Here he'd spend another unhappy four years, leaving with a solitary O-level, in English.
Hopkins' problem was that, though extremely bright, his interests lay far outside school. Aside from art and music, he was also taken by acting. His bedroom was lit up at night by the red flash of the cinema opposite and, in the holidays, he'd watch at least two movies a week, thrilling to the performances of Bogart and Cagney, and the B-movie likes of Jack Palance (no surprise, then, that he later became such a competent villain). There was also the matter of Port Talbot's local hero. By the early Fifties, Richard Burton was a Hollywood star who caused a major stir whenever he returned to Wales. As Burton's sister lived nearby, the young Hopkins found out about Burton's next visit home and went over to get his autograph, being mightily impressed by Burton's natty sports car. Burton, he thought, had escaped this small town and found fame and fortune - why couldn't he?
Following in Burton's footsteps, and having been further inspired by seeing Emlyn Williams touring as Dylan Thomas (he'd later direct a movie about Thomas), he began his apprenticeship with the local YMCA players, then enrolled at Cardiff's College of Music and Drama. After graduation, he took a job with the Arts Council then, in 1958, came National Service. Joining the Royal Artillery as 23449720 Gunner Hopkins, he was posted to Oswestry, then Bulford Camp on Salisbury Plain, spending two years "typewriter-punching" for thirty bob a week. Leaving as a Bombardier, he went back to his parents' new place in Laleston, near Bridgend and, getting back into drama, appeared in several local plays, making his professional debut in Have A Cigarette, at the Palace Theatre, Swansea, in 1960.
Hopkins' inherited characteristics made him intense, and his years as a lonely outsider fuelled the fire. He won a place at RADA, from which he graduated in 1963. He spent a while in rep then, in 1965, was invited to join Laurence Olivier's National Theatre. At his audition, he cheekily chose to read from Othello, which Olivier had performed onscreen that year. But that was Hopkins at 27 - arrogant, angry and prodigiously talented.
In 1966, he made his screen debut in The White Bus, directed by Lindsay "If" Anderson. It was intended to be the first part of a colour-inspired trilogy (to be followed by Red and Blue - Kieslowski would later find fame for just such a 3-parter), but that was not to be. No matter, it was on the stage that Hopkins was to make his name. With the National Theatre, he played in The Flea In Her Ear, Juno And The Peacock, as Boris in The Provincial Life, and Andrei in Chekov's Three Sisters.
1967 was a big turning-point.