Sir Anthony Hopkins: The master of suspense

Is that you in there, Mr. Hopkins?

Sir Anthony Hopkins has mastered everything from a cannibalistic genius to Richard Nixon. (On second thought, maybe those aren’t so different after all.) So it seemed almost inevitable that one day he might get the opportunity to portray someone he has admired since he was a teenager.

 ”When I was 16 years of age I saw ‘Rear Window’ and then later the other films — ‘North by Northwest,’ ‘Vertigo’ was one of my favorites, and then ‘Psycho’ in 1960,”?Hopkins says of the work of filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. “I was one of the early viewers when they’d just released the movie in September 1960,” he recalls. “I was knocked out by the power of the film, the terrifying aspect of the film. A Hitchcock movie was an event.”

And so is the movie “Hitchcock.” Directed by Sacha Gervasi, the film depicts the making of the auteur’s most famous film, “Psycho,” and its controversial release (the film was the first to feature a shot of a toilet). In order to step into the role, Hopkins wore layers of convincing prosthetics so that he could look the part of a man with an inordinate craving for French pates and caviar. But it was Hitchcock’s distinctly droll  accent that was key to the total transformation into this character.

“He must have sounded [to American audiences] like he was a highly born aristocrat, which he wasn’t. He was a Cockney, so when he said” — Hopkins slips into his Hitchcock impression — “‘Good evening. I have a story which will terrify you absolutely,’ I could hear the London accent underneath that. … I knew I had to get the voice as close as possible. [With the] incredible work that [makeup artist] Howard Berger did in creating the face for Hitchcock, we had to be very careful about me not … vanishing behind it.”

If Hopkins did vanish into the character of Hitchcock, it was only to the film’s benefit. But the highly vaunted actor, who was knighted in 1993 by Queen Elizabeth, was surprisingly anxious about his performance.

“My insecurities started after the film because I wondered if it had gone OK,” he says. “I caught sight of myself on those video playbacks on the camera, where the director can watch the screen. I saw one of them and I thought I don’t want to see anymore because I wasn’t sure that I’d got it right. My insecurities were so deep that I just wanted to go and run away to Tierra del Fuego or somewhere like that.”


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