Crown­ing glory: Sir An­thony Hop­kins takes on the cov­eted role of Shake­speare’s King Lear.

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In the orig­i­nal William Shake­speare clas­sic play King Lear, Lear is a pre-Ro­man Celtic king dressed in pe­riod robes. In the lat­est adap­ta­tion, Os­car-win­ner Sir An­thony Hop­kins fi­nally plays the role he’s wanted to re­peat from his early the­atre days, but wears a heavy pea coat in a 21st-cen­tury ver­sion set in a highly mil­i­tarised Lon­don. The age­ing king an­nounces he will di­vide his king­dom among his three daugh­ters if they all pro­fess their love and al­le­giance. Goneril (Emma Thomp­son) and Re­gan (Emily Wat­son) gush non-stop but his youngest daugh­ter, Cordelia (Florence Pugh), is put off by their empty praise and re­fuses to fol­low suit. Lear dis­owns her and suf­fers the con­se­quences. The 80-year-old Welsh ac­tor, best known for Si­lence Of The Lambs, Howard’s End and Han­ni­bal, sat down with Jenny Cooney Car­rillo to talk about the pro­duc­tion which screens on SoHo 2 this week.

How did it feel at this point in your life play­ing Lear?

I played it 30 years ago and we had a very good pro­duc­tion in Lon­don but I was too young, around 47 years of age. You would think at that age you would know a bit about it but ego gets in your way and you think, ‘Oh I know how to play this’, but you don’t re­ally. Lau­rence Olivier once said you get to a cer­tain age where you be­gin to know more than you did 10 years ago. And usu­ally the ironic thing about Lear is that you are ei­ther too young or too old and don’t have any mem­ory left to play it. I did an OK per­for­mance but it wasn’t what I wanted it to be and over the years I thought I’d love to have an­other go at it. When I was do­ing The Dresser with Ian McKellen... the direc­tor Richard Eyre sug­gested I try again and I jumped.

How can you re­late to a char­ac­ter like King Lear?

My modus operandi in life is, ‘Get on with it and stop talk­ing about it’. That’s me. I come from a Euro­pean back­ground and my father was very much like that too. So I un­der­stood Lear and I un­der­stood his tragedy. He knows ex­actly what his two daugh­ters are. He’s not a fool and he’s a stern father who made them that way. The only one he has mercy on is his young daugh­ter so her hon­esty wounds him deeply and he pushes the grief down un­til it de­stroys him. I un­der­stood what it’s like to be hurt, know­ing that you did it to your­self and you are reap­ing the whirl­wind of your fool­ish­ness. So there’s an awak­en­ing mo­ment of, ‘I am a fool­ish old man’, and I know ex­actly what that means in my own life so I found it so easy to play now.

What gets you an­gry these days?

I don’t waste time get­ting mad any more. I have a good life, I have had a won­der­ful life, and it’s all a re­sult of be­ing where I am. I am very grate­ful and ap­pre­cia­tive, be­cause it’s all a game and I came into it 60 years ago and didn’t know what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a pi­anist and I be­came an ac­tor in­stead by sheer ac­ci­dent and chance. I can’t af­ford to waste time be­ing mad but I am rest­less still. I want to know things and I’m al­ways in­quir­ing about ev­ery­thing.

This King Lear is on TV. How much TV do you watch?

I watch a bit of Net­flix, es­pe­cially documentaries, but I don’t watch much else ex­cept maybe old movies, like Cit­i­zen Kane. I read and play the pi­ano but I find watch­ing tele­vi­sion very bor­ing and a waste of time. I am not be­ing a pu­ri­tan about it, but I wish I could be free of the ad­dic­tion to all these de­vices. We don’t com­mu­ni­cate any more – but it’s only an opin­ion, not a judg­ment.

Which per­for­mances in your ca­reer are clos­est to your heart?

The King Lear that I just did is one of them. It’s so cur­rent. It was the most pas­sion­ate, heart­felt thing I have done in re­cent years. I en­joyed my roles in Re­mains Of The Day, Si­lence Of The Lambs and Nixon, with Oliver Stone, but the mem­o­ries fade so it’s hard to keep all those per­for­mances in my mind. I vividly re­call ev­ery­thing about King Lear and work­ing with such an amaz­ing cast in­clud­ing my friend Emma Thomp­son, so that’s one role that I will be for­ever proud of and might even make me watch TV again.

Above: Florence Pugh, An­thony Hop­kins, Emily Wat­son and Emma Thomp­son.

Florence Pugh and An­thony Hop­kins

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