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