How would you like to spend your 82nd birthday?
If you are Sir Anthony Hopkins, who turns 82 on Dec. 31, 2019, you’re spending it hearing Oscar buzz for your latest performance. Hopkins’ performance as Pope Benedict XVI in the Netflix movie The Two Popes has sparked rumors of a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. If he’s nominated, it will be his fifth nomination for an Academy Award. If he wins, he’ll be clearing shelf space next to the Oscar he won in 1992 for his iconic turn as Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs.
Not bad for a protégé of the legendary Sir Lawrence Olivier. Since the 1960s, Hopkins has starred in dozens of roles on screens big and small, in every genre from Shakespeare to suspense to action. It takes moxie to creep everyone out as the world’s favorite serial killer in one decade and charm them as Thor’s dad in the next, and Hopkins has it. Here’s how:
Moxie is prepared.
Hopkins’ preparation for a role is legendary. Foundational to his preparation is the memorization of his lines. He will read his lines a minimum of 200 times as he prepares, marking his way as he goes. He memorizes the lines so that they become second nature to him, and he can deliver them as easily and naturally as one might converse in real life.
Hopkins’ reliance on memorization as a key tool in preparation is especially interesting to me because he struggled as a student. He had difficulty focusing and preferred drawing to paying attention in class or doing his homework. It’s been suggested he is dyslexic, and many people with dyslexia develop strong memorization skills as a way of overcoming.
But Hopkins’ discipline is remarkable to be also because it displays such respect for the material and for the process of acting. It reveals a deeply-rooted work ethic and humility. That takes moxie.
Moxie knows how to simply let go.
Hopkins’ life has been quite an adventure, and he’s learned to sit back and enjoy it. He shared this insight in an interview with Brad Pitt, his co-star in the movie A River Runs Through It:
“There was a film I saw when I was a child, called the Elephant Boy. The elephant would take Sabu, the main character, through the jungle, and I remember sitting there with my grandfather watching it. My impression is that I sat on this big beast, whatever it is — life,” he said in the interview. “At some point, I made an unconscious choice to sit on this beautiful, powerful thing. And I just go where it takes me.”
Being in the moment has been a guiding principle of Hopkins’ life.
“I once asked a Jesuit priest, ‘What is the shortest prayer in the world?’ He said,’F*** it.’ It’s the prayer of release. Just say, ‘F*** it.’ None of it is important. The important thing is to enjoy life as it is. Your life today, it’s fantastic,” he told Pitt.
It takes moxie to know where your control begins and ends and to be content in your circumstances.
Moxie doesn’t always look the same, even in the same person.
Hopkins brings that same approach — being in the moment and celebrating exactly where he is — to his visual art. He has blossomed into a credible painter in recent years, with works on display in a gallery in Hawaii. He has no formal training, yet his work has been praised and his talent is clear.
How does he describe his work? According to an interview on his website:
“I don’t think there’s any meaning in it. I just paint it. I discover as I go along and I don’t analyze, I just go for it.”
He simply approaches the canvas and creates without fear. The works emerge from his hands and brush almost spontaneously. How stunningly different from his careful preparation for acting roles.
It speaks to me that Hopkins approaches different endeavors in such strikingly different ways. If I ever have the chance to interview him, exploring that dichotomy will be at the top of my list.
What would you ask Hopkins if you had the chance?