He may have won an Oscar and been nominated for three more over the years, but Sir Anthony Hopkins by his own admission is not one for the red carpet or awards shows.
“I’m a bit of a recluse as far as the acting business is concerned,” says the white-haired Welshman in those precise, lilting tones.
“I have very few friends that are actors but I enjoy watching them, I admire them and I’ll write fan letters to the ones I really admire. That’s what I do, I keep life simple.”
When he’s not filming his latest role, these days the 73-year-old Silence Of The Lambs star would far rather be at home in Malibu, painting or composing. He has a concert this year.
“I’ve always composed, I’ve played the piano ever since I was about I was six. I play every day because I like to keep my brain active.
“As for acting, I still enjoy it, it keeps me off the streets, it keeps me out of bars,” he jokes, eyes twinkling.
Having battled with alcoholism in his youth, Hopkins today is the picture of health: sprightly and fit. He’s shed pounds in the past year through watching what he eats and power walking. “I feel 45,” he says.
It’s due in part to the influence of his third wife, Colombian-born Stella, who he met at her antiques store in Los Angeles.
Nearly 20 years his junior, and effortlessly glamorous, she sneaks into the interview room to watch proceedings.
“Stella started me painting,” he says proudly. “I did sketches in marker pen and she said, ‘You ought to do some paintings’, so for our wedding day she made me paint 75 paintings which we gave out to the guests.”
It’s surprising he has time left to act, but Hopkins insists he has no plans to retire.
“I’m just grateful to still be working. As long as they keep on giving me the parts until I lose my memory, which I’m not going to do because I keep it fresh.”
The actor’s latest role took him to Italy and Budapest, where he filmed psychological horror The Rite. He plays unorthodox exorcist Father Lucas, who is tasked with showing seminary student Michael (Colin O’Donoghue in his debut film role) the ropes.
The film is based on a true story written by reporter Matt Baglio. He became intrigued with the idea of an exorcism school opening at the Vatican following its announcement in 2007 of plans to install an exorcist in every diocese in the world.
“What intrigued me about Father Lucas was wondering what his own position is in the world of theology,” says Hopkins. “He’s a Jesuit, but he’s multi-dimensional. When Michael challenges his beliefs, Father Lucas says, ‘Be friends with your doubts because those are the things that will drive you on’.”
The character struck a chord with Hopkins, who says he came away from the film with “a much stronger belief”.
He explains: “I used to be an atheist, but I’m not any more. My belief is I don’t want to live in certainty, that would be like hell, like the politician that gets up and says, ‘The debate is over’. Who says the debate is over? What right has any human being to say they know the truth?”
While his words look deep and meaningful, he delivers them in such a way that makes them the light-hearted musings of a seasoned actor. His philosophy is a simple one.
“As the years went by, I lost my atheism and became a believer in some form of universal intelligence. As I’m getting older, I think, ‘What is consciousness? Why are we here? What is the human mind and brain all about?’ What makes a heart go for 73 years? It’s impossible to understand...”
In the film, as Father Lucas and his apprentice Michael become embroiled in the case of a seemingly possessed pregnant teenager, terrifying things start happening to the older man.
Hopkins has more experience than most of the dark side of human nature, having played the notorious serial killer Hannibal Lecter three times, most recently in 2002’s Red Dragon. But it’s not something he relishes.
“I know how to reach those parts, it’s only a trick of acting, but I don’t glorify them. The dark side is something to get to know, because we all have it, we all flirt with destruction, we all flirt with chaos whether it’s through drugs or alcoholism or power.”