Mike Davies gets up to speed with Anthony Hopkins...
It's 22 years since New Zealander director Roger Donaldson and Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins first worked together on The Bounty. A famously fraught shoot under intense weather conditions, the pair didn't exactly hit it off.
"Roger and I had our moments of animosity," says Hopkins diplomatically.
"He had his methods of dealing with people. He's a New Zealander and had, as we say in England, a kind of an antipodean chip on his shoulder. He was different and I was younger and arrogant and all the rest of it. I was very impatient with people and especially directors, and if they wanted too many takes I would question. And he used to do a lot of takes, he's a perfectionist."
But time passes, water travels under the bridge and, as age bears down and tolerance increases, reconciliations are made.
So it was that they got together with the intention of making a film about Ernest Hemingway. That fell apart but Donaldson had another project he'd been trying to get off the ground for some 25 years.
In 1973 he'd made a documentary about Burt Munro, a then 72 year old New Zealander from the small town of Invercargill who, six years earlier at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, had set a new land speed record with his converted 1920s Indian motorcycle, clocking over 200mph and breaking the record he himself had set back in 1962.
So taken was he with the old codger, that he wanted to tell the story as a feature film too. Thus was eventually born The World's Fastest Indian.
Hopkins seemed perfect for the role. Except, he confesses, for the fact he'd never owned a motorbike and never ridden one since his National Service days in the Army.
Although Hopkins says he learned the basics of getting on and starting up the machine and did some riding, what you see on screen is naturally mostly a stunt double.
Even so, for the close-up scenes of Munro racing across the flats, it seems that, lying in the shell of the bike being towed along behind the camera car, Hopkins did get up to 80mph. He winces at the memory, declaring himself to be no speed freak and professing to not even know what's under a car bonnet.
It's ironic really given that, back in 1988 in a TV movie called Across The Lake, Hopkins had played another speed merchant, Donald Campbell.
"I really got very close to Campbell because I watched a lot of documentary films on him and he was a really feisty, angry guy," he recalls.
"But he was a different personality from Burt, much darker, much more embittered, because the British press gave him such a bad time. They'd already put guys in space so why would they bother about a water speed record?
"He was so angry about everything, and he was probably killed through anger. The first run on the lake, the mechanic said to him on the radio, 'Donald, you're in great shape, just wait until the wake goes down a little'.
"But he switched off contact, and on the tape you can hear his last words, 'She's going, she's going!'"
While Hopkins may have researched Campbell, he says the only thing he did for this film was watch Donaldson's documentary, Offerings To The God Of Speed, and visit the Los Angeles Motor Museum which contains a replica of Munro's bike. What was more important was the way Munro's temperament chimed with his own frame of mind.
"I've had a good career playing psychopaths or uptight people, but I'm fed up with those, I don't want to play any more of them. This is my life now, I'm a very happy guy and Burt Munro's philosophy suits my temperament.
"He seemed to be such a decent, fun man with a great personality and I liked his wonderful sense of humour. And Burt loved the thrill of speed, he said that you can live more in five minutes on a motorbike going high speed than you can in your whole lifetime.
"Obviously you're taking a huge risk your life but to overcome fear is the greatest courage and I think Burt was one of those guys. That's his whole philosophy of life, to live life to the full, because, as he said, once you're dead you never come back.
"He's buried near the motel where I was living. So on the last day of filming I went and put some flowers on his grave."
Having said that of all the characters he's played, Munro is the closest to himself, perhaps Burt's determination and journey to Utah from his small town also prompted reflections of the 69 year old actor's own arrival in America.
"The first day on the salt flats, Chris Lawford (who co-stars in the film) comes up in his big Thunderbird car and he's a good-looking, handsome guy, a member of the Kennedy family, and I found myself getting all choked up in the scene.
"I suppose it's something to do with memories of when I first came to America pretty wide-eyed. And that scene where Burt arrives at Bonneville felt like when I first came to New York, 30 odd years ago. I remember getting up in the morning in September in 1974, and I went to 5th Avenue to get a newspaper and I thought, 'I'm home'.
"Being in Bonneville wasn't a huge moment for me like it was for Burt because I'm not interested in world speed records, but I remember doing that scene and the speech and I got quite emotional about it, because it was similar to my own life."
But more than that, in Burt Munro, Hopkins confesses that he has also poignantly channelled childhood memories of his father back in Margam, Port Talbot, with a small but touching homage.
"I do this little whistle thing when I'm cooking," he smiles wistfully.
"My father was a baker and I always remember those summer days when he used to take me on the van with him. He worked hard all the time, and he'd go into town and whistle then call out 'Baker' or whistle and shout 'Morning, missus, how are you?'. And that's in the movie!"
* The World's Fastest Indian opens on Friday