Watching The Silence of the Lambs on TV the other night I was reminded that it’s 25 years this year since Anthony Hopkins collected the Academy Award as Best Actor for playing Hannibal Lecter.
It is, of course, one of the defining roles in modern movie history. A handful of minutes on screen, a decidedly strange chemistry with Jodie Foster (as fledgling FBI agent Clarice Starling) and a lifetime of nightmares for watching audiences. That astonishing success followed 25 years in movies, working in everything from The Lion in Winter to 88 Charing Cross Road by way of A Bridge Too Far, The Elephant Man and Magic.
Yet Hopkins had never been a Hollywood star and, in truth, he’d always fancied it. Cue a neat segue between biographical epics on people like Richard Nixon, Pablo Picasso and Alfred Hitchcock, buttoned-up performances in classy fare like The Remains of the Day and Shadowlands, and then fun stuff like The Edge, The Mask of Zorro, Mission: Impossible II and Bad Company.
A few eyebrows were raised when Hopkins appeared as Odin in the Marvel series of Thor adventures. Perhaps it was a case of lending his gravitas a tad too far. Yet no one ever said that about Morgan Freeman, America’s resident purveyor of gravitas. Maybe Hopkins’ involvement made some people twitchy because he was a Sir.
So I had to smile when Mark Kermode reviewed Transformers: The Last Knight, in which Hopkins does a little turn a la Alec Guinness in Star Wars, and steals the entire film. Kermode smiled knowlingly as he revealed that Sir Anthony plays the whole piece with a glint in his eye. He’s doing it for the money. And why shouldn’t he? He’s done Hamlet and Lear on stage. He’s slogged through bad movies, chewed up the opposition as Hannibal and earned his TV stripes as Hitler, Quasimodo and others. I reckon he’s done enough to ensure that his credibility is secure.
Moreover, Hopkins is known for his sense of humour. He’ll frequently lapse into Tommy Cooper mode, cracking out the gags in an effortless impersonation. Is Hopkins’ Thor/Transformers period something to hold in high regard? Will it somehow define his later career, or even corrupt it? The easy answer is no. Instead, like Dame Maggie Smith and Co, who found a whole new audience in the Harry Potter saga, he’ll be elevated to a brand new level of cool via his collaboration with Bay.
Somehow, I figure that will be way down his list of priorities. But he’ll be having a giggle and, in an ideal world, laughing all the way to the bank.