The Rite’s Anthony Hopkins betters the devil you know



By Steve Newton

LOS ANGELES—Anthony Hopkins is one scary guy. He can be, at least. Just ask anyone who has seen him play cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. Forget Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees—Hopkins took cinematic evil to ghastly new heights with that Oscar-winning performance, and he didn’t need a mask to do it.

Except for that one he fashioned from a victim’s face.


“I don’t know if I’m a scary person,” he tells a news conference at a West Hollywood hotel. “My wife’s not scared of me. I’m scared of her! No. But I just know how to scare people. It’s a look; it’s a trick, I think—you deaden the eyes. But I know it scares, because I can sense inside what it does, so I’m tapping into something that is a harder part of myself, I guess.”

Long before his riveting turn as “Hannibal the Cannibal”—who Hopkins also portrayed in the sequels Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002)—he impressed fans of spooky films with his performances in the 1977 reincarnation thriller Audrey Rose and the following year’s Magic, director Richard Attenborough’s overlooked gem, where he shone in the dual role of unstable ventriloquist Corky Withers and his menacing dummy, Fats.

Hopkins—who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1993 for service to the arts—got his first taste of horror when his father took him to see the original Dracula, with Bela Lugosi, at the age of five. He relived the bloodsucker experience a half-century later with his role as vampire hunter Prof. Abraham Van Helsing in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 epic Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

“We all flirt with chaos,” Hopkins says. “We all go into a dark movie theatre to get ourselves a scare. It’s like if you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict or something, you flirt with death; we pull ourselves to the brink of destruction, and if we’re lucky we pull ourselves back. It’s kind of exciting.”

In The Rite Hopkins’s character is somewhat of a mystery as far as his core beliefs go. “The interesting thing about skeptics is that we’re always looking for proof,” Trevant says at one point in the film. “The question is, what on earth would we do if we found it?” As for the actor himself, he’s still undecided on whether or not “demonic possession” is a supernatural phenomenon. He’s not so sure about that whole God versus Satan thing, either.

“I don’t know what my beliefs are about any of it,” Hopkins declares. “Is there such a thing as an anthropomorphic trespass of the devil, or is it mental disturbance? That’s the debate that’s in the film, and probably in the world, I guess. So if someone asks, ‘Well, are you an atheist?’ I say I don’t know what I believe. Who would I be to refute somebody like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who sacrificed his life for his church and ended up in Flossenbürg being executed by the Nazis? Or the great martyrs who died at the stake or were destroyed for their personal beliefs? Who am I to refute anything?

“Nobody knows,” he concludes. “Anyone who says they know—look at all the trouble that got us into in the last thousand years. Hitler knew the truth. Stalin. Mao Zedong. And whatever the devil is—or is not—I think when we turn our backs on our own humanity and say that we know for certain, that we know the truth, then we are in trouble.

“We know nothing.”

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