Los Angeles-based 73-year-old Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins makes a return to the big screen as Father Lucas Trevant, an American priest who sets out to study exorcism in Italy in upcoming supernatural thriller The Rite, which hits cinemas across Abu Dhabi next week. It’s a far cry from his best-known role as manipulative cannibal Dr Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, but the Academy, Golden Globe and BAFTA award winner takes it all in his stride – though for someone who’s said to practise his lines up to 200 times, we’d expect nothing less. We caught up with the actor for the inside story.
When you were trying to understand the character of Father Lucas, did your personal beliefs affect how you portrayed him and what he believed?
Yes, they did. I don’t want to take too much credit, but I did have email conversations with the director [Mikael Håfström], who’s very open to ideas. And it’s always a very sensitive area when you have a really good script already. So, you have to tread very carefully. But there was a scene where he and the writer [Matt Baglio] were graceful enough to allow me to redo some of the lines.
What did you know about exorcism before the movie, and what do you think about it now?
I enjoyed the film The Exorcist very much. What do I think about it now? Well, I’m a little on the fence. Father Gary [Thomas, a California-based priest on whose experiences the film is based] believes the Devil is an anthropomorphic force. But I think, in this case, I believe it’s a mental disturbance. I’m open about it. But I have witnessed in life one or two people who have been possessed by something which is so awful and horrifying. And it’s just a moment, a fragment of a moment, when you think ‘Oh, my God, this person really is malicious.’ You see it in the eyes and you think, oh, that’s probably insanity of some kind.
Do you believe there is some kind of evil that causes all the negativity and destruction in the world?
Why earthquakes? Why volcanoes? Why the tsunami? Why are children born and end up in Auschwitz with the suffering? The horrors of the world that we live in. If you look at Hinduism, there are the gods of destruction and the gods of creation. I think we all have in us forces of nature. Every single human being is fighting a great battle. We never know what people’s problems are, so to hedge the bet is to be kind to everyone. Be generous, because it’s so easy to be ungenerous, or to be vindictive. And we all have resentments, anger, revenge, [but if you let them get to you] finally you’ll be burning your own house down. If the Devil is in that equation, let’s say I’m going to get someone because they did something to me 30 years ago, it’s a non-anthropomorphic devil. It’s a demon; it’ll destroy you. And we all have it. I mean, none of us are saints.
I’m married to a lovely woman who wakes up happy every morning. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. I come in and she says, ‘Stop worrying. You just live for today. Be grateful.’ I have to be reminded. I can grouse and complain, ‘Well, it’s raining today’ and ‘Why hasn’t my agent phoned?’ but I’m having a great life. A lot of your dialogue in the film is in Italian, but the character is Welsh. I don’t know why they put the line in there about being Welsh. I had a reservation about that. But Mikael explained the reasoning behind it. Although he’s Swedish, I think Americans like to say, ‘Well, he’s Welsh.’ Well, it doesn’t mean anything. I think that’s a little misnomer.
Have you ever gone completely blank in the middle of your lines?
Oh, that’s terrible. That’s happened a few times. Actors are very bad. They say ‘you’re next’. ‘What’s the line?’ ‘You sort it out yourself’. And then it’ll come, but it’s a terrible feeling. There was a great actor called Ralph Richardson. He was quite eccentric and he was on stage at The National Theatre doing a play. And in the middle of the scene he suddenly said to the prompter in the corner, ‘Yes, I can’t hear you,’ and went and got the prompt book. ‘Is that the line? Thank you. Jolly useful chap to have around. Where were we?’ He was always forgetting his lines, but he didn’t care because he was a wonderful actor. I go over my lines because I think it’s good for the memory. I train my brain. I like to learn stuff. Learning scripts, and learning Latin, and learning Italian. Even though it’s phonetic, it’s great for keeping everything fresh.
It seems hauntings aren’t just confined to the Western continents – the uae has had its fair share over the years. Where was Hopkins when we needed him?
Al Jazirat Al Hamra, Ras Al Khaimah
Formerly the home of a thriving pearl diving community, back in the 1930s and 1940s, lost spirits and jinn are said to have set up shop in this long-abandoned town. Brave enough to visit? Take the E11 towards Ras Al Khaimah, turning left at the sign for the village and then right at the sign for Al Jazeera Port. Take the first left, and just ahead is a dirt track leading directly into the old village.
Ghaf trees, Dubai
In 2007, residents were all of a quiver following rumours that a couple of, erm, ghaf trees in Barsha were cursed. So seriously taken were these local murmurings that developers at the time refused to cut them down. The trees have since been relocated to a sanctuary adjacent to Mushrif Park along with many others – seek them out if you dare.
Al Qassimi Palace, Ras Al Khaimah
This place has long had a reputation for being one of the creepiest in the UAE, reportedly abandoned over 20 years ago by HH Sheikh Abdulaziz al Qassimi, a member of Ras Al Khaimah’s ruling family. The former inhabitants are said to have been tormented by moving furniture and children’s faces appearing in the windows. A caretaker named Tarik will usually allow visitor’s in for Dhs20. To get there, take a right at the KFC roundabout in RAK with the restaurant on your right. Continue until you see the Emirates petrol station on your right, and the palace is up on a hill to your left.