Considered by many to be one of the greatest actors of his time, Anthony Hopkins' presence is unassailable. The dynamic nature of his ability continues to amaze both audiences and fellow actors. His roles, indelible; his grace, unfaltering; his style, enduring. He has been recognized countless times for his ability and yet receives it with a courtly grace that's helped him last this long.
On December 31, 1937 a couple in Port Talbot, Wales gave birth to a son, Philip Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins was the only child of Muriel Anne and Richard Arthur, a local baker. Enrolled in Cowbridge Grammar School, he remembers himself as selfish and not just a bit anti-social. There were even times where this particular trait would lead him to skip his own birthday parties. He originally wanted to be a musician, he played incessantly upon the small piano his father had bought for him, much to his father's chagrin; but it was his attitude towards school, practice, and, in fact, work in general, that steered him towards acting.
His first real taste of acting was in a community drama club. This, along with meeting Richard Burton, an idol of his and also a local, spurred him on the road to acting and he never looked back. He attended Welsh College of Music and Drama at Cardiff, followed by a mandatory stint as a clerk in the Artillery which earned him a scholarship in 1961, with which he was able to attend Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. He graduated with a silver medal in 1963 and took it with him to the Phoenix Theatre Company in Leicester. There he did a number of stage works but his real break was in 1965 when he auditioned for a position with the National Theatre. He retells an amusing story about this: he was auditioning for none other than the great Laurence Olivier, who was at that time doing a production of Shakespeare's Othello. The amusing part is that one of Hopkins audition pieces was a soliloquy from that same play by the character that Olivier was playing! Despite an uncertain beginning to the audition (Olivier: "You've got a lot of nerve") he won the part and became Olivier's understudy.
Theatre was kind to him, but he wanted to spread his wings yet more. In 1968 he was cast alongside Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole in The Lion in Winter, in which Hopkins played a impressive Richard the Lionheart. He followed this through the following years with many stunning performances: from Claudius in Hamlet to Pierre in War and Peace. While his career was soaring, his personal life was quite another matter.
In 1972 Hopkins dissolved his marriage of four years with Petronella Baker, who also bore him his only child. It was shortly after this, when his two year marriage to Jennifer Lynton was eroding, that he came to terms with his drinking problem. In 1975, Hopkins regained control of a life that had recently been quite turbulent and sobered up. It was following this decision that Hopkins says he was able to enjoy acting once more.
And enjoy it he did. It was at this time that his talent was at its peak as far as critical recognition is concerned. He won two Emmy's, one in 1976 for his role of Bruno in The Lindberg Kidnapping Case and one in 1981 for his frighteningly real portrayal of Adolf Hitler in The Bunker. Though he played in a great many astounding productions and was a well-respected actor, the true stardom for which he grasped continued to evade him. In 1990 he even threatened to return to the steady but "boring" London theatre scene if something did not happen. It was at this time that he was handed the role of a lifetime.
His agent handed him a script, "Just look it over" he said. He began to leaf through it but realized its potential and didn't want to read it unless he was being offered the role. Though he was advised to read it, he would not. Not until one day his agent called and said that the studio was offering him the role. The script, as you no doubt have guessed, was Silence of the Lambs. From the moment he first read it he was aquiring a feel for the character he was to play, what he was to look like, move like, act like. He took movements and behaviours from cats, snakes and his own imagination and presented America with the one of the scariest villains they could collectively imagine. His 27 minutes of screen time as Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter won him his first Oscar. Clearly this was the role he needed to gain true stardom, but he would not remain in the shadow of the fava eating Ph.D for long, not if he could help it.
He took his talents through a myriad of roles, from Howard's End to Shadowlands; from Vampire Hunter in Francis Ford Coppola's production of Dracula to Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone's Nixon. He also tried his hand at both directing and composing with "August", a Welsh production of Anton Chekov's Uncle Vanya. Add to that that he was knighted in 1993 by Queen Elizabeth and his honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Wales and you have quite a well-rounded fellow.
Since then he's played an aging Zorro, John Quincy Adams, The Guy Who Gives The Orders in Mission Impossible 2, and the narrator of the 2000 production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
It was after all this that he decided to step once more into the bloody shoes of Dr. Lecter. The 2001 release of Hannibal proved that the public's hunger (pun very much intended) for both Hannibal and Hopkins had not subsided. It's february release proved to be not only the most successful for that month, but also for any R rated movie ever made. The box office totals soared, grossing $100 million in just over a week.
Undoubtedly he is one of the greats. He's played all imaginable characters. From the most deranged psychopath anyone might care to imagine to a repressed servant (Howard's End) to his portrayal of the gentility of C.S. Lewis (Shadowlands). His skill in unquestionable, changing in an almost chameleon fashion from one role to another. One might conjecture that there isn't anything there to begin with, if it comes that easily to him, where is his true self. However, upon seeing him interviewed and hearing him speak, it is beyond doubt that he is an amazing person. It is reasonable to assume that he will be to today's and tomorrow's generation of actors what greats like Olivier and O'Toole were to him.
Sources: imdb.com, http://www.geocities.com/anthonyhopkins_ah/pages/biography.html, and memory from his interview on Inside the Actor's Studio