Legendary temper tantrums are things of the past for Anthony Hopkins. The star of the new supernatural thriller The Rite says he has found happiness at last with his third wife, Stella.
Anthony Hopkins exorcises his demons
Anthony Hopkins is certainly the fittest and healthiest-looking septuagenarian in Los Angeles as, beaming with bonhomie and good humour, he comes into the hotel suite with a purposeful stride.
Before leaving home he had spent half an hour on the treadmill, lifted some weights and breakfasted on three egg whites and a tomato. "Very good for the prostate," he says with a cheery smile.
He has lived in California for 35 years, became an American citizen 10 years ago and has a Colombian wife, all of which have probably combined to help the Oscar-winning actor lose his natural British reticence and talk freely and easily about his personal life and past problems that many others would be loathe to discuss.
Not many would admit, as he does, to have been "a roaring drunk", known for his black moods and temper tantrums. He fought with directors, brawled in bars and once stormed off the stage in the middle of Macbeth. His battles at the National Theatre were legendary.
But all that was long ago and his sunny disposition and cheery outlook on life today are a testament to how he has turned his life around.
"I've been given such an amazing gift of life because I nearly killed myself with booze," he says frankly. "I was in a big crisis and was drinking myself into oblivion. Then some 30 odd years ago I thought, 'This is not the smartest way to go on. I could kill somebody one day in my car. Not a smart thing to do, driving drunk.'
"I pulled myself back from the brink by some life force in myself which said I didn't want to die. It was as if a voice inside me said, 'It's all over now. You can start living. It's all been for a purpose.' And bingo! It was done. The craving for drink was taken from me and I've never looked back. Now I think of every day as a bonus. It's like the cherry on top of the cake."
He pauses for a moment, then says with a half-smile: "I don't want to go back there, but I wouldn't have missed it. It was a great scarring experience. Your scar tissue is the best part of your life; it's the strong part of your constitution."
Like his fellow Welshman Richard Burton, when he was in his 30s Hopkins exchanged Britain and a celebrated stage career for the life of an A-list Hollywood actor. He has never regretted it.
"Ever since I was a little kid I'd always wanted to come to America, I suppose because I was influenced by American movies," he says. "When I became an actor I used to literally dream about going to New York. Then I came to Los Angeles in 1973 to do a movie with Goldie Hawn and a big limo picked us up and the next morning I sat in the Bel-Air Hotel eating French toast and then I walked down Sunset Boulevard and stood in the footprints of Humphrey Bogart outside Grauman's Chinese Theater. I thought, 'I'm in Hollywood!' So my imagination was captured."
Talking with Hopkins is life-affirming and educational. He enthusiastically discusses literature, music, philosophy and art, his conversation sprinkled with names ranging from Oliver Cromwell to Carl Jung to Rachmaninoff, Marx and Einstein. He talks in erudite, lengthy sentences, his eyes sparkling and his face crinkling in smile.
Although films do not feature much in his discourse, he is full of praise for the Swedish director Mikael Håfström and a young actor named Colin O'Donoghue, both of whom he worked with on his latest film, the supernatural thriller The Rite. In it he plays Father Lucas, a controversial exorcist whose faith and beliefs are challenged by a young exorcism student played by O'Donoghue in his first feature film.
"I was a little reluctant to do it at first because I didn't want to play another weird part, but I read the script and met Mikael and thought, well, OK," Hopkins says. "I was intrigued by Father Lucas wondering what his own position is in the world of theology. He holds doubts of his own until terrifying things begin to happen to him."
Hopkins, too, has had his doubts. His life has taken many twists and turns since he was born on New Year's Eve, 1937, near Port Talbot, Wales, the only child of a baker and his wife. He spent frightened and unhappy early years in local schools where, he says, "From the age of four until the day I left school every day was riddled with fear and anxiety. I don't exaggerate. I dreaded school. Part of my brain wouldn't work and I sat at the back of the class with my mouth open. I didn't know what they were talking about.
"My fundamental fear was that I was an ignoramus and I would never do anything with my life because I couldn't cope. I simply couldn't grasp things. In my early adult years I would have a job and screw it up because I couldn't get anything right. Then I became an actor, I think because I wanted to become rich and famous and show them all. I happened to play the piano as well, so I knew that I was on a road of some kind and I wanted to just keep going and the fear began to diminish as I got older."
He joined the National Theatre in 1965, cheekily auditioning with one of Laurence Olivier's monologues from Othello, and later understudied and then replaced Olivier in Dance of Death. He went on to play Macbeth, Lear and Marc Antony, although his time in the theatre was filled with discord.
But his rebellious reputation did not hold him back. In 1968 he made his feature film debut in The Lion in Winter, playing Richard the Lionheart opposite Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. Hepburn, he claims, gave him the best acting advice he's ever heard: Don't act at all - just learn your lines and say them.
Despite starring in a critically acclaimed Broadway production of Equus, the 1970s proved a difficult decade for him. He appeared in a string of disappointing movies and drank more than ever.
"Somebody gave me a photograph of myself as I was in 1970 and I looked at this thin, dark-haired young man, quite good looking I thought, but I could see in the eyes that I was very unhappy because it was at the height of my self-destructive behaviour," he says.
Hopkins has appeared in more than 100 films and television productions, some mediocre and others startlingly good. He has played a wildly diverse collection of real-life characters, including Hitler, Nixon, Picasso, Dickens, John Quincy Adams, Bruno Hauptmann, Yitzhak Rabin, Captain Bligh, Ptolemy and, from the world of fiction, the notorious cannibal Hannibal Lecter, a role that won him an Oscar in 1991.
Although he still enjoys acting, he has many other interests: he reads copiously, plays the piano to concert-pianist standards, composes concertos and paints works that have been exhibited in galleries across the United States and in the UK and which sell for thousands of dollars. He has built an artist's studio at his cliff-top home in Malibu, and his wife and her friends market his work.
"I just paint what I want and I think, 'Well, they can't put me in jail if they don't like them,' but people seem to like them," he says modestly.
Hopkins has found a contentment he had never previously experienced or expected. Hechuckles as he enumerates the ways his life has changed since he met and married his Colombian beauty, Stella Arroyave. His lonely life and dark moods are things of the past, and he is now, he says, a husband who enjoys gardening and walking in the sunshine.
"My life is much more stable and more solid because I appreciate it more than I've ever done. She wants to walk on the beach and hold hands, so we do, occasionally," he says, laughing. "I think I'm beginning to understand more how a woman's mind works. Don't ask me how, but I appreciate it."
Hopkins, who was knighted in 1993 but says, "Call me Tony," was living a reclusive life alone in a house in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles when he met Stella. At the time, he was prone to take off on cross-country car trips, driving thousands of miles on his own. When he was at home he would spend most of his days watching television.
One day he was out walking when he saw an antiques shop. "I thought, 'There's a nice looking shop with some antique Asian stuff,' so I walked in," he recalls. "She was there and she threw her arms around me and I thought, 'Oh, God'. She's a Latina and they're different. Stella's a very passionate woman, and that scares me because I come from a very cold, dark, Welsh Nordic background."
They were married in Malibu in March 2003.
"She is always happy and optimistic and positive about everything, while I tend to be a worrier and she tells me not to worry but to live in the moment, and she's taught me to really enjoy life.
"All her friends are Spanish women and they're all crazy," he says, still laughing. "She spends her time shopping and she dresses me and won't let me go out of the house unless she approves of what I'm wearing."
But, he adds, "It hasn't been all roses because I've gone through a divorce, which is always unpleasant and painful, and then I had one or two relationships which didn't work out. I blame myself entirely for those things."
His marriage to the actress Petronella Barker in 1967 produced a daughter, Abigail, but he left his wife two years later for Jenni Lynton, a film production assistant. They were married in 1973 and divorced in 2002 after living on different continents for several years. He went on to have brief romances with the actress Joyce Ingalls and the screenwriter Francine Kay.
Although he no longer makes spur-of-the-moment, cross-country car trips, he is, he says, still prone to impulsive behaviour at home and tends to make decisions that Stella has to rein in.
"I don't think I'm mad, I think that sometimes I'm manic," he says. "My wife calms me down because I want everything now. My philosophy is 'Less is more but more is better', so I want more life and more everything."
"I'm getting older. I'm 73 now, but I play the piano and read every day. I have an iPad so I've become a geek, and that keeps the brain active. The brain and memory are muscles and you have to exercise them. I don't have an academic background in music but I play very complicated piano pieces to keep the brain going, but I do it really because I enjoy it.
"Gradually over the years I've found a way of living life happily. You make a choice, you know. You can either be miserable and unhappy or you can be happy, and I have friends who are so miserable I can't spend more than 10 minutes with them because I feel so guilty about being happy."
Then, looking back over the ups and downs of his life and career, he becomes serious.
"I appreciate every moment that has been given to me," he says. "It's been a great life, a fantastic life. I am just amazed I am still here and doing what I'm doing.
"That's pretty good."
The Rite is due for release in the UAE on March 3.
The Hopkins file
BORN December 31, 1937, Port Talbot, Wales
FAMILY Parents Richard and Muriel, who owned a small bakery
SCHOOLING Cowbridge Grammar School, Glamorgan, Wales; College of Music and Drama, Cardiff; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London
FIRST JOB Working in his parents' bakery
SELF-ASSESSED WORST FILM PERFORMANCE EVER Desperate Hours
FAVOURITE QUOTE "Once we confront our mortality, then we are free." - Carl Jung
CRAZIEST THING EVER DONE Driving thousands of miles around the US solo
MUSIC Classical, especially Beethoven
READING Nietzsche, Freud, Charles Darwin, Jacob Bronowski
CAN'T BE WITHOUT Piano, paints, books, wife Stella